Extended Industry Standard Architecture

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Enhanced Industry Standard Architecture
EISA Bus.jpg
Three EISA Slots.
Year created 1988; 29 years ago (1988)
Created by Gang of Nine
Superseded by PCI (1993)
Width in bits 32
No. of devices 1 per slot
Speed 8.33 MHz
Style Parallel
Hotplugging interface No
External interface No
SCSI Controller (Adaptec AHA-1740).
Fast SCSI Raid Controller (DPT PM2022).
ELSA Winner 1000 for ISA and EISA.

The Extended Industry Standard Architecture (in practice almost always shortened to EISA and frequently pronounced "eee-suh") is a bus standard for IBM PC compatible computers. It was announced in September 1988 by a consortium of PC clone vendors (the "Gang of Nine") as a counter to IBM's use of its proprietary Micro Channel architecture (MCA) in its PS/2 series.[1]

EISA extends the AT bus, which the Gang of Nine retroactively renamed to the ISA bus to avoid infringing IBM's trademark on its PC/AT computer, to 32 bits and allows more than one CPU to share the bus. The bus mastering support is also enhanced to provide access to 4 GB of memory. Unlike MCA, EISA can accept older XT and ISA boards — the lines and slots for EISA are a superset of ISA.

EISA was much favoured by manufacturers due to the proprietary nature of MCA, and even IBM produced some machines supporting it. It was somewhat expensive to implement (though not as much as MCA), so it never became particularly popular in desktop PCs. However, it was reasonably successful in the server market,[2] as it was better suited to bandwidth-intensive tasks (such as disk access and networking). Most EISA cards produced were either SCSI or network cards. EISA was also available on some non-IBM compatible machines such as the AlphaServer, HP 9000-D, SGI Indigo2 and MIPS Magnum.

By the time there was a strong market need for a bus of these speeds and capabilities for desktop computers, the VESA Local Bus and later PCI filled this niche and EISA vanished into obscurity.


The original IBM PC included five 8-bit slots, running at the system clock speed of 4.77 MHz. The PC/AT, introduced in 1984, had three 8-bit slots and five 16-bit slots, all running at the system clock speed of 6 MHz in the earlier models and 8 MHz in the last version of the computer. The 16-bit slots were a superset of the 8-bit configuration, so most 8-bit cards were able to plug into a 16-bit slot (some cards used a "skirt" design that physically interfered with the extended portion of the slot) and continue to run in 8-bit mode. One of the key reasons for the success of the IBM PC (and the PC clones that followed it) was the active ecosystem of third-party expansion cards available for the machines. IBM was restricted from patenting the bus, and widely published the bus specifications.

As the PC-clone industry continued to build momentum in the mid- to late-1980s, several problems with the bus began to be apparent. First, because the "AT slot" (as it was known at the time) was not managed by any central standards group, there was nothing to prevent a manufacturer from "pushing" the standard. One of the most common issues was that as PC clones became more common, PC manufacturers began ratcheting up the processor speed to maintain a competitive advantage. Unfortunately, because the ISA bus was originally locked to the processor clock, this meant that some 286 machines had ISA buses that ran at 10, 12, or even 16 MHz. In fact, the first system to clock the ISA bus at 8 MHz was the turbo 8088 clones that clocked the processors at 8 MHz. This caused many issues with incompatibility, where a true IBM-compatible third-party card (designed for an 8 MHz or 4.77 MHz bus) might not work in a higher speed system (or even worse, would work unreliably). Most PC makers eventually decoupled the slot clock from the system clock, but there was still no standards body to "police" the industry.

As companies like Dell modified the AT bus design,[3] the architecture was so well entrenched that no single clone manufacturer had the leverage to create a standardized alternative, and there was no compelling reason for them to cooperate on a new standard. Because of this, when the first 386-based system (the Compaq Deskpro 386) hit the market in 1986, it still supported 16-bit slots. Other 386 PCs followed suit, and the AT (later ISA) bus remained a part of most systems even into the late 1990s.

Meanwhile, IBM began to worry that it was losing control of the industry it had created. In 1987, IBM released the PS/2 line of computers, which included the MCA bus. MCA included numerous enhancements over the 16-bit AT bus, including bus mastering, burst mode, software configurable resources, and 32-bit capabilities. However, in an effort to reassert its dominant role, IBM patented the bus, and placed stringent licensing and royalty policies on its use. A few manufacturers did produce licensed MCA machines (most notably NCR), but overall the industry balked at IBM's restrictions.

Steve Gibson proposed that clone makers adopt NuBus.[4] Instead, a group (the "Gang of Nine"), led by Compaq, created a new bus, which was named the Extended (or Enhanced) Industry Standard Architecture, or "EISA". (The 16-bit bus became known as Industry Standard Architecture, or "ISA".)[5] This provided virtually all of the technical advantages of MCA, while remaining compatible with existing 8-bit and 16-bit cards, and (most enticing to system and card makers) minimal licensing cost.

The EISA bus slot is a two-level staggered pin system, with the upper part of the slot corresponding to the standard ISA bus pin layout. The additional features of the EISA bus are implemented on the lower part of the slot connector, using thin traces inserted into the insulating gap of the upper / ISA card card edge connector. Additionally the lower part of the bus has five keying notches, so an ISA card with unusually long traces cannot accidentally extend down into the lower part of the slot.

