"Ted" Hoff's first microprocessor

"Ted" Hoff's first microprocessor

The invention of the microprocessor marked a turning point in Intel's history. This development "changed not only the future of the company, but much of the industrial world.")

The story to this technological breakthrough began in 1969, when a Japanese calculator manufacturer called Busicomp asked Intel to design a set of chips for a family of programmable calculators. Marcian "Ted" Hoff, a young and "very bright ex-Stanford rese arch associate") who had joined Intel as employee number 12, was charged with this project. However, he did not like the Japanese design calling for 12 custom chips - each of them was assigned a distinct task. Hoff thought designing so many different chip s would make the calculators as expensive as minicomputers such as DEC's PDP-8, although they could merely be used for calculation. His idea was to develop a four-chip set with a general-purpose logic device as its centre, which could be programmed by inst ructions stored on a semiconductor memory chip. This was the theory behind the first microprocessor.

With the help of new employee Stan Mazor, Hoff perfected the design of what would be the 4004 arithmetic chip. After Busicomp had accepted Hoff's chip set, Frederico Faggin, one of the best chip design experts, who had been hired recently, began transformi ng the design into silicon. The 4004 microprocessor, a 4-bit chip (processes 4 bits - a string of four ones or zeroes - of information at a time), contained 2300 MOS transistors, and was as powerful as the legendary first electronic computer, ENIAC.

Soon after the first 4004s had been delivered to Busicomp, Intel realized the market potential of the chip, and successfully renegotiated with the Japanese to regain the exclusive rights, which had been sold to Busicomp.

In November 1971, Intel introduced the 4004 to the public in an Electronic News ad. It announced not just a new product, but "a new era of integrated electronics [...], a microprogrammable computer on a chip.") The microprocessor is - as Gordon Moore call s it - "one of the most revolutionary products in the history of mankind,") and ranks as one of 12 milestones of American technology in a survey of U.S. News and World Report in 1982. This chip is the actual computer itself: It is the central processing u nit (CPU) - the computer's brains. The microprocessor made possible the microcomputer, which is "as big as it is only to accommodate us." For "we'd have a hard time getting information into or out of a microprocessor without a keyboard, a printer and a ter minal," as Th.Mahon puts it.)

However significant Hoff's invention, nevertheless, it was hardly noticed in the public until early 1973. The microprocessor had its own instruction set and had to be programmed in order to execute specific tasks. So Ted Hoff had to inform the public and t he engineers about the capabilities of the new device and how to program it.

Martin Groeger http://www.silicon-valley-story.de
Last modified: Mon Jul 8 05:27:19 PDT