During the 1980s the field of computer architecture was revolutionized by the invention of Reduced Instruction Set Computers (RISC). Prior to this, machines were capable of performing hundreds of different basic operations, but most of these operations were rarely used and introduced complications that limited a computer's speed. By reducing the number of different instructions, engineers ensured that each operation would be executed quickly, and although more instructions were needed to perform any given task, net execution time declined. Because instructions were very simple, it became easier to pipeline them—to execute several instructions simultaneously. Moreover, the entire processor could be integrated into a single chip. The result was a dramatic increase in speed and a reduction in cost.
Consisting of 172,000 transistors, the C Reduced Instruction Set Processor (CRISP) from AT&T Bell Laboratories exemplifies the handful of RISC processors that revolutionized the architecture of computer processors. In fact, the CRISP model remains the most popular blueprint for the structure of new processors. This photo-enlargement is the diagram by which engineers check that new chips are correctly manufactured. The chip itself is the smallest object in MoMA's collection, five hundred times smaller than the accompanying diagram.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 74.