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Intel 4004 - The World's First Single Chip Microprocessor

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Intel 4004 cpu

Intel 4004 cpu - Interior

Mary Bellis
In November, 1971, a company called Intel publicly introduced the world's first single chip microprocessor, the Intel 4004 (U.S. Patent #3,821,715), invented by Intel engineers Federico Faggin, Ted Hoff, and Stanley Mazor. After the invention of integrated circuits revolutionized computer design, the only place to go was down -- in size that is. The Intel 4004 chip took the integrated circuit down one step further by placing all the parts that made a computer think (i.e. central processing unit, memory, input and output controls) on one small chip. Programming intelligence into inanimate objects had now become possible.

The History of Intel

In 1968, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore were two unhappy engineers working for the Fairchild Semiconductor Company who decided to quit and create their own company at a time when many Fairchild employees were leaving to create start-ups. People like Noyce and Moore were nicknamed the "Fairchildren".

Robert Noyce typed himself a one page idea of what he wanted to do with his new company, and that was enough to convince San Francisco venture capitalist Art Rock to back Noyce's and Moore's new venture. Rock raised $2.5 million dollars in less than 2 days.

Intel Trademark

The name "Moore Noyce" was already trademarked by a hotel chain, so the two founders decided upon the name "Intel" for their new company, a shortened version of "Integrated Electronics".

Intel's first money making product was the 3101 Schottky bipolar 64-bit static random access memory (SRAM) chip.

One Chip Does the Work of Twelve

In late 1969, a potential client from Japan called Busicom, asked to have twelve custom chips designed. Separate chips for keyboard scanning, display control, printer control and other functions for a Busicom-manufactured calculator.

Intel did not have the manpower for the job but they did have the brainpower to come up with a solution. Intel engineer, Ted Hoff decided that Intel could build one chip to do the work of twelve. Intel and Busicom agreed and funded the new programmable, general-purpose logic chip.

Federico Faggin headed the design team along with Ted Hoff and Stanley Mazor, who wrote the software for the new chip. Nine months later, a revolution was born. At 1/8th inch wide by 1/6th inch long and consisting of 2,300 MOS (metal oxide semiconductor) transistors, the baby chip had as much power as the ENIAC, which had filled 3,000 cubic feet with 18,000 vacuum tubes.

Cleverly, Intel decided to buy back the design and marketing rights to the 4004 from Busicom for $60,000. The next year Busicom went bankrupt, they never produced a product using the 4004. Intel followed a clever marketing plan to encourage the development of applications for the 4004 chip, leading to its widespread use within months.

The Intel 4004 Microprocessor

The 4004 was the world's first universal microprocessor. In the late 1960s, many scientists had discussed the possibility of a computer on a chip, but nearly everyone felt that integrated circuit technology was not yet ready to support such a chip. Intel's Ted Hoff felt differently; he was the first person to recognize that the new silicon-gated MOS technology might make a single-chip CPU (central processing unit) possible.

Hoff and the Intel team developed such an architecture with just over 2,300 transistors in an area of only 3 by 4 millimetres. With its 4-bit CPU, command register, decoder, decoding control, control monitoring of machine commands and interim register, the 4004 was one heck of a little invention. Today's 64-bit microprocessors are still based on similar designs, and the microprocessor is still the most complex mass-produced product ever with more than 5.5 million transistors performing hundreds of millions of calculations each second - numbers that are sure to be outdated fast.

Continue > Next Chapter: Alan Shugart and IBM - The "Floppy" Disk

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