Tuesday, 16 November 2021 11:52

50 years since Intel's groundbreaking 4004 processor arrived - wow! Featured

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The Intel 4004 was "the first commercially available microprocessor," and while it is extremely primitive by today's standards, it "paved the way" for the modern microprocessor computing revolution and changed the world as we know it.

Launched in November 1971, Intel's 4004 was the world’s first commercially available microprocessor, and as Intel puts it, "enabled the convergence of the technology superpowers – ubiquitous computing, pervasive connectivity, cloud-to-edge infrastructure and artificial intelligence – and created a pace of innovation that is moving faster today than ever."

Intel Corporation Historian Elizabeth Jones has also written a great article titled "The Chip that Changed the World" which you should also read for great context and content.

Intel has published a great video with current CEO Pat Gelsinger talking with Intel's famous co-founder, Chairman Emeritus and creator of "Moore's Law", Gordon Moore.

The video is not on YouTube, so I can't embed it here, but you can watch the short video and a second video that discussed how semiconductor technology will continue to shape the world, here

As Intel reminds us, the 4004 "paved the path" for modern microprocessor computing, evolving into the “brains” that make possible nearly every modern technology, from the cloud to the edge.

Intel adds "Microprocessors enable the convergence of the technology superpowers – ubiquitous computing, pervasive connectivity, cloud-to-edge infrastructure and artificial intelligence – and create a pace of innovation that is moving faster today than ever."

Pat Gelsinger, Intel CEO said: "This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 4004 chip. Think of how much we’ve accomplished in the past half-century. This is a sacred moment for technology. This is what made computing really take off!”

Intel explains the significance of the 4004, noting that as the first, it is "the pioneer microprocessor, and its success proved that it was possible to build complex integrated circuits and fit them on a chip the size of a fingernail.

"Its invention also established a new random logic design methodology, one that subsequent generations of microprocessors would be built upon, before evolving to create the chips found in today’s modern devices."

Federico Faggin, former Intel engineer who designed and produced the Intel 4004 with Tedd Hoff and Stan Mazor, said: "[Looking back at] 1970, it was clear that microprocessors would change the way that we design systems, switching from using hardware to software instead. But the speed with which microprocessors developed over time and were adopted by the industry was really surprising."

Faggin left Fairchild Semiconductor to join Intel, and then left Intel to co-found Zilog, which made the Z80 microprocessor, which was the processor that was in the first ever computer I owned, the Exidy Sorcerer, so Faggin and his colleagues were true giants of industry that have truly helped shape the modern world as we know it!

So, what's next?

Well, while the 4004 delivered the modern computing era through the design and production of the first commercially available microprocessor for a desktop calculator, Intel reminds us its "latest 12th Gen Intel Core processors – which company leaders revealed at the Intel Innovation event in October – will usher in a new era of computing.

:The performance hybrid architecture of this new family represents an architectural shift made possible by close co-engineering of software and hardware and will deliver new levels of leadership performance for generations. And with research in fields like quantum computing, with the cryogenic Intel Horse Ridge II solution, and neuromorphic computing, with the Intel Loihi 2 chip, Intel continues to innovate, explore new territories and push the limits of computing."

What's more on the 4004’s history? 

We're told that in 1969, "Nippon Calculating Machine Corp. approached Intel about designing a set of integrated circuits for its engineering prototype calculator, the Busicom 141-PF.

"Intel engineer Faggin and his team adapted the original plans for 12 custom chips and designed a set of four chips – including the 4004 CPU – that met the challenge. Ultimately, the 4004, at the size of a human fingernail, delivered the same computing power as the first electronic computer built in 1946, which filled an entire room."

Here's a great infographic from Intel:

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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