Intel 4004 is 50 years old! The chip that changed it all

The Intel 4004 chip kickstarted the concept of modern computing and is 50 years old today. Know how this microprocessor came into its being.
By AMRITANSHU MUKHERJEE
| Updated on Nov 16 2021, 09:28 AM IST
The Intel 4004 with its 2300 transistors and a single core maxing out at 750KHz was small enough to fit inside that box-sized calculator.
The Intel 4004 with its 2300 transistors and a single core maxing out at 750KHz was small enough to fit inside that box-sized calculator. (Intel)

In 1969, the moon landing may have hogged the most limelight of the era but secretly elsewhere, a small calculator marked the beginning of the world's greatest revolution that changed our lives forever. Japanese firm Nippon Calculating Machine Corp sought an integrated circuit for its prototype calculator reached out to Intel for help and the eventual result was the Intel 4004 microprocessor; the chip that changed the world!

Prior to the Intel 4004, a computer capable of doing complex calculation usually sought its own room in a building, and lots of cooling measures to vent out its heat. This small chip with its 2300 transistors and a single core maxing out at 750KHz was small enough to fit inside that box-sized calculator; magic for that era!

And, it laid the foundation for the modern computing as we know today; the smartphone you are reading this article on can thank the Intel 4004 for its existence. And you should too.

Intel 4004 is 50 years old!

Today, the Intel 4004 is 50 years old, thus marking a major milestone in the evolution of computing as we know it. The Intel 4004 was the first CPU in a four unit chip system to power that calculator. “The 4004 was so revolutionary that it took about five years for Intel to educate engineers about how to build new products based on microprocessors,” says co-inventor Stan Mazor. “Intel was ultimately very successful in this endeavour, and the rest is history.”

The device that first used the Intel 4004 – a Busicom 141-PF calculator.
The device that first used the Intel 4004 – a Busicom 141-PF calculator. (Intel)

The Intel 4004 was only a humble begging of what was to come by. Since its launch in 1971, Intel itself has developed several iterations of the microprocessor that made the modern computers happen. And after 50 years, the microprocessor only uses more sophisticated architecture to extract more computing power for modern-day needs.

The latest 12th Gen Intel desktop processors are now using the concept of dedicated performance cores and efficiency cores onboard; something that mobile chips have been doing for a while. Intel claims these are the world's best gaming processors, with max clock speeds of 5.2GHz, made possible by a billion transistors.

These figures may have seemed stuff of science fiction back in the days of the Intel 4004. However, that tiny microprocessor did more that just power a scientific calculator; that tiny fingernail-sized tech changed the world and made the present possible.

Happy 50th birthday, Intel 4004.

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First Published Date: 16 Nov, 09:26 AM IST
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