Intel celebrates the golden anniversary of the microprocessor

While pioneers like Fairchild Semiconductor were among the earliest companies in Silicon Valley, it was Intel, founded by Fairchild employees, that launched California’s microprocessor industry to the state of total ubiquity. ‘today. It started 50 years ago with the release of the Intel 4004, which is considered the world’s first commercially available single-chip microprocessor.

These qualifiers are apparently necessary due to some easily overlooked and forgotten devices, such as a microprocessor used in early prototype F-14 fighter jets and an unsightly multi-chip processor system. It’s commercial products that keep industries running, and that was the case with the Intel 4004, although this revolutionary chip got off to a slow start.


Intel has kind of supported this market, developing the chip at the request of Japanese calculator company Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation for its new Busicom 141-PF printing calculator. In 1969, this company was looking for a bulky 12-chip solution for its desktop calculator. These chips would have their logic programming built into their physical architecture.

Intel engineer Ted Hoff proposed a four-chip alternative, featuring the 4004 programmable microprocessor at its core. Nippon Calculation Machine Corp. was unhappy with this outcome, so in 1971 Intel refunded the company’s $60,000 to reclaim the rights to the 4004 design and offered it as a commercial product to other customers. Even then, it took time for the industry to realize the potential of programmable microprocessors.

“People were locked into the concept that a computer was valuable, multimillion-dollar equipment,” Hoff recalls. “With this product, we changed people’s perception of computers and the direction the computer industry would take. We have democratized the computer.

“The 4004 was so revolutionary that it took Intel about five years to train engineers on how to create new microprocessor-based products,” said 4004 co-inventor Stan Mazor (along with Hoff and Federico fagin). “Intel ultimately did very well in this endeavor, and the rest is history.”

This wasn’t Intel’s first example of backing a new invention. The company created the first integrated circuit somewhat by chance, according to Intel founder Robert Noyce. “I say the IC came out of my own laziness,” he joked.

At that time, rather than cutting circuits from silicon wafers, semiconductor companies were cutting out individual transistors, Noyce explained. “We took these transistors which were all neatly laid out on a piece of silicon and cut them into little pieces. So of course we ship them to a customer and they put them all back together. Why not just cut out all that middle ground? Just assemble them while they are still on the silicon. So that’s what we did.

This original 4004 chip had 2,300 transistors packed into a 16-pin inline dual package and operated at 750 kHz. It was fabricated on 2-inch silicon wafers using 10 micron (10,000 nanometer) lithography.

This compares to Intel’s latest technology, the 12and-Generation Intel Core processor family, which packs billions of transistors into a 1700-pin socket package running at 5.2GHz. It is fabricated on 12-inch silicon wafers using 7-nanometer circuitry.

And Nippon Calculation Machine Corp. ? This company ceased operations in 1974.

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