4004!

Meet the first microprocessor--and see its uses, from pinball to electronic voting.

Posted by  | Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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4-bit. 2300 transistors. 740 kHz.

On November 15th, 1971–forty years ago this Tuesday–Intel publicly unveiled the world’s first single-chip microprocessor, the 4004. It was a modest start to what would become a grand silicon empire led by Intel. So modest, in fact, that many would quickly forget the 4004 as Intel churned out more powerful chips throughout the rest of the 1970s–the predecessors of the ones inside every current Windows PC and Mac.

Few commercial products used the 4004. Let’s rediscover seven of them, and learn about the chip’s history along the way.



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Slides: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

12 Comments For This Post

  1. mdclayton Says:

    The Nutting pinball machine design was adapted (without the 4004) for a different machine. The article mentions and links to Gottlieb's Spirit of 76, but the correct machine was actually Mirco's Spirit of 76. It was Mirco's only pinball machine, about 100 were made and it was a financial failure.

  2. Benj Edwards Says:

    Thanks for catching that, mdclayton. I accidentally referenced the wrong machine. I have now fixed it in the slideshow. It's funny how many games were named "Spirit of '76."

  3. Dave New Says:

    The time to load an assembler was not a function of the processor speed. In the early 70's, a audio cassette interface that ran at 300 baud would be considered fast. The Kansas City Standard, which was popular for a while with hobbyiest kits, ran at that speed. To load about an 8K byte BASIC interpreter would take about a 1/2 hour, just because it took that long to send the data over such a slow I/O interface. I had a Digital Group 8-bit computer, which in those days, first sported an 1100 baud (based on ham radio RTTY frequencies) cassette interface, which could load their 12K BASIC in about 3 1/2 minutes — a speed demon compared to other hobby computers of the day. All of this gave way quickly to first digital tape (e.g. PhiDecks) and then 8-inch floppy disk drives.

  4. Torben Says:

    I remember working as a consultant for Swedish office machine supplier, Facit, in the late seventies/early eighties. They had a office system for invoicing and book-keeping (cannot remember the system name now) based on a 4004 computer. The system used a interpreted “assembly” language and was programmed using a “programmer”, which was 8008-based!

    The system was compact with integrated keyboard and printer, which had split feed with one side for ledger cards and the other for continuous feed paper.

    Facit later introduced a dual 8080-based, COBOL programmed (!) office system with 8″ floppies.

    Times they have achanged.

  5. Evanism Says:

    Imagine going back in time with a modern computer and showing these dudes what the outcomes would be! Absolutely amazing. It's easy to forget just how much hard work, anger and resignations went into getting to where we are today. Bless my 2.8ghz monster!

  6. lo- Says:

    where you mention one-line CRT display, you probably mean on-line CRT display?

  7. Benj Edwards Says:

    One-line is correct, according to my sources. It also makes sense given the year, the application, and the limited memory involved.

  8. the Goat Says:

    That is one line of text not one line of pixels. But one line is correct.

  9. Benj Edwards Says:

    Yes, one line of text is what we're talking about. Thanks for clarifying that, Goat.

  10. Yang Says:

    Great slide show, Benj. I remember one of the guys on my dorm floor in college had a word processor (those short-lived machines between typewriters and PCs) with a one-line LCD display that we were all clamoring to borrow. To be able to use backspace to fix something BEFORE it was committed to paper. My, what an awesome concept. This was in 1985.

    Those 4004 specs make me cringe at how little we can do despite the enormous gains in computer horsepower. 740 kHz? 40 bytes of RAM? If you had told those engineers in 1970 that within their lifetimes we'd all have machines with multiple 64-bit cores, each 5000x faster, and nearly a billion times more memory I bet they would have expected we'd do a lot more than play Angry Birds.

  11. Alarm clocks Says:

    what he is saying?
    Great slide show, Benj. I remember one of the guys on my dorm floor in college had a word processor (those short-lived machines between typewriters and PCs) with a one-line LCD display that we were all clamoring to borrow. To be able to use backspace to fix something BEFORE it was committed to paper. My, what an awesome concept. This was in 1985.

    Those 4004 specs make me cringe at how little we can do despite the enormous gains in computer horsepower. 740 kHz? 40 bytes of RAM? If you had told those engineers in 1970 that within their lifetimes we'd all have machines with multiple 64-bit cores, each 5000x faster, and nearly a billion times more memory I bet they would have expected we'd do a lot more than play Angry Birds.

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