Good Idea/Bad Idea

Good Idea/Bad Idea Gets on the Bus

Dan Knight - 2002.11.15

The personal computing industry began with standard parts: Intel's new CPU, memory chips, etc. From there, it sometimes diverged in interesting directions.

Today Good Idea/Bad Idea looks at what happens when a computer maker gets on the wrong bus.

Good Idea

Use readily available CPUs, memory chips, interfaces, buses, and so forth to build a PC with minimal R&D expense.

Successes: The Apple II series, a host of CP/M computers, the IBM PC, and a legion of PC clones.

Bad Idea

Trying to kill off the clones with a proprietary architecture - even if it is better.

Failure: IBM's amazingly over-engineered Micro Channel Architecture. MCA had much greater bandwidth than the AT bus used in PC clones and even allowed bus mastering, but even IBM wasn't big enough to lead the industry in this direction. Still, several MCA innovations eventually made their way into today's PCI bus.

Failure: Adoption of the emerging NuBus architecture in the Apple Macintosh II, NeXT Cube, and nothing else anyone remembers. Compared to the industry standard 8 MHz 16-bit bus used in PC clones, the 10 MHz 32-bit NuBus was good enough for Apple to ride from 1987 to late 1995, but convincing vendors to make cards for an almost proprietary bus on a minority hardware platform wasn't easy. NuBus didn't doom the Mac, but Apple's adoption of the PCI bus in 1995 was a much smarter move.


Teamwork pays off. The broadest success comes from following a widely accepted standard, such as ISA, PCI, and AGP. LEPC

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