TECHNOLOGY : Intel Introduces Computer Chip Twice as Fast as 80386

Times Staff Writer

In the latest entry in the race to develop faster computer chips, Intel Corp. on Monday announced its long-awaited next-generation microprocessor. It immediately drew praise from a Who’s Who of computer companies.

Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., said its new chip is more than twice as fast as the 80386 microprocessor, or computer “brain,” now used in many top-of-the-line personal computers. Intel’s introduction of the chip was made at Comdex, a computer trade show being held here through Thursday.

The new Intel 80486 chip is viewed as a challenge to archrival Motorola Inc., which two weeks ago introduced details of its newest chip, the 68040.

Intel’s chips are used in International Business Machines Corp. personal computers and compatible machines, while Motorola’s are used in Apple Computer’s Macintosh and in workstations made by Sun Microsystems and other manufacturers.


Although neither the Intel nor Motorola chips will be available until late this year, the scramble has already begun to design computers and software that will take advantage of the new technology. Advances in chip technology have far outpaced improvements elsewhere in the computer business. In fact, chip advances have come so quickly that, analysts say, software writers have yet to fully exploit the power of the 80386 chip.

At a news conference Monday, Intel trotted out a cast of industry luminaries to praise the 80486 chip. More important, 11 PC makers--including Southern California companies Tandon, AST Research and Advanced Logic Research--and several major software companies said they would come out with products to take advantage of the chip.

“The 486 chip is a fantastic advance,” said William Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp., a personal computer software giant.

‘Huge Leap Forward’


Rod Canion, chairman of Compaq Computer, called the 80486 chip “a huge leap forward in performance.” He said his company planned to develop products for the new 80486 chip as well as an enhanced version of the 80386 chip, which Intel also announced Monday.

Industry executives said the 80486 chip will run software programs much faster than is possible now and allow PCs to run sophisticated graphics programs that used to require larger, more expensive machines known as minicomputers.

“The 80486 is clearly taking things well beyond the PC range and moving us into the minicomputer market,” Canion said.

A key feature of the 80486 chip is that it is fully compatible with the older 80386. That means that software used in 80386 computers will also work with the 80486 machines when they hit the market, probably in early 1990.


Also Monday, Intel announced an agreement with Prime Computer, a Massachusetts minicomputer maker, to develop a chip that will be even faster than the 80486. Intel said the new chip, which it expects to introduce in 1992, will pave the way for PCs as powerful as today’s mainframe computers, the refrigerator-size machines found in large businesses, universities and elsewhere.