There is no processor which had such a lasting influence on computing history. When IBM decided to produce the personal computer, aptly named PC XT, they selected a cheap Intel CPU. The 8088 which was crippled as it couldn't address more than 1 MB.
This seemed wise, not because 640KB was enough for everyone as is incorrectly quoted, but because 16 bits PCB boards were expensive to manufacture and why waste money.
The 8088 was very difficult to program, slow at 4.77 mhz, couldn't properly address memory and had some major flaws. However the IBM XT was hugely popular so it became the benchmark to write code against. The memory limitations were 'addressed' by a variety of clumsy and super smart solutions, still leaving the user with the need to configure his himem.sys and what else we got.
The limitations were overcome by some 'clones' like the NEC, the 80186 by Intel, but mostly by very smart programmers who developed memory management, paging schemes and what else laying the foundations for modern operating systems.
Most of all however it was a fun processor for programmers. Yes, it couldn't do what a 68000 easily achieved, making it the laughing stock of Apple, Atari and Amiga programmers, BUT it had a working business model. People actually bought software for it.
In case you come from another era: bit like the iPad 1 :)
Getting the damned thing to perform was a huge challenge and I'm pretty sure that a new generation of programmers / hardware hackers got created not because the 8088 was anything good, but because there was a challenge: how to get that crippled thing to sing and dance.
Don't forget it came - in the IBM XT package - with a GPU which if possible was even more behind times compared to the home computers of these days like the BBC, Armstrad, Amiga, Atari etc. Most were better performers and certainly easier to program.
I had the
Now this should have been easy as who would bypass MS-DOS? Why would you? And indeed mine worked fine, except that it actually had better hardware than the original and suddenly the flaw became clear. Nobody would ever take advantage of it.
Mine could do full pixel addressing on high res, nothing like the CGA of the orginal, but I couldn't use it. My amber monitor would only show the WordStar formatting codes while I was sure it could do a better job.
Ah well, I was busy writing a thesis (on a very different subject than computers), but why not try to write an editor. Wysiswig they were called when invented: word processors which could show formatting on screen. Nobody could, but there was a rumor Microsoft would start doing it.
I realized that if they would release it, it wouldn't support my specific, slightly different, hardware so I decided to write one myself. Took me six months, but by then I had a lightning fast completely graphical text editor which did italics and more stuff I can't show here because G+ is still behind my home brew program.
When Microsoft Word finally was released my thesis was already finished and so was my wife's one. The only two users the system ever had. But I did test and my software was way faster on page refreshes than Word 1.0 so reason to celebrate.
Apparently I could do more than writing theses for my university. I'm still happy, both for the limitations of the 8088 which made you puzzle and think twice if not more before committing code to it as well as the luck (with hindsight) of having a not completely compatible machine forcing me to write most code myself.
(In case you want to know: all events triggered a career change where for a few years I was a dedicated graphic programmer specializing in 3D, but that's for another story).
What memories do you have of that humble 8088 CPU
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