Geekspeak: November 26, 2001

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2001-11-26 Print this article Print

The microprocessor celebrates 30th birthday.

Small enough to fit on an infants fingertip, the 15mm-squared intel 4004 ran at 108KHz (yes, we mean a tenth of a milligigahertz) and addressed only 640 bytes of memory when it debuted in 1971. Thirty years later, the level of integration of its 2,300 transistors falls far short of todays expectations: If a Pentium 4, with its 42 million transistors, were built to the same device density, it would have a die area of almost 270,000mm squared—or almost three square feet, rather larger than the 217mm squared that is still enough to make the Pentium 4 a giant among "micro" processors.

Newly arrived engineer Ted Hoff proposed the 4004 as a solution to Intels reluctance to develop 13 specialized chips to perform the functions of high-performance scientific calculators. Until then, Intel had produced only three types of device. After jointly developing the device with Japans Busicom, Intel bought back the rights for $60,000. Happy 30th birthday, microprocessor.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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