Intel celebrates 40th anniversary of microprocessor

Microprocessor about to go through midlife crisis and emerge 300 times more energy efficient
Adam Smith

November 14, 2011
Intel 4004

Intel is celebrating the anniversary of the first mass manufactured single chip microprocessor.

First rolled out 40 years ago, the Intel 4004 was initially designed to be fitted in the Busicom calculator (which looked like a small cash register).

Boasting a 4-bit central processing unit running at 740KHz (that’s three quarters of a Megahertz), the die of the processor contained some 2,300 transistors. Intel’s current Sandy Bridge range of processors come with close to a billion transistors and run around 5000 times faster, to give you some idea of the scale we’ve climbed since 1971.

Had Sandy Bridge been manufactured using the same 10?m process technology the 4004 employed, the chip would be around 21 metres squared in size.

And not only would your laptop have been the size of your house, or a good deal of it, its power consumption – if levels had kept the same from 1971 – would mean the notebook would cost £85,000 per year to run. All in all, not too practical.

So where is Intel headed in the next four decades? Justin Rattner, Intel’s CTO, provided a vision of that in a speech at Intel’s developer forum in September.

He said: “The sheer number of advances in the next 40 years will equal or surpass all of the innovative activity that has taken place over the last 10,000 of human history.”

“What lies beyond multi-core and many-core computing? And the answer is… extreme-scale computing. This is multi-core and many-core computing at the extremes. Our ten year goal here is to achieve nothing modest: a 300x improvement in energy efficiency.”


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