Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 07/88 item 02 - scanned

Speaking out: a chip off the old Intel block

By David Tebbutt

Hello. I'm an 80386 chip. I'm the latest member of an Intel dynasty that stretches back donkey's years. I'm proud to count the 8088, 8086 and 8080 among my predecessors. My ancestors were good ones, some were so good that they were even used as the basis for other manufacturers' chips, such as Zilog's Z80.

After that little upset to the family fortunes, my grandparents (the 8088s) were relieved when IBM chose them for its PC series. That really helped re-establish the family name. As you probably know, my parents, the 80286s, were chosen for the AT series.

Now, the family hopes that I'll achieve even greater success. Already, power users all over the world are getting quite excited at what I can do. They love my ability to run multiple DOS sessions. I'm not surprised, mind you. OS/2's big selling point is supposed to be multi-tasking. If that's what people want, they can get it from me and protect their investment in DOS programs.

My speed, too, enables users to move up a notch in power and, my goodness, what about when that Alan Sugar fellow starts shipping machines with us inside? (One of my sisters tells me she's off to Brentwood in the autumn.) Of course, we must all pay due homage to Compaq which had the guts to launch the first 386 personal computer. That was the point when many realised that Compaq was more than a clone maker and had a mind of its own. It was also the point that the dream of 80386 power became an achievable reality for many. I doubt that anyone at the time could have possibly guessed how quickly this would happen.

Then IBM came along with its top-end 80386-based PS/2s. Once we started putting ourselves about, all manner of PC and add-in board makers started to offer 386-based equipment. At the risk of appearing immodest, I think that most PC users are more turned on by us than by the promises held out for MCA, OS/2 or Unix.

When the software companies got wind of our imminent arrival, they started to develop systems software to take advantage of the multiple 8086 mode. Microsoft came out with a new version of Windows, and Quarterdeck announced a new Desqview. Even good old Digital Research revamped its Concurrent DOS. All these programs, and others I've not mentioned, provide genuine multi-tasking of existing DOS applications.

Most of today's thinking users would be happy with one or other of these solutions, especially if they realised they could move to OS/2 or Unix later.

To crown all this activity, Digital Research, in an astonishingly low-key announcement, has just introduced another version of Concurrent DOS - Concurrent DOS 386/Multi-user Graphics Edition (MGE). This allows five users to run multiple graphics applications concurrently from an 80386 host machine, each station returning a better than AT performance. This is because DR has teamed up with Sunriver Corporation to implement a 32Mb/ second fibre optic link between the host and each workstation.

Each station can run EGA graphics, up to four DOS or Concurrent DOS applications at the same time, plus memory-resident programs and background tasks. Up to 255 separate tasks can be driven from the host. In its announcement, DR mentioned only the Sunriver fibre optic stations as terminals. These run out at around 1,400 each which is fine if you're starting from scratch, but it's an expensive option if you want to knit together existing kit.

Having started the fibre optic ball rolling, I can't understand why DR failed to mention Sunriver's Fibre Optic Station emulator card. Due for general release in a couple of weeks, these 575 cards convert existing PCs into workstations. This gives users all the advantages above and protects their hardware investment.

If it has the will, this could be DR's big chance to re-enter the mainstream.