August 30th, 2014 ~ by admin

Improve Technologies Make-it 486 – 286 Upgrade

Cx486SLC/e-33MP Based Improve Technologies Make-It 386 for a 286

Cx486SLC/e-33MP Based Improve Technologies Make-It 386 for a 286

Improve Technologies (IT) was a company that existed from 1991-1997.  They were one of the many (to include Cyrix, Evergreen, PNY, Gainbery, etc) that made processors for upgrading 286, 386 and 486 computers.  Processor upgrades are no longer commonplace, becoming nearly non-existent (except for such things as 771 to 775 adapters).  Today computer hardware has become so inexpensive that upgrading more often just consists of purchasing a whole new computer, or at least new motherboard, RAM, and CPU, all at a price of a few hundred dollars.

In the early to mid-90;s however, a computer system cost 2-$3000, so replacing it every few years was not financially viable for many people.  Thus processor upgrades, they were designed to replace a CPU with the next generation CPU (with some limitations) at a price of a few hundred dollars.

In 1976 TranEra was founded in Utah. TransEra is an engineering solutions company, they are built on seeing a technological problem, and engineering a solution, whatever that may be.  They began by making add-on for Tektronix test gear and HP-IB interface equipment.  In 1988 they released HTBasic, a BASIC programming language (based on HP’s Rocky Mountain BASIC) for PC’s.  This is what TransEra became perhaps best known for, as they continue to develop and sell HTBasic.  It was TransEra who developed the Improve Technologies line of upgrades.  They saw a problem, and engineered a solution.

This version included the FPU A Cyrix Cx87SLC-33

This version included the FPU A Cyrix Cx87SLC-33

In the early 1990’s the current computer was a 486, but many people still ran 286 and 386 based systems.  All of these being x86 processors they were code compatible.  You could run a 486 style processor in a 286 system, albeit with a greatly limited bus speed and width.  IT’s first upgrade was for 68 pin PLCC 286s, up to 16MHz.  Simply remove the existing CPU and insert the IT module.   The 286 used a clock twice its processor speed, so a 16MHz 286 would run the Make-It 486 at 32MHz.

Originally the upgrade was called the Make-It 386 (and thats what is molded into the socket) but later marketing changed its name to Make-It 486.  THe processor itself was originally based on a Cyrix Cx486SLC/e CPU running at 33MHz.  The SLC/e was 386SL compatible, with power saving support, so could even upgrade portable system with ease. The SLC/e provided 1KB of unified cache, as well as a 16 bit hardware multiplier.  If more performance was desired, Improve made a version with an integrated Cx87SLC coprocessor.    Around 1995 IT transitioned the adapter to the TI TX486SLC/E.  The TI is licensed from Cyrix, so is no difference other then it says TI.  It’s likely this was done as Cyrix also was making upgrades, branded as Cyrix.  Similar adapters were also made to work in 386s, including for QFP CPUs, where the adapter literally clipped on top of the existing CPU.

In 1996 Improve upgraded the upgrade.  The TI TX486SLCE was replaced by the improved (and also Cyrix based) TX486SXLC and clock doubled SXLC2.  These were virtually identical tot he SLCE except the cache was increased to 8KB and clock doubling was now supported.  Otherwise the processors were the same.  This of course, did not stop Improve Tech. from marketing it against ‘inferior’ adapters with only 1KB of ache (which ironically they had only just stopped making).  Upgrades were available for the 286 (SXLC) the 386SX (SXLC), 386DX (486SXL PGA) as well as early 486SX’s (using the 168 PGA or 144 pin QFP 486SXL)

In 1996 Improve also made available a 486DX4 upgrade for 486 system, this adapter used a Cyrix Cx486DX4-100 with 8KB of cache.  Also available was the Make-It 586 for $169 and featuring the Cyrix M1Sc 5×86 with 16KB of write through cache. This was the pinnacle of the Improve upgrades, and also the last.  By 1997 they had exited the upgrade market.  Other companies continued to make upgrades for a few years (including Intel), but the writing was on the all, it was clear that upgrade processors were quickly becoming unnecessary, replaced by the commodity PC.


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CPU of the Day

6 Responses to Improve Technologies Make-it 486 – 286 Upgrade

  1. xrror

    This is like the sweetest upgrade I’ve ever seen for the 286 “socket.” Thanks for finding and documenting this!

    Also I have to laugh at just how insanely bottle-necked this would have to be, which takes NOTHING away from it’s awesomeness. I grew up with an IBM Model 50, with a 10mhz 286. And imagining this on that system makes me both laugh and weep.

    I still totally want one hehe =) The co-pro snuck into the space of the upgrade “socket” is so awesome too.

  2. ThaMonkeyClaw

    Back in the day I had an Emerson 286-16MHz desktop computer, I ended up convincing my parents at the time to upgrade the system to this exact model, it worked rather well, better than I had expected it to, I could finally play Wolfenstein 3D and it ran circles around the original 286 CPU! Kids have no clue how good they have it in today’s age! I miss the days of weird upgrades like this, thanks for sharing!

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Perhaps not the sweetest upgrade for the 286, but it’s up there. The fastest one I am aware of is the Evergreen Rev to 486 based on the IBM 486SLC2 at 66MHz. It runs at 66MHz no matter what the base clock is set at. It also has a FPU socket that takes standard sized 387sx FPUs.

  4. Galane

    TI made a 486SX CPU that was pin compatible with a PLCC 80286.

    It was meant to be surface mounted (using the curled under J leads) to leverage old 286 chipsets for building bargain basement PCs. Give them updated BIOS to enable the on chip cache and handle integrated peripherals most 286 systems never had and TADA! $500 486SX complete system.

    But the bare chip could be directly snapped in place of an 80286 and it’d run at 2x the clock speed. Just needed a bit of software to make the cache work. A friend of mine put one in a PS/2 Model 50 along with maxing its RAM and installing the best of everything that was ever made for that computer. Didn’t cost him much at the time but building one out like that when it was new would have cost two small fortunes, and wouldn’t have had the TI 486 CPU. Such a shame the thing was still super slow and useless.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    I don’t think TI made any direct replacements for the 286. They did make 486SXLC2, which is an *almost* direct replacement for a 386SX. The only snap-ins for 286 motherboards were made by Evergreen and Improve-It technologies, sometimes they used the SXLC2 chip.

  6. Cybot

    I have a make it 486 chip that I used back in the day to turn my 40mhz and 80386dx into a 80mhz 486sx. Too bad stuff like this still is not being produced, especially in the face of spectre and meltdown hardware based issues.

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