Over 90% of the world's computers and servers are still using the x86 ISA (Instruction Set Architecture) introduced by Intel in 1978. Many have tried to come up with an alternative, but nothing has come close to supplanting it. ZD Net examines the reasons why, and why it might continue turning up in computers until the sun cools off.
A performance improvement that small isn't going to encourage a dramatic move away from x86, said Pat Gelsinger, a veteran chip designer and senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group. "We're delivering 2x performance gains every year" with existing designs that can still run older applications.
The chip industry's ability to continue packing transistors onto its processors means that it dedicates fewer and fewer transistors--out of the whole--to keeping legacy code alive. "The burden of compatibility is there," Gelsinger said. "But the value of compatibility overwhelms the cost it brings with it."
One technology improvement that could be a wild card in the mix is the introduction of new chips with two or more processing cores. Chipmakers have settled on building chips with several lower-speed processor cores as a way of getting around power consumption problems caused by a single high-speed core. Right now, however, each core needs to use the same instruction set.