Intel Celebrates 40 Years of the Microprocessor

A tiny little thing change the way the world works in just a few short decades.

By Sajid Farooq
|  Thursday, Jan 26, 2012  |  Updated 10:54 PM PDT
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40 Years of the Microprocessor

The Intel 4004 microprocessor has changed the way the world works in just a few short years.

Ten years before the world's first personal computer came along, there was the Intel 4004, the world's first microprocessor. 

This past November Intel celebrated the 40th anniversary of the world's first microprocessor and just how it has changed the lives of billions of people since a tiny CPU in a business calculator would change the world.

"It became an appliance like the toaster, everyone now has a computer in their house," said Shekhar Y. Borkar, an Intel Labs fellow in the Corporate Technology Group and the company's director of microprocessor technology. "I don’t think they could have an envisioned 40 years in advance…people look five to 10 years down the line at best."

Borkar as seen the dramatic change himself first hand. When he first joined Intel in 1981 as a design engineer, he thought the technology he was working on was sophisticated -- and it was.

But that same technology is now used in battery-powered toothbrushes.

The world has changed dramatically since Intel first introduced the microprocesser since Intel built the 4-bit central processing unit in 1971.

Over 40 years the microprocessor has found its way into everything from gas pumps to Apple's iPads to Intel's new line of ultrabooks.

And the emergence of of the microprocessor market took many by surprise, including Intel, who was a much smaller company 40 years ago, only employing about 500 employees.

Now Intel has so many employees it had trouble coordinating a company wide celebration to commemorate the occasion, according to Connie Brown, a marketing director at Intel.

She said the company's 85,000 employees across the globe celebrated in different ways, with locally organized events.

"When they made the 404 they had no idea it was going to be so ubiquitous," she said. "They couldn’t have had any idea that it was going to be in things like toothbrushes."

And that might be a good thing. The current Intel Core processor has 43,000,000 percent more transistors than the 4004 processor.

The extra power is what enables to be the backbone of so many different devices and it is a necessityiy that Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore, long foresaw.

He said decades ago that the transistor count for computer chips would double every two years. Something Intel has tried to adhere to but while being able to reduce the size of the processor.

To put that into context: If a village from 1971 had grown at the same rate as Intel's chip, it would now be the largest city in the world -- by far.

For further context, Brown explained that the Intel 4004 cost $60, which would be about $371 when adjusted to modern times.

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