On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of microprocessors; Take a look at the legendary Intel 4004 chip

به مناسبت ۵۰ سالگی ریزپردازنده‌ها؛ نگاهی به تراشه افسانه‌ای اینتل ۴۰۰۴

Intel is an American multinational corporation headquartered in Santa Clara, California, and is the largest chip maker in the world in terms of revenue. In the Fortune 500 ranking of 2021, Intel is ranked as the 40th largest American company in terms of total revenue, and has seen a five-step jump over last year. But where did the story of Intel enter the microprocessor space begin, and how did it succeed in the industry?

The first commercial single-chip microprocessor

In 1969, the Japanese company Busicom chose Intel to produce chips for its own calculators. Intel succeeded in designing the MSC-4 chip in this direction, which consisted of four integrated circuits (ICs) and could significantly reduce the complexity of the internal design of the calculators. Intel then introduced its new expanded product to the world in the form of the first commercial single-chip microprocessor called the “Intel 4004”. The microprocessor in question was able to support three chips, 4001 and 4002, as well as 4003, of which the 4002 chip was used as 40-byte RAM.

Busicom 141-PF desktop calculator

Federico Faggin, along with Ted Hoff, were senior Intel designers who collaborated with Japanese company Masatoshi Shima to design the chip for the Busicom calculator. Huff was able to achieve the required architecture in 1969, but ultimately had no role in the development of Intel’s first microprocessor. Fagin was one of the most experienced people on the design team who was able to design a new variable logic system. His method made it possible to make many single-chip microprocessors, and its effects can be seen in Intel’s early products and Zilog’s eight-bit Z80 microprocessor. He founded Zilog in 1974 and became the first company to focus exclusively on microprocessors. Shortly afterwards, Shima joined him and helped him develop the Z80 architecture.

The Intel 4004 microprocessor first entered the market in the mid-1971 as the beating heart of the Busicom 141-PF calculator. Those who are interested can refer to this page, To experience working with the said calculator simulator. After reviewing the contract between Intel and the Japanese and paying $ 60,000 to the manufacturer of the calculator, it became possible to sell the MCS-4 chip to other companies. Shortly afterwards, Intel introduced its advanced product to others by ordering an ad in Electronic News on November 15, 1971.

Intel 4004
The main ad of the Intel 4004 chip in Electronic News; November 1971.

The ad for the Intel 4004 chip promised a new era for electronics, with the term micro-programmable computer on the chip. Prior to this product, computer central processing units (CPUs) typically consisted of several integrated circuit boards on which electronic components were mounted separately. Thanks to an innovation from Intel, all the circuits were integrated into a silicon chip that was smaller than a fingernail. The fundamental leap toward shrinking parts with the 4004 chip led to the emergence of smaller computers that became home computers in the following decades.

Was the Intel 4004 the first microprocessor?

There is a lot of controversy surrounding the first man-made microprocessor. For this reason, when referring to the Intel 4004, the media uses terms such as “single chip” or “commercial” to refer to it as the first. At the time of Intel’s introduction of the chip, microprocessors consisting of several chips were used in US Navy F-14 Tomcat fighters. Other competitors, including Texas Instruments (TI), were also developing their own single-chip microprocessors.

Intel 4004

However, the 4004 chip has attracted a lot of attention; Because he was the founder of the lucrative microprocessor business for Intel, which lasted for many years and was able to shape the future of personal computers.

Compare Intel 4004 with Core i9-12900K

The Intel 4004 chip uses a working frequency of 740 kHz and 2250 transistors with a manufacturing process of 10 micrometers were placed inside it. Since then, microprocessors have undergone extensive and dramatic changes. To understand this, you can compare the specifications of the Intel 4004 with the updated Core i9-12900K processor, which is described in the table below.

Processor model Intel 4004 Intel Core i9-12900K
Announced November 15, 1971 October 27, 2021
Price according to 2021 $ 401.41 $ 589
Price according to 1971 $ 60 $ 87.82
Maximum operating frequency 740 kHz 5.2 GHz
Word size 4 bits 64 bits
Number of cores 1 ۱۶
Number of strings 1 ۲۴
Memory limitations 4 KB 128 GB
Power consumption 1 watt 125 to 241 watts
Production Process 10 micrometers 7 nanometers
He won 12 mm square 215 mm square
Number of transistors 2250 21.7 billion

Of all the figures in the table above, the staggering jump in the number of transistors from 2,250 to 21.7 billion is unimaginable. Of course, the number of transistors used in the Core i9-12900K is estimated based on the amount of surface and the production process, and the actual amount may be slightly different from the announced figure. More advanced manufacturing processes, such as 7 nanometers, have dramatically increased the density of transistors per square millimeter, and the total number of transistors has an astronomical jump.

Intel 4004
Intel 4004 architecture.

We should also not forget that today’s Intel chips do not only include a central processing unit, but also various other components, including a high-speed memory controller and an integrated graphics processing unit (GPU).

Intel 4004 microprocessor applications

Due to performance constraints and the early presence of more powerful competitors such as the Intel 8008, the 4004 microprocessor could not appear in many products. However, some of the chip-equipped devices listed below are listed in chronological order.

  • 141 PF Desktop Calculator by Busicom (1971)
  • Intel SIM 4 Development System (1972)
  • Intellec 4 Development System (1973)
  • Bally Alley Arcade Simulator (1974)
  • Prototype Bally Flicker (1974)
  • Wang 1222 word processor (1975)
  • Compuvote Computer Voting Machine (1976)

Heritage Intel 4004

Just five months after the introduction of the 4004 microprocessor in Electronic News, Intel introduced the 8008 chip as the first 8-bit microprocessor. This product made it possible to build a new generation of home computer devices such as the Mark-8, which was done by enthusiasts at home.

Intel 4004
Picture of the Mark-8 home computer on the cover of Electronic News.

After the 8008 chip, Intel introduced other products such as the 8080 eight-bit and the 8086 sixteen-bit, each of which was used in specific home computers. The rapid rise of microprocessors caused the Intel 4004 to be scrapped soon after, but its impact remains to this day. In the last 50 years, microprocessors have been able to influence almost every aspect of the industry and transform the global economy. Perhaps one day the importance of making microprocessors can be compared to the impact of fire discovery on the growth of human civilization.

The downsizing of technology did not stop microprocessor innovation. Today, companies are incorporating various capabilities and functions that were once performed by multiple chips into a single chip called the “System on a Chip” (SOC), one of the most famous recent examples being the Apple M1 series.

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