The Intel 4004, the first commercially available microprocessor, celebrates its 50th anniversary


The big picture: Intel forever changed the trajectory of computing – and indeed, human history – with the introduction of the first commercially available microprocessor. The Intel 4004 was launched 50 years ago, on November 15, 1971, but it all started a couple of years earlier, when Japan’s Nippon Calculating Machine Corp. asked Intel to design a series of integrated circuits for a computer prototype called Busicom 141-PF.

like Intel tells, the original plans called for a dozen custom chips, but the company’s engineers managed to fit the design into just four chips, including the 4004 central processing unit (CPU).

Until then, room-sized computers were required to achieve similar levels of processing power.

The Intel 4004 was a 4-bit chip built on a 10µm node. It comprised 2,300 transistors and ran at a clock speed of 740 KHz. For comparison, a modern CPU can contain billions of transistors Other trillions of operations per second.

Intel Senior Fellow Genevieve Bell She said it’s really a story about making things smaller. “And as you make them smaller, you increase the potential of the places they can go and the things they can pass,” Bell added.

Related reading: The history of the microprocessor and the personal computer

Stan Mazor, co-inventor of the Intel 4004, said its design was so revolutionary that it took Intel about five years to educate engineers on exactly how to build new microprocessor-based products.

Yet the direction of progress has not always been clear. “The capabilities, for example, of having an incredibly capable microprocessor as a hearing aid were not evident in 1971,” said Faggin.

Another thing Faggin didn’t see coming was the speed with which microprocessors developed over time and were adopted by industry. It’s hard to imagine a world without them today, and with the continued shortage of chips, we appreciate their presence more than ever.


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