40th anniversary of the Intel 4004 - the world’s first microprocessor


40th anniversary of the Intel 4004 - the world’s first microprocessor

Cliff Saran

Intel introduced the world’s first microprocessor, the 4004, 40 years ago.

Intel was originally commissioned by Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation to design 12 custom chips for the Busicom 141-PF printing calculator. However Intel's engineers proposed a new design: a family of just four chips, including one that could be programmed for use in a variety of products – i.e. a microprocessor.

Intel announced the microprocessor, called the Intel 4004, on 15 November 1971. At the time, the company called it a "building block" that engineers could purchase and then customise with software to perform different functions in a wide variety of electronic devices.

Compared to the Intel 4004, today’s second-generation Intel Core processors offer more than 350,000 times the performance and each transistor uses about 5,000 times less energy. 

In this same time period, the price of a transistor has dropped by a factor of about 50,000. “The sheer number of advances in the next 40 years will equal or surpass all of the innovative activity that has taken place over the past 10,000 years of human history,” said Justin Rattner, Intel chief technology officer.

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