Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium

11:00AM, Wednesday, July 22, 1998
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building B03

The Chip that Wouldn't Die: A 20-Year Retrospective

John Wharton
Stanford University

About the Talk:

It was twenty years ago this week that a junior Applications Engineer at Intel wrote up a proposal for a new processor architecture. This handwritten spec became the basis for the 8051 microcontroller family, by far the highest-volume processor architecture in Intel history.

Since its 1980 introduction, the 8051 and its derivatives have shipped about two billion units world-wide (according to DataQuest), and the production rate keeps growing, with nearly 300 million units shipped in 1996 alone. Surprisingly, these sales and longevity records were achieved with essentially no changes to the core architecture or implementation, and only minor performance speed-ups. (The 80x86 family, by comparison, has undergone three major architecture enhancements and six major redesigns during those same 18 years.)

In honor of the 20th anniversary of that first written spec, John Wharton -- the aforementioned junior engineer -- will discuss how the 8051 came into being. In particular he'll review the problems facing Intel in the late 1970s; recount the rather ad-hoc process by which the 8051 was defined; explain how a design philosophy intended to facilitate product proliferation backfired, causing Intel to lose control of its own market; and ruminate on why 8051 sales keep growing, when by rights the family should have died off years ago.

About the speaker:

In the late 1970s John Wharton spent five years as an Applications and Strategic Design Engineer at the still-young Intel Corporation. Since 1982 he has tried to seek his niche as an embedded system designer, writer, /Microprocessor Report/ columnist, free-lance technology analyst, Stanford Lecturer, and industry gadfly.

He has written dozens of articles and two books on microprocessor H/W and S/W design, and was openly skeptical of RISC architectures long before it became fashionable. In 1996 he made his network television debut as "The Shower Guy" on the David Letterman Show. Since 1989 he has co-coordinated (with Dennis Allison) the Stanford EE-380 Computer Systems Colloquium.

Contact Data:

John Wharton
Applications Research
PO Box 60231
Palo Alto, CA 94306
(650) 856-8051