Micro Channel Bus

The introduction of 32-bit chips meant that the ISA bus could not handle the power of another new generation of CPUs. The 386DX chips could transfer 32 bits of data at a time, but the ISA bus can handle a maximum of only 16 bits. Rather than extend the ISA bus again, IBM decided to build a new bus; the result was the MCA bus.

MCA (an abbreviation for microchannel architecture) is completely different from the ISA bus and is technically superior in every way. IBM wanted not only to replace the old ISA standard, but also to require vendors to license certain parts of the technology.

Many owed for licenses on the ISA bus technology that IBM also created, but because IBM had not been aggressive in its licensing of ISA, many got away without any license. Problems with licensing and control led to the development of the competing EISA bus and hindered acceptance of the MCA bus.

MCA systems produced a new level of ease of use; they were plug-and-play before the official Plug and Play specification even existed. An MCA system had no jumpers and switches—neither on the motherboard nor on any expansion adapter.

Instead you used a special Reference disk, which went with the particular system, and Option disks, which went with each of the cards installed in the system. After a card was installed, you loaded the Option disk files onto the Reference disk; after that, you didn't need the Option disks anymore.

The Reference disk contained the special BIOS and system setup program necessary for an MCA system, and the system couldn't be configured without it. To support older PS/2 systems, IBM maintains a library of all its Reference and Options disks at ftp.pc.ibm.com. Check this site if you are supporting any old MCA-based systems and need any of these files.