The original ‘rock stars’ who defined innovation and integration

Today, a small team of engineers will be recognized at the Computer History Museum for designing the world’s first programmable microprocessor in 1971, Thumbnail image for hires4004ceramicgoldpackage.jpga 4-bit parallel CPU with 2,300 transistors. That project, from a fledgling integrated memory manufacturer barely 3 years old, was a significant achievement that one can honestly say changed the world.

The Intel 4004 was the first general purpose microprocessor that could be customized with software to perform different functions on different devices. The rest, as they say, is history. The 4004 spawned a new era in both hardware AND software, along with an unrelentless quest for silicon integration that continues to this day. That is why the team of Federigo Faggin, Ted Hoff, Stanley Mazor, and Masatoshi Shima are being recognized tonight at the Computer History Museum.

As Intel heralds its “rock star” engineers through the popular Sponsors of Tommorrow campaign, it’s worth noting that these guys were the original rock stars who defined innovation and integration nearly 40 years ago. Even the 4004 itself grew into something of a star over the years. There are multiple pages dedicated to it, including intel4004.com which focuses on Faggin’s role, an interesting digital archeology project done a few years ago with the Intel museum, fun facts, wiki pages, and more. It remains one of the hottest of semiconductor collectibles and can fetch hundreds of dollars on eBay. As part of the company’s 35th Anniversary, Intel even made the original schematics and mask designs available for non-commercial use. So as we fast forward into an era of hundreds of millions even billions of transistors on a single chip and more and more functionality being integrated directly on to the CPU, it’s worth taking a look back. To pause and say thank you to the original rock stars of the semiconductor world. Congratulations guys, you spawned an entire industry or two in the process of figuring out how to make a single chip do the task of many. For a calculator no less. Who knew?

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