Intel 4004: First commercial microprocessor turns 50

The Intel 4004 – the first commercial microprocessor turns 50 this week. Launched in 1971, the component was fundamental to the popularization of personal computers, starting a new phase of technology around the world. According to the company, the legacy of this processor is present in the company’s chips until today.

At a time when a computer could occupy an entire room and the idea of ​​having personal machines seemed unthinkable, Intel revolutionized technology by introducing a chip whose integrated circuits fit in the palm of your hand, enabling the creation of more compact machines and efficient. According to Intel , the arrival of the chip – initially used to create a desktop calculator – established a new logic design methodology that was eventually used by subsequent generations of computing.

Intel 4004: A Computing Milestone

In 1969, the Nippon Calculating Machine Corp – maker of calculators – approached Intel for the development of integrated circuit sets for its new model, the Busicom 141-PF. Based on the task, Intel engineer Federico Faggin and his team developed 12 custom processors that later resulted in a set of four processors – including the 4004.

After numerous tests, the Model 4004 – which was the size of a human fingernail – delivered the same computing power as the first electronic computer, launched in 1946.

“In 1970 it became clear that microprocessors would change the way we develop systems, from hardware to software. But the speed at which microprocessors developed over time and were adopted across the industry was really surprising,” concludes Federico Faggin, former Intel engineer responsible for designing and producing the Intel 4004 with Tedd Hoff and Stan Mazor.

Engineer Ted Hoff introduces the Intel 4004 microprocessor in 1971. Image: Intel
Engineer Ted Hoff introduces the Intel 4004 microprocessor in 1971. Image: Intel

Also according to Intel, the 4004 was so revolutionary that it took nearly five years for Intel to teach its engineers how to build new products based on microprocessors. It also served as the basis for other models such as the Intel 8080, Intel Z860 and of course the Intel 8086 – which served as the basis for creating the first PC.

 

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According to Intel, the importance of celebrating the achievements of Federico Faggin’s team lies in his legacy. Without the 4004 we wouldn’t have the technology needed to create the ever-smaller chips that today result in models like 12th-generation Alder Lake processors.

The new chips were introduced by Intel in October , the launch marking a new strategy for the company, with hybrid chips that feature performance cores (the P-cores) and efficiency cores (the E-cores). Not by chance, this is the same Arm’s architecture, masterfully harnessed by Apple in  its M-line processors .

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