Intel Celebrates 50th Anniversary of 4004: The World’s First Commercial Microprocessor – A Retrospective

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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Intel 4004 microprocessor, a milestone for the first commercially available microprocessor that has paved the way for today's current technological feats and discoveries.

Since November 1971, Intel's 4004 microprocessor assisted in creating microprocessors for desktop calculators to advances in cloud and edge computing

Intel created microprocessors in 1969 due to a request from the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation. NCMC required a set of integrated circuits for the company's engineering calculator prototype, the Busicom 141-PF. Intel engineer Federico Faggin, along with Stan Mazor, Marcian E. (Ted) Hoff, adapted plans for a set of 12 customized chips and from there created a set of four chips – including the Intel 4004 CPU – meeting the needs of the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation.

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the 4004 chip. Think of how much we’ve accomplished in the past half-century. This is a sacred moment for technology. This is what made computing really take off!

Pat Gelsinger, Intel CEO

The Intel 4004, close to the same size as an average human fingernail, delivered the same computing power as the original 1946 electronic computer. The tiny microprocessor proved that it could provide the same power as a computer that, at one time, filled a single room. The Intel 4004 helped to break ground on a new random logic design methodology, a design that has shaped several generations of microprocessors since its inception, before transforming into its current state that is found in devices today. Currently, microprocessors allow for the process of combining ubiquitous computing, pervasive connectivity, cloud-to-edge infrastructure, and artificial intelligence.

[Looking back at] 1970, it was clear that microprocessors would change the way that we design systems, switching from using hardware to software instead. But the speed with which microprocessors developed over time and were adopted by the industry was really surprising.

— Federico Faggin, former Intel engineer

The current 12th Gen Core Intel processors recently revealed and launched over the last month, now offer a hybrid architecture, offering superior performance and advanced technology that owes a great deal to the Intel 4004 microprocessor. The newest ideation from Intel will now help to advance the future generations, assisting in neuromorphic computing with the Intel Loihi 2 chip, and the quantum computing field with Intel's Horse Ridge II option. Intel continues to challenge itself to minimize size while maximizing performance, and it is all thanks to the Intel 4004 microprocessor.

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