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Intel's First Microprocessor

Its invention, introduction, and lasting influence





1969: The assignment

In 1969, Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation approached Intel to design 12 custom chips for its new Busicom 141-PF* printing calculator. Intel engineers suggested a family of just four chips, including one that could be programmed for use in a variety of products, setting in motion an engineering feat that dramatically altered the course of electronics.

The Intel solution

Intel designed a set of four chips known as the MCS-4. It included a central processing unit (CPU) chip—the 4004—as well as a supporting read-only memory (ROM) chip for the custom applications programs, a random-access memory (RAM) chip for processing data, and a shift-register chip for the input/output (I/O) port.

1971: Era of integrated electronics

Intel purchased the rights from Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation and launched the Intel® 4004 processor and its chipset with an advertisement in the November 15, 1971, issue of Electronic News: ”Announcing A New Era In Integrated Electronics.”

That’s when the Intel® 4004 became the first general-purpose programmable processor on the market—a "building block" that engineers could purchase and then customize with software to perform different functions in a wide variety of electronic devices.

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Powerfully small, even in 1971

This revolutionary microprocessor, the size of a little fingernail, delivered the same computing power as the first electronic computer built in 1946, which filled an entire room.

Early manufacturing

The first Intel® 4004 microprocessor was produced on two-inch wafers compared to the 12-inch wafers commonly used for today's products. The Intel 4004 microprocessor is unique in that it is one of the smallest microprocessor designs that ever went into commercial production.

Initial transistor count

In 1971, the Intel® 4004 processor held 2,300 transistors. By 2010, an Intel® Core™ processor with a 32 nm processing die and second-generation high-k metal gate silicon technology held 560 million transistors.

Slimmer than a human hair

The Intel® 4004 microprocessor circuit line width was 10 microns, or 10,000 nanometers. Today, the circuit features of Intel® microprocessors range between 45 and 32 nanometers. By comparison, an average human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide.