50th Anniversary: Intel 4004, the world’s first commercially available microprocessor

November 22, 2021

With its launch in November 1971, the 4004 paved the path for modern microprocessor computing – the “brains” that make possible nearly every modern technology, from the cloud to the edge.  Microprocessors enable the convergence of the technology superpowers – ubiquitous computing, pervasive connectivity, cloud-to-edge infrastructure and artificial intelligence – and create a pace of innovation that is moving faster today than ever.

The 4004 is the pioneer microprocessor, and its success proved that it was possible to build complex integrated circuits and fit them on a chip the size of a fingernail. Its invention also established a new random logic design methodology, one that subsequent generations of microprocessors would be built upon, before evolving to create the chips found in today’s modern devices.

In 1969, Nippon Calculating Machine Corp. approached Intel about designing a set of integrated circuits for its engineering prototype calculator, the Busicom 141-PF. Intel engineer Federico Faggin and his team adapted the original plans for 12 custom chips and designed a set of four chips – including the 4004 CPU – that met the challenge. Ultimately, the 4004, at the size of a human fingernail, delivered the same computing power as the first electronic computer built in 1946, which filled an entire room.

While the 4004 delivered the modern computing era through the design and production of the first commercially available microprocessor for a desktop calculator, the latest 12th Gen Intel Core processors – which company leaders revealed at the Intel Innovation event in October – will usher in a new era of computing. The performance hybrid architecture of this new family represents an architectural shift made possible by close co-engineering of software and hardware and will deliver new levels of leadership performance for generations. And with research in fields like quantum computing, with the cryogenic Intel Horse Ridge II solution, and neuromorphic computing, with the Intel Loihi 2 chip, Intel continues to innovate, explore new territories and push the limits of computing.

by Anil George
Avid follower of all things tech. In between his quest for the ultimate gizmo, Anil fiddles with light meters, collects rare books and feeds his fetish for Jap horror movies. As Managing Editor of T3 Middle East for the GCC, Anil oversees content direction across print and digital. He was a CES 2020 Innovation Awards Judge, reprising his role as an Innovation Awards Judge at CES 2018, CES 2017, 2016 and 2015. Anil is also the Middle East's first Brand Ambassador for Ashdown Engineering. Reach him at: editor@t3me.com.