How successive Intel chips changed India and the world

by May 20, 2022 0 comments

By Vinod Dham, “Father of Pentium”

I had the distinct privilege and honor of leading the development of Intel’s 386 compaction, Intel’s 486 and its derivatives, and the original Pentium and its family, over the golden era of Intel, with the help of a highly talented and dedicated team of engineers. These three chips helped cement Intel’s leadership in microprocessors making it a dominant player and becoming the largest chipmaker in the world.

Although the history of computing in India goes back to many decades prior to the arrival of Intel’s chips and computers based upon them, the arrival of Intel-based PCs revolutionized India’s computing scene and helped establish it as an IT powerhouse in the world. I vividly recall visiting Dr. Sridhar Mitta, then head of their R&D at Wipro, around the 1987 timeframe. I was pleasantly surprised when he showed me a working Intel 386 microprocessor-based motherboard, that was designed by his team with the help of some IISc Bangalore students and professors. The only other company in the world that had a fully working 386 PC at that time was Compaq USA.

I was so impressed by this feat that on my return to the USA, I mentioned this to Andy Grove, the then CEO of Intel. He would not believe it until we had a Wipro 386 board flown in and shown to him. This turned out to be a game-changer for Intel, as it was after this that Intel recognized India’s local talents and market potential, opening its first office in India (Bangalore) in 1988. Intel, today, is estimated to employ around 7000 employees in its Indian facilities.

Once the Indian government decided to seriously encourage this sector in 1984, HCL, Wipro, and hosts of other local vendors pursued PC sales, assembly, and development for the domestic market. They were joined by a host of MNCs such as Compaq, Dell, and HP delivering 386, 486, and Pentium-based computers. Pentium, with its multimedia capabilities, witnessed the strongest growth of the home PC market in India and the world over.

Intel-based PCs (marketed as “Genuine”) along with more price-competitive PCs based on AMD chips (labeled by Intel as “Clones”) became popular in businesses and homes countrywide during the 90s. With the introduction of ARM-based smartphones over the last decade, India has leapfrogged to the use of over 600m of these “pocket computers”, ushering in a new era of the digital economy. The country that invented zero is now feverishly working on promoting its start-up culture to innovate Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and solve problems in its healthcare, e-commerce, online education, and agricultural sectors.

I am very proud to see that recently our Honorable Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and his government have launched powerful incentives to encourage local development of semiconductor chips, displays, and compound semiconductors so that India can become “Atmanirbhar” in these strategic technologies.

This is part of our PCQuest 35 Years Series on the Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow of Technology.

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