Although the ability to expand a home computer with more RAM, storage and other features has been around for as long as home computers exist, it wasn’t until the IBM PC that the concept of a fully open and modular computer system became mainstream. Instead of being limited to a system configuration provided by the manufacturer and a few add-ons that really didn’t integrate well, the concept of expansion cards opened up whole industries as well as a big hobbyist market.
The first IBM PC had five 8-bit expansion slots that were connected directly to the 8088 CPU. With the IBM PC/AT these expansion slots became 16-bit courtesy of the 80286 CPU it was built around. These slots could be used for anything from graphics cards to networking, expanded memory or custom I/O. Though there was no distinct original name for this card edge interface, around the PC/AT era it got referred to as PC bus, as well as AT bus. The name Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) bus is a retronym created by PC clone makers.
With such openness came the ability to relatively easy and cheaply make your own cards for the ISA bus, and the subsequent and equally open PCI bus. To this day this openness allows for a vibrant ecosystem, whether one wishes to build a custom ISA or PCI soundcard, or add USB support to a 1981 IBM PC system.
But what does it take to get started with ISA or PCI expansion cards today? Continue reading “You Got Something On Your Processor Bus: The Joys Of Hacking ISA And PCI”