Intel 4004 – The World’s First Microprocessor

The Intel C4004, the very first commercially available microprocessor

On November 15, 1971, Intel presented the Intel 4004 microprocessor, the world’s very first commercially available 4-bit central processing unit (CPU). It was the first complete CPU on one chip. By the time, this revolutionary microprocessor, the size of a little fingernail, delivered the same computing power as the first electronic computer built in 1946, which filled an entire room.

Back in 1969, Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation approached chip maker Intel, which had previously made semiconductor memory chips, to design a number of custom designed chips for its new printing calculator. Intel engineers suggested a family of just four chips, including one that could be programmed for use in a variety of products, setting in motion an engineering feat that dramatically altered the course of electronics.The chief designers of the chip were Federico Faggin and Ted Hoff of Intel, and Masatoshi Shima of Busicom (later Zilog). Intel designed a set of four chips known as the MCS-4, which included a central processing unit (CPU) chip – the famous 4004 – as well as a supporting read-only memory (ROM) chip for the custom applications programs, a random-access memory (RAM) chip for processing data, and a shift-register chip for the input/output (I/O) port. Federico Faggin, the sole chip designer among the development team on the MCS-4 project, was the only one with experience in MOS random logic and circuit design. He created a new random logic design methodology based on silicon gate, and contributed many technology and circuit design inventions that enabled a single chip microprocessor to become a reality for the first time. His methodology set the design style for all the early Intel microprocessors and later for the Zilog’s Z80.

Intel immediately saw the potential of their new development, purchased the rights from Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation and launched the Intel®4004 processor and its chipset with an advertisement in the November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News ”Announcing A New Era In Integrated Electronics”, though unconfirmed reports put the date of first delivery as early as March 1971. That’s when the Intel 4004 became the first general-purpose programmable processor on the market – a “building block” that engineers could purchase and then customize with software to perform different functions in a wide variety of electronic devices.

Packaged in a 16-pin ceramic dual in-line package, the Intel 4004 was built of approximately 2,300 transistors. It employed a 10 µm process silicon-gate enhancement load pMOS technology and could execute approximately 92,000 instructions per second

A popular myth says that Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft to leave the solar system, applied an Intel 4004 microprocessor on board. According to Dr. Larry Lasher of Ames Research Center, the Pioneer team actually did evaluate the 4004, but decided it was too new at the time to include in any of the Pioneer projects. On October 15, 2010, Faggin, Hoff, and Mazor from the original designer team were awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation for their pioneering work on the Intel 4004.

At yovisto you can watch a presentation for the 35th anniversary of the Intel 4004 processor.

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