Sunday 22 September 2019

Motorola 68000 (1979)

Launched September 1979

Motorola had been one of the early pioneers of microprocessors with the 8-bit Motorola 6800 launched in 1974. Launched a few years before there was really a big market for it, the 6800 was nonetheless successful and it inspired other 8-bit rivals such as the MOS Technology 6502 and Zilog Z80.

These rivals took a big chunk of the market that Motorola helped to create, but since Motorola were a forward-looking company they were looking ahead to devices that would be in a different and more powerful class to the 8-bit masses. Skipping the obvious step of making a purely 16-bit CPU, Motorola pressed ahead to create the (mostly) 32-bit Motorola 68000.

Motorola 68000

Introduced in September 1979, the 68000 was less like the cheap and cheerful 8-bit CPUs finding their way into home computers such as the PET and Apple II and was rather more like the powerful processors found in minicomputers such as the DEC VAX.

Although the 68000 started in high-end devices such as the Sun-1 workstation, it progressively got cheaper and found its way into a new generation of powerful home computers such as the Apple Macintosh, Atari ST and Commodore Amiga and even Apple laser printers. Games consoles soon took on the 68000 and eventually derivatives of it ended up as embedded systems which are still in use to this day (the NXP ColdFire for example).

During the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s the 68000 series of processors was the only real rival to Intel in terms of volume. By 1994 the line had really been upgraded as much as it could, and Motorola then teamed up with IBM and Apple to create the PowerPC processor which was used mostly in the Power Macintosh line until 2006.

Processors are a pretty niche thing to collect, but early examples of the 68000 are pretty common to find. Much more collectable – and usable – are the 1980s computer systems that use the 68000, especially those from Commodore and Atari.

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