The Evolution of the Motorola Microprocessor


Motorola may have entered the microprocessor market after Intel, but Motorola’s microprocessors have played a role in many of significant events in computer history. Starting with an 8-bit microprocessor in 1974, the Motorola processors evolved into some of the most influential designs in computing, such as the 68000 and the PowerPC architecture.

The 6800

  • After seeing the success of Intel’s 8-bit 8008 microprocessor, Motorola introduced its first 8-bit microprocessor, the 6800, in 1974. The 6800 became more prevalent due in part to the system oriented support hardware that Motorola introduced with the 6800. The 6800 was competing in the market with the Intel 8080. The 6800 was used in some early home computer kits, the Tektronix 4051 Graphics Computer System and in a microprocessor trainer sold by Heathkit.

The 6809

  • Around 1977, Motorola introduced the 6809, which was an 8-bit processor with certain 16-bit features. The 6809 had two 8-bit accumulators and two 16-bit index registers and stack pointers, which allowed for advanced memory addressing modes. The 6809 was used in the TRS-80 Color Computer sold by Radio Shack beginning in 1980.

The 68000

  • The 68000, introduced in 1979, was Motorola’s first 16-bit processor. The 68000 was actually a hybrid 16/32-bit processor in that it has 16-bit data buses but could perform 32-bit calculations internally. By 1984, Motorola had introduced the 68020, which was a true 32-bit processor compatible with the 68000. A processor in the 68000 family was used in the Apple Macintosh, Sun 3 Workstation, Amiga and Atari ST computers. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the 68000 was almost chosen over the Intel 8088 for use in the IBM personal computer.


  • In 1991, an alliance of Motorola, Apple and IBM created a microprocessor, called the PowerPC, with a reduced instruction set architecture for use in personal computers. The PowerPC was used in Apple Macintosh computers from 1994 to 2006, and in video game consoles and embedded applications, such as automotive devices. The PowerPC can operate in both big-endian and little-endian modes. Big-endian and little-endian refer to the order of bits in a binary number and which end is the big end or little end of the number. The PowerPC architecture has become a standard that's maintained by and is used primarily in processors for embedded applications.

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