Happy birthday CPU: world’s first commercial microprocessor turns 40!

November 16th, 2011 in .News & Events
Suds McSoapdish
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With the launch of the new Intel X79 platform and accompanying motherboards, it’s good to maintain some sense of perspective. It’s only four decades ago that the first viable, mass produced, and commercially-available microprocessor became a reality. That’s just 40 years, but the technological evolution in the field since then might as well be measured in eons, because to any contemporary PC user that original microchip would seem beyond archaic.

It was the venerable Intel 4004, produced especially for the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation, who needed a controller for a, well, calculator. A paper-based printing one no less!

You've done good, son

You may think this already makes 1971 sound like the stone age, but it gets better. The 4004 was to become the world’s first commercial CPU, running at a blistering hot 740KHz (compared to the 3GHz+ CPUs of today). It had a massive 2300 transistors, which stands up quite remarkably to the one billion or so transistors of a modern CPU…not. Or more like 2-3 billion transistors if you’re a nice and powerful GPU. Keep in mind that adjusted for inflation transistors are now thousands of times cheaper than they were in the late 1960′s, when the 4004 was being developed. They also consume hundreds or maybe even thousands of times less energy per transistor.

Intel eventually helped Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation sell around 100,000 of the 4004-equipped calculators, which made the first viable CPU a success. And thus we have the behemoths that are running our PCs, consoles, phones, and pretty much everything else these days. This is really a good thing to consider – we get impatient for new technology because getting new and good things is always awesome, and we expect technology to keep marching forward. Sure, hover cars, Skynet-like CPUs and Mars colonies are terrific, but it was only a hundred years ago that we started flying and as we just found out, a mere 40 years ago that we started proper computing…

So go and hug your favourite CPU-controlled device, they’ve earned it!

Image courtesy Intel Museum and copyright Intel Corporation

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  • http://twitter.com/cloudsmesh Vishal

    Happy Birthday. 
    It looks beautiful.