National Semi 32016

Initial Interest

After a NS32016 promotion in 1981, a chipset was purchased from the Cape Town agents. Previous logic shortages resulted in 18 month lead-times so hardware was often bought before a design-in. They never made it past the wire wrap stage due to no low-cost software development system. Later NS32000 family interest included a NS32532 launch in London (Nov, 1985). Visiting Wescon a few days later, a friend from Natal University living in San Francisco, gave a Silicon Valley perspective from discussions at meetings, pubs and venture.

NS32000 chip collection

The NS32016 chipset shown here were the NS32081 FPU, NS32201 TCU, NS32202 ICU, NS32016 CPU and NS32082 MMU.

How did it compare?

The NS32016 had 32-bit data registers with a 16-bit data bus. Other popular 16-bit data-bus processers at the time were the Intel 8086, Zilog Z8000 and Motorola 68000. The Intel 8086 and Zilog Z8000 had 16-bit data and address registers, plus a segmented address space. Both the NS32000 and 68000 had memory mapped I/O rather than the I/O mapping of the 8086 and Z8000. Later, the RISCs movement would also dispense with I/O mapping. The NS32016 were released in 1979, the 32-bit data bus version called the NS32032 was released in 1984, followed by a faster NS32332 in 1985 at 20 MHz.

The NS32000 architectural high-level language support was well thought out, favouring Pascal (and possibly Ada as the 1980s tried to please military customers). Academics were trying their best to discredit C and promote Ada (some Modula).

Unix was becoming the operating system of choice for new computer vendors. National Semi tried to charge a premium for Genix (their port to the NS32000), but the the 68000 and IBM PC were much cheaper. Microsoft also shipped Xenix (their Unix port to the 80286).

Available workstations

The only NS32K-based workstation I was aware of was from Whitechapel Computer Works Ltd in the UK. In 1985, my wife and I attempted to visit Whitechapel Computers, but when we arrived at the station, we crossed over the footbridge and took the next train out of there. As per Wikipedia, Whitechapel is a poor neighbourhood and best known as the location of “Jack the Ripper” murders in the 1880s. Sadly, Whitechapel Computer Works followed the NS32K fortunes, although at £10,000 for a base workstation on Wikipedia's WCW page, certainly not cheap.

Where are they now?

National Semiconductor concentrated on analog after their computer adventures, being acquired by Texas Instruments in September, 2011. Finding databooks might be a bit difficult. The 1986 NS320001 databook was found on a Google search. I think early Canon printers used a version of the NS32000, but I don't recall any NS32000 second source. The NS32K floundered as Derek had predicted. Wikipedia also cited unreliable and bug-ridden chips.

 1 National Semiconductor Corporation, Series 32000® Databook, 1986, Part N° RRD-RRD50M086, 1329 pages.