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22 September 2016

[email protected]: The Great British chip invention

On 21 June 1948, the world’s first stored-program computer ran its first program. The Manchester Baby eventually evolved into the Ferranti Mark I. Acorn used semi-custom chips from Ferranti in the design of the BBC microcomputer, which gave the home computer company the skills and tooling it would later need in the design of its own microprocessor, a device infinitely smaller than the Baby. One of the hallmarks of the British chip industry was the relatively small size of the UK players compared with the global semiconductor giants. An example is Inmos, a semiconductor company based in Bristol, which developed an innovative microcomputer called the Transputer. The first system on a chip According to Transputer chief designer David May, Inmos was a full-scale semiconductor-manufacturing organisation. “[It was] part of industrial policy of the then Labour government – through the National Enterprise Board – to revitalise industry,” he says, referring to the £50m grant Inmos was given to start up a UK semiconductor industry. The ...

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