On November 15th 1971, Intel released its 4004 processor. Its release marked one of the key foundations of the modern computer age. Some of the core concepts from this processor live on today in virtually every piece of technology. Without it, we might still be playing board games, or relying on pigeons for communication. Well, not really.
The 4004 was the first commercially available microprocessor and it was absolutely a pioneering piece of tech. It combined different functions onto a single silicon chip with a high operating frequency and transistor density that was well ahead of anything available at the time. It also used cutting edge manufacturing technology.
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Prior to 1971, Intel primarily focused on semiconductor memory, lacking the expertise to produce a general-purpose processor. Then, in 1969, Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation approached Intel to design a processor for its Busicom 141-PF printing calculator (opens in new tab). Intel suggested a four chip design, one of which could be programmed for various tasks. Electronics would never be the same. To meet these design goals, it hired Italian chip designer Fredrico Faggin. Faggin’s expertise no doubt helped Intel to achieve the dominant position it enjoys today. Interestingly, each 4004 die contains a tiny F.F. in the corner.
Some of the 4004's key specifications include a 740 KHz clock speed, 10 micrometer (10000nm) lithography and a total of 2300 transistors. Compare that to a modern CPU at around 4.5 GHz, 7 nanometer lithography and billions of transistors and it’s clear we’ve come a long way.
A prototype of the original Busicom calculator is on display at the Computer History Museum (opens in new tab) in Mountain View California. This not so young geek would like to visit there someday.
The technology and expertise Intel learned from designing these early chips eventually led to the release the 8086 processor in 1978, which was the processor used in IBM’s original PC. With that, the modern PC was born. The roots of our gaming machines can be traced back to these early days. Where will we be 50 years from now? Maybe Star Citizen will have a release date by then.
You won't be able to grab a 4004 on our Black Friday CPU deals page (opens in new tab), but one of its great great great grandchildren will be worth a look.