Microprocessors

A brief History

by Nizar El-Zarif

NIzar El-Zarif is a PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Electrical Engineering

NIzar El-Zarif is a PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Electrical Engineering

We take microprocessors for granted. It is such an amazing device that is found almost everywhere, from servers in datacenters, to your remote control of your television. It usher the digital age. But before the invention of microprocessors, computers were only used in research institutions and giant research labs.

Microprocessor is a device that returns results in bits based on instructions and data fed to them by a program, before microprocessor was invented, computers took the shape of entire room, filled with different circuits doing different things. A microprocessor combines many different elements of a computer into a single component, significantly reducing cost and space required to make a functional computers.

Intel 4004 [1]

Intel 4004 [1]

The first commercially available microprocessor was invented by intel in 1971 called the intel 4004, before that intel was originally a memory chip company. This happened when in 1969 a  japanese company called “Nippan” contacted intel to make several chips to be used in  a digital calculator. Instead of designing and manufacturing 12 different chip, intel saw it is easier and simpler in terms design time to design a single chip that can do the job of 12 different chips. The result is a chip operating at 64Khz, and 2,300 transistor build upon 10um transistor technology. While it is dwarfed by modern processor with roughly 2 billion transistors, 2.00+ GHz frequencies build upon 0.014um transistor technology, it is nonetheless a huge improvement upon previous generation of computers. Seeing the potential in their chip, intel bought the rights of to sell the design from company and sold it also for consumers. Note that while technically the 4004 was not first microprocesors, it was the first publically and commercially avaialble for purchase. There were other in deployment for the Airforce

[1] die shot of intel 4004

[1] die shot of intel 4004

It also worth noting that the 4004 was a 4 bit chip was followed by the much more sucessful 8008 (8 bit version), later iteration saw 8080, 8086 (16 bit) and eventually x86 which is still used to this day.


References

[1] http://www.extremetech.com/computing/105029-intel-4004-the-first-cpu-is-40-years-old-today