How to program an 8086 microprocessor

Written by phil lamass
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How to program an 8086 microprocessor
(Hemera Technologies/ Images)

The Intel 8086 microprocessor has a long and distinguished history. An 8 bit version of this chip, the 8088, was the microprocessor chosen by IBM to power the first generation of it's personal computers. It is the ancestor of the Intel microprocessors that power today's IBM compatible PCs. Though it is over 30 years old and no longer widely used, you can still learn to program the Intel 8086. The following steps will help you to get started.

Skill level:

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    Preparation for Programming the 8086

  1. 1

    Get books on programming the 8086. There is still a wealth of information about this microprocessor. Check the programming section of used bookstores in your area. However, your best bet will most likely be online bookstores. For example, has a number of hardware and software titles covering the 8086 microprocessor. You will also find the Internet to be a good source of information because there are still groups and individuals actively working on hardware and software projects based on the 8086.

  2. 2

    Become familiar with the hardware organisation of the 8086.

    Even if you don't intend to build your own 8086-based computer, you should spend some time reviewing hardware related features of the 8086.

  3. 3

    Learn the programming model and instruction set for the 8086. It's important to have a good grasp of the Programming model. It describes those aspects of the 8086 architecture that are accessible to the programmer. If you intend to program on assembly language, you will need a thorough understanding of the instruction set as well.

  4. 4

    Decide whether you will program in a high level language or assembly language. This is an important step. It will be a factor in determining which development tools you obtain. If you decide to program in assembly code, you will need to obtain an assembler. If you choose to develop in a high level language, for example C, you will need to obtain a cross compiler. Many software development systems provide both.

  5. 5

    Choose a Development Platform. You will need a platform on which to run, test and debug your programs. You have three options: build your own, buy a development board or get an emulator. Building your own is a major project all by itself and will not be covered here. Development boards, Single Board Computers, and trainers based on the 8086 are still available. You might want to consider using an 8086 emulator. The emulator is a program that behaves like, in this case, an 8086. It enables you to run, test and debug your 8086 code on your PC.

Tips and warnings

  • The 8086 and 8088 have almost identical architectures. The major exception is that the 8088 has an 8 bit external data bus rather than 16 bits. Most development tools are targeted for both microprocessors.

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