Intel follows AMDs lead again?

Don't you just love provocative headlines like that? The first thing that pops to mind might have been "Ah, he's talking about the new dual core CPUs that Intel is shipping" or "Oh, that's probably a something having to do with lower power CPUs for laptops."

Nope. In this case, I'm talking about Intel following AMD's lead in abandoning 386 and 486 CPUs. AMD abandoned their 486 and 586 line back in 2002. Intel recently announced that they would no longer be producing 386, 486, and some other RISC processors after September 2007.

Although neither an earth-shattering announcement nor one that will probably shock the computer industry, it's interesting from a couple of angles. First, there's the whole history and End-Of-An-Era thing that the production end means. Secondly, there's the "wow" factor that Intel has still been able to sell these CPU classes 15 years after their peak popularity.

From the historical perspective, the 386-class CPUs changed the entire PC industry. Back before the first George Bush was in office, the 386 CPU ushered in the era of 32-bit computing that we're only now starting to see the end of. By adopting the 386 before IBM, Compaq put itself on the map and led to the overthrow of the entire IBM PC empire. Mated with Windows 3.1 and then Windows 95, the 386/486 securely placed Microsoft at the top of the software industry.

People long forgot about those CPUs. Before the turn of the century the Pentium line and its successors had made the 386 and 486 CPUs essentially obsolete. The CPUs have lived on as embedded processors, still crunching data bits inside of devices such as network controllers and data acquisition devices.

So, even though Intel will still be cranking out the creaky silicon for another year, the end is on the horizon. While we're pounding away on dual core processors and looking forward to 64-bit and quad-core processors for every day use, all we can say is "The King is Dead! Long Live the King!"

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