Intel introduced their first EISA chipset (and also their first chipset in the modern sense of the word) as the 82350 in September 1989.[6][7] Intel introduced a lower cost variant as the 82350DT announced in April 1991; it began shipping in June of that year.[8]

The first EISA computer announced was the HP Vectra 486 in October 1989.[9] The first EISA computers to hit the market were the Compaq Deskpro 486 and the SystemPro.[citation needed] The SystemPro, being one of the first PC-style systems designed as a network server, was built from the ground up to take full advantage of the EISA bus. It included such features as multiprocessing, hardware RAID, and bus-mastering network cards.

Ironically, one of the benefits to come out of the EISA standard was a final codification of the standard to which ISA slots and cards should be held (in particular, clock speed was fixed at an industry standard of 8.33 MHz). Thus, even systems which didn't use the EISA bus gained the advantage of having the ISA standardized, which contributed to its longevity.

The "Gang of Nine"[edit]

The Gang of Nine was the informal name given to the consortium of personal computer manufacturing companies that together created the EISA bus. Rival members generally acknowledged Compaq's leadership, with one stating in 1989 that within the Gang of Nine "when you have 10 people sit down before a table to write a letter to the president, someone has to write the letter. Compaq is sitting down at the typewriter".[5] The members were:[1]

Technical data[edit]

EISA Bus pins.png
bus width 32 bit
compatible with 8 bit ISA, 16 bit ISA, 32 bit EISA
pins 98 + 100 inlay
Vcc +5 V, −5 V, +12 V, −12 V
clock 8.33 MHz
theoretical data rate (32 bit) about 33 MB/s (8.33 MHz × 4 bytes)
usable data rate (32 bit) about 20 MB/s

Although the MCA bus had a slight performance advantage over EISA (bus speed of 10 MHz, compared to 8.33 MHz), EISA contained almost all of the technological benefits that MCA boasted, including bus mastering, burst mode, software configurable resources, and 32-bit data/address buses. These brought EISA nearly to par with MCA from a performance standpoint, and EISA easily defeated MCA in industry support.

EISA replaced the tedious jumper configuration common with ISA cards with software-based configuration. Every EISA system shipped with an EISA configuration utility; this was usually a slightly customized version of the standard utilities written by the EISA chipset makers. The user would boot into this utility, either from floppy disk or on a dedicated hard drive partition. The utility software would detect all EISA cards in the system, and could configure any hardware resources (interrupts, memory ports, etc.) on any EISA card (each EISA card would include a disk with information that described the available options on the card), or on the EISA system motherboard. The user could also enter information about ISA cards in the system, allowing the utility to automatically reconfigure EISA cards to avoid resource conflicts.

Similarly, Windows 95, with its Plug-and-Play capability, was not able to change the configuration of EISA cards, but it could detect the cards, read their configuration, and reconfigure Plug and Play hardware to avoid resource conflicts. Windows 95 would also automatically attempt to install appropriate drivers for detected EISA cards.

Industry Acceptance[edit]

EISA's success was far from guaranteed. Many manufacturers, including those in the "Gang of Nine", researched the possibility of using MCA. For example, Compaq actually produced prototype DeskPro systems using the bus. However, these were never put into production, and when it was clear that MCA had lost, Compaq allowed its MCA license to expire (the license actually cost relatively little; the primary costs associated with MCA, and at which the industry revolted, were royalties to be paid per system shipped).

On the other hand, when it became clear to IBM that Micro Channel was dying, IBM licensed EISA for use in a few server systems.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Compaq Leads 'Gang of Nine' In Offering Alternative to MCA, InfoWorld, Sep 19, 1988
  2. ^ Sean K. Daily (1998). Optimizing Windows NT. Wiley. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-7645-3110-1. EISA is still found on many of today's modern servers owing to its long-standing presence in the PC server market. 
  3. ^ Lewis, Peter H. (1988-04-24). "Introducing the First PS/2 Clones". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  4. ^ Lemmons, Phil (August 1987). "Editorial". BYTE. p. 6. Retrieved 6 November 2013. 
  5. ^ a b LaPlante, Alice; Furger, Roberta (1989-01-23). "Compaq Vying To Become the IBM of the '90s". InfoWorld. pp. 1, 8. Retrieved 17 March 2016. 
  6. ^ Scott M. Mueller (2011). Upgrading and Repairing PCs (20th ed.). Que Publishing. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-13-268218-3. 
  7. ^ Ziff Davis, Inc. (26 September 1989). First EISA chips delivered. PC Magazine. p. 65. ISSN 0888-8507. 
  8. ^ Louise Fickel (29 April 1991). Intel Debuts EISA Chip Set for Lower Cost 32-Bit Systems. InfoWorld. p. 27. ISSN 0199-6649. 
  9. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1989/10/22/business/the-executive-computer-the-race-to-market-a-486-machine.html

External links[edit]

This article is based on material taken from the Free On-line Dictionary of Computing prior to 1 November 2008 and incorporated under the "relicensing" terms of the GFDL, version 1.3 or later.