Monday, April 4, 2011

The Miracle of the Microchip


The first microprocessor called 4004, was a silicon chip barely the size of a fingernail but it matched the computing power of ENIAC, the world`s first working electronic digital computer built during 1946 which filled an entire room.

The concept of 4004 commenced in 1969 when Ted Hoff, born during 1937, worked at Intel. A Japanese calculator manufacturer approached Intel to produce an integrated circuit in the form of a computer chip, needed for its new programmable calculators.

Hoff later recalled, "The calculators required a large number of chips, all of them quite expensive and it looked, quite frankly, as if it would tax all our design capability". Faced with this problem they came up with the ingenious solution of placing all the computing circuitry on one chip, and so the first programmable computer on a tiny chip, was born. Unlike the chips of the time, it was not hardwired for specific tasks. It worked with a set of instructions (software) to do its task.

Hoff and his colleagues at Intel, Frederico Faggin and Stanley Mazor, planned to place 4004 transistors on the chip, and that is why they called it the 4004. The end product had about 2300 transistors, for the technical minded, a speed of 108 kilohertz and a 4-bit data bus. By 1979 Intel produced the 8088 (29 000 transistors, 4.77 mega-hertz, 8 bit data bus) having enough power to run IBM`s first personal computer launched in 1981.

As it is often said ---the rest is history.

Pieter Rautenbach

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