Intel remembers 40 years since the 4004

Intel is reminding the world that 40 years ago today, it brought out the world’s first commercially available microprocessor with the Intel 4004. 

Things have changed quite a bit since then – nowadays, Intel is keen to point out, its processors are roughly 350,000 times better performance-wise while using 5,000 times less energy. Not to mention the prices, which it claims have dropped by a factor of around 50,000.

The 4004 was made up of a CPU, ROM, RAM and shift-register chip under contract for Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation, later Busicom. Intel engineer Ted Hoff rejected Busicom’s 12 integrated circuit design and instead offered the 4 IC flavour. 

Intel has been up to all sorts in the 40 years since then. It has tried to copyright the letter “i”, been hoisted by its own petard in a huge antitrust case from the FTC and in recent years has done its very best to market itself as a hip company to the yoof of today. It tried to sue journalists along the way. 

Intel’s Mooly Eden’s latest conference party trick has been holding up a board of transistors and proudly declaring that there are more on the plate than in a room full of people. Which is just another signpost for how far the technology has come along, even though INTC has missed its own deadline to match the compute power of a bumblebee’s brain.  

We’re reassured there’s a lab that, in late 2010, was comparing the compute power of three pigeons, six rats and one bumblebee. 

Intel will be well past that mark over the next 40 years, according to CTO Justin Rattner, where the number of advances will “equal or surpass all of the innovative activity that has taken place over the last 10,000 years of human history”.