Intel 4004 Is Already 50 Years Old: What Makes It So Special

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Intel 4004 is the first commercially produced microprocessor from Intel, launched back in 1971 for $60. It is also the world's first general-purpose CPU in a compact single-chip form-factor, which powered the Busicom 141-PF / NCR 18-36 calculator.

 
Intel 4004 Is Already 50 Years Old: What Makes It So Special

Coming back to 2021, Intel has continued to make the CPU, and the company recently launched the Intel Alder Lake CPUs with a hybrid CPU design for the very first time in the x86 architecture. In just 50 years, a lot of change in the CPU industry, and here are some interesting anecdotes about the first and the current CPU from Intel.

Intel 4004 Specifications

The Intel 4004 is a pretty straightforward CPU with 2,300 transistors, while the current Alder Lake CPU has billions of transistors. The Intel 4004 has a 16-pin dual-line-in (DIP) on a package and was manufactured using the Silicon-Gate processor.

Intel 4004 used 10μm, while the most current-generation CPU uses architectures which are measured in nanometer. As per the frequency, the CPU has a maximum clock speed of 750kHz with a wafer diameter of 2-inch making it much thicker than the current-generation high-performance Alder Lake CPU, which just measured 300mm.

Today, we have general-purpose CPUs like the Intel Core i9-12900K which offers 16 cores and 24 threads, while the Intel 4004 is just a single-core processor with no support for hyperthreading. If you think 2-inch is a pretty big footprint for a microprocessor, do note that most of the processors at that time had a footprint of 20-inch.

Why Did Intel Develop 4004?

Back in 1969, Nippon came to Intel to get 12 custom-designed chips to power a printing calculator. Intel told Nippon that it can do a four-chip family that can do everything 12 custom chips can do, which includes a chip that supports programming and can be used for a variety of devices.

 

The family of these four chips was known as MCS-4, which includes the Intel 4004, which was considered as the CPU, ROM (read-only memory), RAM (random access memory), and a shift-register chip for input and output.

Intel then brought back the rights from Nippon and launched the Intel 4004 and its additional chipsets in 1971, which made the Intel 4004 the first general-purpose programmable processor which can be used to perform different tasks using the software.

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