We’ve played Guess the OS a few times before. This time let’s see if you can figure out what CPU is being talked about in this article. Look back and see how arguments about computer performance have lingered forever.


CPU speeds have increased in a blinding fashion. Through the power of Moore’s Law, CPUs get smaller, faster, and do more than anyone could have ever dreamed a few years ago. When you consider the fact that the modern CPU has been around for only the last 40 years, the rate of improvement in that short span of time is astounding when you compare it to the 100,000 span of modern humanity.

But… even as CPUs have progressed over the last 40 years, the same arguments have lingered. How fast is too fast? Should you overbuy on CPU speed? Are you being a fool for buying the latest technology or will you get trapped by going cheap?

How fast is too fast?

To illustrate the argument, I’ve taken the following article from the NewYork Times and given it the Guess the OS treatment. I’ve excerpted parts of the article below, redacting identifying information. See if you can figure out what CPU they’re talking about. Pay close attention and notice the same arguments repeating themselves.

Praising a Cheaper Chip

IS the XXXXXX, the chip used in … personal computers, dead? Is it a mistake to buy a PC based on the aging chip, now that the more-powerful XXXXXX chip is widely available and falling in price?

No, the XXXXXX still has plenty of life left in it. As evidence, announcement of a new XXXXXX-based computer is scheduled today by the International Business Machines Corporation.

Further, new XXXXXX-based models are expected soon from … several other major PC makers that pride themselves on being technological leaders.

We come to praise the XXXXXX, not to bury it.

In all the excitement about the newest and fastest chips, it is easy to assume that newer and faster is always better. That isn’t necessarily so, although there are applications where every extra bit of performance is welcome, such as crunching big spreadsheets, sorting vast data bases, drawing advanced three-dimensional graphics or running a network of computers.

For these applications the XXXXXX chip from Intel, which is used in most high-end PC’s, and the brand-new XXXXXX chip from Motorola, which Apple will incorporate into its Macintosh …. next week, are among the best.

For most common uses, though, the XXXXXX offers equal performance at a lower cost. In some cases, we learned to our surprise, the XXXXXX actually outperforms the XXXXXX chip.

”We think the end users are being duped,” said Edwin S. Huber, marketing manager for fixed-instruction processors at Advanced Micro Devices in Austin, Tex. ”They are being told that they require higher and higher performance, and that to get higher performance they need to go to higher expense.”

A.M.D. is the leading maker of high-performance XXXXXX chips, and its enthusiasm for the XXXXXX over the newer XXXXXX just might be colored by the fact that it can’t get permission from Intel to make the XXXXXX.

Still, Mr. Huber and his engineering colleague, Glen Burchers, make a persuasive case that there is plenty of power in the newest versions of the XXXXXX. In fact, they contend, a XXXXXX-based PC will not outperform a(n older) XXXXXX-based PC under either the …  operating systems. The two chips, when running at the same clock speed, will perform virtually identically, they said.

To prove it, they opened their laboratory to demonstrate a chip-to-chip runoff among three computers: a ”Brand X” XXXXXX PC running at …; a Dell System 220 using the fastest XXXXXX chip around, rated at ….; and ??? using the …. XXXXXX chip, a smaller version of the XXXXXX . A regular XXXXXX -based PC was absent, but the A.M.D. officials provided us with results of earlier identical tests.

The results were impressive, although results obtained from formal benchmark tests often bear scant resemblance to results in real-life computing. On virtually every standard basis of comparison, the Dell machine ran far ahead of its rivals, with the XXXXXX chip usually limping in third.

One real-life benchmark comparison involved crunching a … spreadsheet with 10,000 math, trig and financial functions. The XXXXXX zipped through the task about 25 percent faster than the XXXXXX -based Dell 220, which in turn whipped the ??? by about 10 percent.

Interestingly, the race lasted less than 30 seconds. The same job would have occupied a human clerk for months. Perhaps there should be a ”Bob Crachit” benchmark just to keep the Scrooges among us grounded in reality, reminding us that even the slowest computers are incredible time-saving devices.

The bottom line is that you may be able to get all the performance you need from an XXXXXX , or even from the older and cheaper XXXXXX – and XXXXXX -based … machines. You won’t have the ultimate in performance or status, neither will you have the ultimate in expense.

Name that CPU

OK. So you just read about an inexpensive CPU that covers the needs of most office workers. Why invest in the latest and greatest when you had this powerhouse? Which CPU is it? There are lot of options, but see if you can guess the OS:

Do you think you got it right?

Get the answer.

The CPU in question was the venerable 80286. Originally introduced in 1984, this CPU was the main operating system during the middle of the Reagan administration. It introduced multitasking abilities to the lowly PC and could address more memory than was ever conceived a mere five years ago.

It was also the chip that was condemned by some PC pundits as being “brain dead” because of the way it switched into Protected Mode and then wouldn’t come back.

This article was dated September 13, 1988. You can see the same themes and arguments made in that article that people talk about today when discussing dual and quad-core CPUs.

You can see the full article on the New York Times‘s Web site.