Questions about the 486 and what one can get away with it

Apologies for not having a lot to post here. Unlike others here I haven’t the space or money to indulge in hardware scavanging and I’ve never been able to wrap my head around programming. So I have questions that might come across as daft.

All this came about as a result of a discussion with a friend, and the state of the world we’re in. They made the observation that most people don’t need nearly the level of computing power that is constantly sold to them, that maybe it would be find a hardware platform that covers a lot of needs, is low power, and isn’t chasing micron scales so small that we’re reaching the point of electron tunneling being a very real problem.

Of course a 486 won’t do all that. Even if you had dedicated hardware for encoding/decoding of video and the like it’s nowhere near enough processor for what ‘normal’ people want a chip to do. However, it got me to thinking.

What can you push a 486 chip to do? What if you essentially made a multicore version?

Would it be practical to have hardware level video decoding? Encryption? Bluetooth? Wifi? OK that last one has been proven to be done with the wifi serial modem and I love that little device for what it can give to retro hardware.

I’m talking more from a power draw and processing power standpoitn on both since it feels silly to take and slap supporting hardware in that would have orders of magnitude more processing capibility than the heart of the system.

Still. Especially with the industrial packages allowing for support boards.I can’t build any of this, but is it … no of course it’s not ‘practical’ to spin up a custom hardware platform based on obsolete chips, but industrial to me suggests ‘it’s designed to essentially last a whole lot longer than consumer level stuff and be more reliable.’

Plus I’ve got a story bug biting me in the ear and ‘Huh this already has retro everything involved anyway. Sure a bit fantastic but I want to minimize the fantastical bits so that contrasts with the grounded world.’

For general purpose computing, a 486 and cardreader/punch and a small drive from that era,
could replace any of the big computing dinosaurs with room to spare. Video/sound and GUI’s
always needed a well designed complete system,but the 486 never got that, just hacked togther
cards from IBM PC computers.A real OS was never developed to handle graphics, since any games
used thier favorate brand of video card for high speed, and bypassed the os anyway.
Now every thing is PLAY TV on your computer complete with FREE ADVERTISMENTS,
that push even the modern chip sets. The 486 was limited to the slow Drams of the time,
Put modern memory on it some how, and I bet it would really zoom, plus you know your floating point
has no bugs.

I’m certainly not the expert on this, as well, but here is my take on this: Much of what we’re used today in terms of computational power is owed to CPUs separating from the hardware instruction set and linear control flow. (E.g., multiple sets of virtual registers and rather renaming registers than actually transferring values from one to another, speculative execution in parallel, etc.) The advantage of this is huge. If you’re heading for anything like this, it will be difficult with any architecture before the late 1990s, even with multiple processors. Yes, you can have special chips for things like video decoding or use dedicated signal processors (DSPs), but this will also take you only that far. (Here, I actually kind of know what I’m talking about, as I had once a Mac Centris 660AV – actually a bit later than 486 systems –, which came with this, but this was never good for full-screen video at a decent frame rate.) However, I can’t give you an accurate answer, what a 486 could be pushed to. (There were also multiple flavors, and it probably depends a bit on this as well.)

On the other hand, there’s this paradox: Even with something like a modern iPhone, I personally don’t feel to have the same kind of computational power directly available, as with a classic home computer. But then, you can certainly run multiple emulators in multiple browser windows at once and watch a few videos in parallel…

I still favor the Do it all in micro code, of the Alto computer, it puts the computing power, even if it is
data movment where and when it is needed.The main cpu does not to be fast, as all the hard work is
done in the background. Send a message, and snoze while waiting for a reply.

I don’t understand the question. Pushing up a 486 is not retro to me.
And I think the main question is, what OS and software you want to run.
It’s a WIN95 computer. And depending on the OS version you would even have problems running USB devices, larger HDD and DVD etc.
And probably same problems with Linux detecting modern hardware (multicore) unless you are able to code everything yourself. And even more problems with the software.

I think someone should use a retro computer with the hardware and software what they are made for.

And that is a fair sentement. It brings to mind the car guy that wants to do a factory restoration and show a thing off as it was when new.

Which has value because it lets everyone see what the state of the art was like at the time.

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I have a MPEG1 decoder card for ISA slot. One of them Creative Video blaster, and all it requires are Win3.11 and a 486-DX33/DX2-66. It might even run on a 486sx25 however I doubt it. Bluetooth and USB might be a bit too much, but I believe there were Wifi cards avaliable around 1990, if my memory of Computer Chronicles serves me well. USB might be possible, but that would require at least Win95 OSR 2.1 (Win95-B) and a USB PCI card. Unless there are an obscure ISA-USB card out there.

In regards to multi core 486’s. Well… Then there were dual-cpu 486 machines like this one here and there might even have been dual 386 machines. But to make a multi core 486 CPU, then you really need to think alternative. Perhaps it can be done with an FPGA solution, if you can find pictures of the die that are good enough.


The Targa graphics cards could do MPEG processing of some kind as well.
How ever for the most part, graphics are mostly data movement so it is data bus
speed that makes the system not the cpu processing speed for graphics.
That all said,I still have yet to have a windows system, the will play the Buddy Holly (Weezer)
demo from the widows 95 correctly. So who knows what tricks and or hardware the developers
had in mind when they created video compression stuff.

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I vaguely remember seeing 486 motherboards with four CPU sockets advertised.

I think you needed Windows NT4 instead of 95/98 to be able to use them all though.

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