CISC-y RISC-ness

If you’ve kept a close eye on the technology space of late, you probably know that this is perhaps one of the most interesting times for processors in many years. After a number of stagnant generations, Intel has started competing again; AMD’s Ryzen chips are still pretty solid; ARM is where a lot of the innovation is happening; and RISC-V looks like it’s going to be the coolest thing in the world in about a decade. But none of these chips, honestly, can hold a candle to the interestingness of the chip I’m going to tell you about today. It didn’t set the world ablaze; in fact, it was designed not to. In the end, it was used in relatively minor systems, like internet appliances and palmtops. But technologically, it bridged the gap between two camps—RISC and CISC. And that’s what makes it interesting. Today’s Tedium looks back at the Transmeta Crusoe, perhaps the most interesting processor to ever exist.

The Crusoe was absolutely fascinating, and the most bonkers what if?-scenario with the Crusoe is that in theory, there was nothing preventing the Crusoe’s software translation layer from emulating something other than x86. If this technology had evolved and received far more funding and success, we could’ve had a vastly different processor and ISA landscape today.


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