Intel celebrates the 40th birthday of its first microprocessor

By Lee Kaelin on November 16, 2011, 9:30 AM

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary since Intel released its first microprocessor, the 4004. The company hosted an event in San Francisco to pay homage to the chip, with executives taking the opportunity to discuss the history of the microprocessor and its greater impact looking into the future.

It all started when Busicom, a Japanese electronics manufacturer approached Intel with designs for a chip for their 141-PF calculator. Intel was asked to produce the product, but felt that it would be more sensible to create a more general-purpose design. Busicom agreed, with Busicom's Masatoshi Shima and Intel's Frederico Faggin then beginning work on what would become the 4004 microprocessor. Ted Hoff is widely accredited with the initial architectural concept; Shima handled the software with Faggin working on its design.

At the event, Faggin spoke about the enormous impact this development had in people's lives. “Two inventions, more than any others, have made a significant impact on our lives; the engine and the computer. Microprocessors have allowed us to expand [technology] to where computers couldn’t fit”.

It was hard to imagine the scale of impact the humble 4004 would have had on the world back in the seventies. Fast forward to today and almost everything powered features microprocessors of some kind. It has quite literally transformed the world we live in.

“Many of my colleagues believed the 4004 could only be used for calculators. I begged to differ," Faggin said. "I saw that many single control applications could be done with that computer." Now, we have microprocessors to thank for our cell phones, a concept that wasn’t thought of in the 1970s. "Cell phones were born because you could put a computer inside a telephone, [back then] people didn't believe you could have that."

This event comes a day after Intel launched its new flagship enthusiast platform, Sandy Bridge-E, replacing the highly regarded first generation i7 LGA-1366 platform with its new LGA-2011 socket architecture and adding new features such as quad-channel memory support.

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