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i4004 with grey traces
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CYRIX

In the CPU business, Cyrix is undoubtedly the one with the most interesting history. Good performing CPU's, bad marketing, excellent design team and a pitiful end, that is in short what Cyrix's career looked like. Cyrix was founded in 1988 by Jerry Rodgers who worked for Texas Instruments before starting his own company. The newly formed design team started designing math coprocessors for the 286 and 386 CPU's. Not without success, Cyrix math coprocessors were faster than their direct competitors and prices were very competitive.

Unlike Intel and AMD, Cyrix only designed CPU's and math coprocessors, it had no manufacturing capabilities. The manufacturing was outsourced to Texas Instruments and later to IBM, SGS-Thompson and National Semiconductors.

After the 386, Intel introduced the 486 and one of the improvements was that the coprocessor was integrated on the core. Cyrix that until then had only designed mat coprocessors had to find another product that they could sell. Cyrix decided to enter the CPU market and did that with an independent designed 486. AMD had always cloned the design of Intel, but Cyrix launched its own 486 in 1992. They designed many different types like the 486DLC which could be used to upgrade a 386 and normal 486 DX-33 and double clocked DX2-66's.

The next generation CPU Cyrix designed was named the 5x86. This CPU is essentially a 4th generation 486 with some 5th generation technologies. Performance was not up to par with Intel's Pentium, but it kept sales going until Cyrix had their design of the 6x86 ready. The 6x86 was introduced in 1995 and it had a very special design. It used a RISC core in a time where other manufacturers used CISC designs. At the time it was generally thought that it was impossible to combine the two different technologies, but Cyrix did it!

While the Cyrix CPU's performed well and the prices were relatively low Cyrix did not do well in the CPU business. There were two reasons for that, the first was that Cyrix had no access to modern fabrication plants and the second reason was that Cyrix was a very technical advanced company with no commercial team to back it up.

Cyrix did not own manufacturing capabilities and had to rely on third parties for that. Those manufacturers used their high technology production lines for their own products. As a result Cyrix CPU's were always manufactured with inferior quality than CPU's from competitors. This lead to the much heard complaint that Cyrix CPU's got too hot. Intel's Pentium was manufactured at 0,35 micron while Cyrix CPU's were manufactured at 0,65 microns, almost twice the size!

In order to make profit Cyrix needed a partner like Compaq or HP to buy their CPU's, a deal with a large PC manufacturer would lead to a steady source of income. But Cyrix failed to find a partner and things started to look grim.

In 1997 Cyrix was on the almost bankrupt but could avoid bankruptcy narrowly when it was bought by National Semiconductors. This move would likely solve their two biggest problems, better quality manufacturing and large contracts brought on by better commercial departments. Unfortunately National Semiconductors had no plans for Cyrix to continue its development of High Performing CPU's like the 6x86 and MII. Instead it wanted to pursue its developments for CPU's for value market. Cyrix came up with the MediaGX, a CPU with integrated functions like audio and video which was based on the 5x86.

The situation at Cyrix got worse and worse, employee's started to leave the company and before long Cyrix was just that, a name. National Semiconductors tried to sell Cyrix and found a buyer, VIA. This well known Taiwanese chipset manufacturer bought the remains of Cyrix in 1999, which was basically the name and some technology. The same year VIA had bought Centaur from IDT and with these two CPU designers it started its own CPU development.

The result of that development was the VIA Cyrix 3, the design of the core was based on Centaurs design of the WinChip3. The name Cyrix was only used for publicity and marketing, the company Cyrix with the innovative designs was no more. Just over 10 years Cyrix participated in the CPU business, with success at first but the story had a sad ending. What remains is the name that will go down in CPU history as the unlucky CPU designer with great designs.


 

 

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