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First programmable microprocessor

50 years of Intel 4004

Intel 4004
Intel's 4004 processor integrated 2,300 transistors, today it is several billion.
© Intel

This year is special for Intel, as well as for the entire semiconductor industry: the 4004 microprocessor is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It is the first commercially available programmable microprocessor.

Exactly 50 years ago – on November 15th, 1971 – Intel introduced its first programmable microprocessor – the Intel 4004. It was invented and developed by three engineers: Federico Faggin, Stan Mazor and Marcian E. (Ted) Hoff. However, Faggin is credited with the main work on the processor. His initials F.F. were even shown on some schematic diagrams and the PCB layout.

The chip was born back in 1969, when the Nippon Calculating Machine company suggested Intel to design 12 individual chips for the »Busicom 141-PF« calculating machine. In response, the engineers initially designed a set of four chips to choose from, which became known as MCS-4. It included a CPU chip (4004) as well as a ROM chip for user-defined application programs, a RAM chip for data processing, and a shift register chip for I/O connections. What was special about the 4004 was that it was programmable and could be used not only in the calculator but in many other products.

50 years of Intel 4004

© Intel
Federico Faggin
© Intel
4004 Schaltbild
© Intel

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Revolution of the semiconductor industry

Until the invention of the 4004, Intel was mainly dedicated to memory technology, and only afterwards the company focused more and more on microprocessor technology. An industry that in those days was still very chaotic and just sprouting up. Since then, Intel helped and still helps to change processor technology decisively.

Some data to compare the processor generations:

  • While there were 2,300 transistors in the 4004, the 12th generation of Core processors integrates several billion.
  • The frequency increased from 750 kHz in the 4004 up to 5.2 GHz in the current 12th generation of Core CPUs.
  • The number of cores and threads has also increased: from one core up to 16, from one thread up to 24.
  • The 4004 was manufactured in a 10 µm process. We have currently arrived at the 10 nm process technology, the 7 nm process is already starting.
  • While the 4004 was housed in a 16-pin package, the current generation of Intel processors has 1,700 pins on a single socket.

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