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The Intel 80386DX was the first true 32-bit processor used on the PC platform. Its internal register size was increased to 32 bits, and its data and address buses were as well, doubling data path width to the processor and increasing addressable memory to 4 GB theoretical. The 80386 family of chips offered more performance than the 80286s they replaced, largely through processor speed increases. The 386 did not offer the very large improvements over the 286 that the 286 did over the 8088.
The 386DX's increased power and the improved processor modes it offered (including full protected mode and virtual real modes) spurred the introduction of GUI-based operating systems on the PC, such as Microsoft Windows (although they are still quite slow on 386 chips). The instruction set of the 386 has set the standard for what is now called "x86" and hasn't changed very much since it was introduced. The 80386DX was the first to use pipelining to allow much improved processor performance through the use of much higher clock frequencies.
Invented by Intel, the 386 was also "cloned" by AMD and Cyrix. These are very good copies with no real compatibility problems. Intel only produced the 386DX up to 33 MHz (presumably to prevent overlapping into the 486's performance range) while AMD and Cyrix produced a 40 MHz version as well. This latter chip produced very good performance (for the time), comparable to many lower-end 486s. They are still however obsolete by today's standards, of course.
Look here for an explanation of the categories in the processor summary table below, including links to more detailed explanations.
Next: Intel 80386SX