The unusual bootstrap drivers inside the 8086 microprocessor chip

The 8086 microprocessor is one of the most important chips ever created; it started the x86 architecture that still dominates desktop and server computing today. I’ve been reverse-engineering its circuitry by studying its silicon die. One of the most unusual circuits I found is a “bootstrap driver”, a way to boost internal signals to improve performance.

This circuit consists of just three NMOS transistors, amplifying an input signal to produce an output signal, but it doesn’t resemble typical NMOS logic circuits and puzzled me for a long time. Eventually, I stumbled across an explanation: the “bootstrap driver” uses the transistor’s capacitance to boost its voltage. It produces control pulses with higher current and higher voltage than otherwise possible, increasing performance. In this blog post, I’ll attempt to explain how the tricky bootstrap driver circuit works.

I don’t fully understand all the details, but I do grasp the main point here. This is quite an ingenious design.