The computer companies are in a disadvantageous position when it comes to gaining market share from other industries. If you have ever wondered why that is, here’s your answer: they’re too focused on making their own product better and more efficient instead of just focusing on the end customer. The goal becomes one of trying to build an algorithm that will result in the best possible experience for their users.
However, this approach can take quite some time and means they can’t really kickstart the development process with anything more than a bare-bones plan — something that doesn’t really set them up for success in this highly competitive market. Saas 27m series Altos is the perfect example of this approach. In the late 1980s, when Saastar (a predecessor of Intel) first began to develop the chip, they already knew that they had to be a leader in their space because they were competing against Japanese companies like Toshiba and NEC.
In order to gain market share it wasn’t enough for them to make their processor better (although that is part of their mission statement). They needed something revolutionary. This is why they used the name Altos — which stands for “advanced technology.”
1. Their chips were based on off-the-shelf designs from other companies
Altos wasn’t a new technology — in fact, it was one of the first to use CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computing) implementation for embedded applications. The semiconductor industry was already on the brink of a transition from CISC to RISC — which allowed smaller code to run faster and reduced power consumption — and this approach was one of the main reasons why Altos was able to achieve better performance per watt than its competitors.
2. They sued Intel, who bought them out
Altos was apparently the brainchild of some engineers from Intel who got tired of working for the big computer company. They wanted to develop their own technology, independent from Intel—which is why they left and formed their own company in the late 1980s. Altos quickly gained a lot of traction and was acquired by Etron in 1992 for $723 million. Later, Etron merged with NEC and Intel acquired Altos’s assets through that merger.
3. It was never properly marketed
In spite of being quite revolutionary, Altos was never given the chance to shine. Part of the problem is that it wasn’t a very good marketing campaign — therefore, people weren’t motivated to make use of it. This is why you didn’t see many applications for the chip in personal computers, for example — and even when there are several examples of these systems, they are mostly used in other fields like medical equipment.
4. Performance-wise it was ahead of its time
The first Altos-based PC came out in 1997 and lasted until 2005 — which is quite an achievement considering how old the technology was by then. Although the chips were quite expensive compared to other processors at that time, performance was quite impressive.
5. They were very expensive
At the time, Altos was the most expensive processor on the market — and in spite of being so advanced and innovative, it wasn’t really used as a workhorse. It was mostly used to improve system performance, but not enough to justify its price tag. This is probably one of the reasons why it got discontinued in 2005 when Intel decided to replace it with a cheaper architecture.
6. Didn’t include a memory controller
Its biggest technological achievement was that fact that the chip itself was able to hold multiple tasks running at once. As a result — although its clock speed was quite low — it had very high memory bandwidth (about 32Gb/s). Saastar’s Altos also didn’t come with a memory controller, which is why it was mostly used for server applications.
7. It was also used in smartphones
Although Altos was clearly meant for high-end applications, it was also being used in mobile devices. Samsung released the first smartphone with an Altos processor in 1999 — and at that time the mobile market was still predominantly RISC-based (mainly ARM). The company has been using Altos ever since and earlier this year announced that they would be releasing an even more advanced version of their hybrid processor called “Kirin 935.”
Final Thoughts :
While Intel is currently focussing on the Core architecture, Saastar’s “Altos” design served as a crucial part of their early history. It helped the company establish their presence and gain momentum while they were still developing their own architecture.
However, Altos was never properly marketed — therefore the benefits of using it were never fully realized. Since it was so expensive, many people simply didn’t want to take the risk of switching to a new system — even if it meant a greater improvement in performance and power efficiency.