Fascinating facts about the invention of the Microprocessor

by techtiptom

Originally posted on WIBC.com on 08/03/2010:

Fascinating facts about the invention of the Microprocessor by M.E. “Ted” Hoff; in 1968.

When it first started in the mid-sixties, Intel produced electronic memory components. Ted Hoff was employee number 12 at the company assigned to work with minicomputers and in June, 1968, he was asked to liaison with a group of Japanese engineers from a company called Busicom. They’d approached Intel with a design for a small calculator–a design which called for 12 different semiconductor-based custom chips to handle various of its functions. Hoff says he looked at the design and struggled with it for a while, but eventually decided there had to be a better way.

He felt that programming through read-only memory and general-purpose registers could replace the separate (i.e., discrete) components the Busicom engineers had requested. When he presented his idea to Intel’s then chairman, Robert Noyce, the boss was enthusiastic. But when the design was presented to Busicom’s engineers, it almost died right there. They didn’t want to change their design, but he was able to convince them to allow him to make a pitch directly to the owners of the company. He held an off-site meeting in October. Their engineers made their pitch and he made his. Busicom’s management bought his.

It took another nine months before a team of Intel engineers, led by Frederico Faggin, could turn Hoff’s ideas into hardware. The original 4004 was a silicon-based chip measuring 1/8th of an inch long by 1/16th of an inch wide, containing either 2,108 or 2,300 transistors (it depends on who you ask–
Hoff’s count is 2,108 but, he says, Faggin included 192 “virtual transistors” in his count). It had about the same amount of computing power as the original ENIAC which weighed 30 tons, occupied 3,000 cubic feet of space and used 18,000 vacuum tubes.

It didn’t take Intel long to discover it had something here. The only problem was that the company didn’t have it. The 4004 belonged to Busicom (which was also sometimes known as Nippon Calculator). Noyce and his crew flew to Japan and bought back the rights for $60,000. A short time later, Busicom went bankrupt.

“The first microprocessors were industrial controllers,” says Hoff. No one really thought of using them in computers. Instead, they wound up as embedded controllers in things like automated gas pumps, traffic controllers and manufacturing pressure and flow meters.” In the 1970s refinements in integrated circuit technology led to the development of the modern microprocessor, integrated circuits that contained thousands of transistors. Modern microprocessors contain millions.

Dr. Ted Hoff doesn’t work for Intel any more. After a brief stint at Atari, he’s become chief technical officer and a consultant for a small California firm called Teklicon, specializing in patent research. He says he couldn’t have anticipated what his microprocessor would become and there have been surprises–such as the amount of progress in miniaturization that has occurred (the first 4004 used gateways 10 microns wide compared to today’s .35 microns). But he’s even more delighted over the social impact microcomputers have had and continue to have.


  • The Intel Pentium Pro, contains 5.5 million transistors; the UltraSparc-II, by Sun Microsystems, contains 5.4 million transistors; the PowerPC620, developed jointly by Apple, IBM, and Motorola, contains 7 million transistors; and the Digital Equipment Corporation’s Alpha 21164A, contains 9.3 million transistors.
  • The original 4004 had about the same amount of computing power as the original ENIAC which weighed 30 tons, occupied 3,000 cubic feet of space and used 18,000 vacuum tubes.