Timeline of Computer History
 

1986  
Components
   David Miller of AT&T Bell Labs patented the optical transistor, a component central to digital optical computing. Called Self-ElectroOptic-Effect Device, or SEED, the transistor involved a light-sensitive switch built with layers of gallium arsenide and gallium aluminum arsenide. Beams of light triggered electronic events that caused the light either to be transmitted or absorbed, thus turning the switch on or off.

Within a decade, research on the optical transistor led to successful work on the first all-optical processor and the first general-purpose all-optical computer. Bell Labs researchers first demonstrated the processor there in 1990. A computer using the SEED also contained lasers, lenses, and fast light switches, but it still required programming by a separate, non-optical computer. In 1993, researchers at the University of Colorado unveiled the first all-optical computer capable of being programmed and of manipulating instructions internally.
Compaq
Compaq beat IBM to the market when it announced the Deskpro 386, the first computer on the market to use Intel´s new 80386 chip, a 32-bit microprocessor with 275,000 transistors on each chip. At 4 million operations per second and 4 kilobytes of memory, the 80386 gave PCs as much speed and power as older mainframes and minicomputers.

The 386 chip brought with it the introduction of a 32-bit architecture, a significant improvement over the 16-bit architecture of previous microprocessors. It had two operating modes, one that mirrored the segmented memory of older x86 chips, allowing full backward compatibility, and one that took full advantage of its more advanced technology. The new chip made graphical operating environments for IBM PC and PC-compatible computers practical. The architecture that allowed Windows and IBM OS/2 has remained in subsequent chips.
Computers
Connection Machine
Daniel Hillis of Thinking Machines Corp. moved artificial intelligence a step forward when he developed the controversial concept of massive parallelism in the Connection Machine. The machine used up to 65,536 processors and could complete several billion operations per second. Each processor had its own small memory linked with others through a flexible network that users could alter by reprogramming rather than rewiring.

The machine´s system of connections and switches let processors broadcast information and requests for help to other processors in a simulation of brainlike associative recall. Using this system, the machine could work faster than any other at the time on a problem that could be parceled out among the many processors.
   IBM and MIPS released the first RISC-based workstations, the PC/RT and R2000-based systems. Reduced instruction set computers grew out of the observation that the simplest 20 percent of a computer´s instruction set does 80 percent of the work, including most base operations such as add, load from memory, and store in memory.

The IBM PC-RT had 1 megabyte of RAM, a 1.2-megabyte floppy disk drive, and a 40-megabyte hard drive. It performed 2 million instructions per second, but other RISC-based computers worked significantly faster.
Graphics & Games
Pixar Headquarters
Pixar is founded. Pixar was originally called the Special Effects Computer Group at Lucasfilm (launched in 1979). The group created the computer animated segments of films such as “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” and “Young Sherlock Holmes.” In 1986, Apple Computer co-founder Steve Jobs paid 10 million dollars to Lucasfilm to purchase the Group and renamed it Pixar. Over the next decade, Pixar made highly-successful (and Oscar-winning) animated films. It was bought by Disney in 2006.

 


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