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Here's why the Intel 4004 chip's 50th anniversary is a big deal

Intel 4004
Intel 4004 (Image credit: Intel)

What you need to know

  • Intel is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 4004 microprocessing chip.
  • It is the invention that paved the way for microprocessors as we know them today.
  • It debuted in 1971, though its story began in 1969 alongside plans for a calculator.

In case you've been out of the loop, it turns out calculators and chips go hand-in-hand these days when it comes to groundbreaking news. First, Texas Instruments—the folks behind many of the most popular calculators on planet Earth—got put on blast in a discussion regarding who was responsible for the global chip shortage. Then, Intel came out with a celebratory smattering of informative content regarding the anniversary of the Intel 4004 chip, which came about due to a 1969 mission to build a calculator.

Back then, Nippon Calculating Machine Corp. wanted Intel to develop chips for a calculator it was prototyping. This resulted in a team of Intel employees—among them, Federico Faggin, Marcian "Ted" Hoff, and Stan Mazor—concocting the Intel 4004, the first programmable microprocessor that could fit on a fingernail. It held the kind of computing power that would, at that time, have required computers big enough to stuff entire rooms.

You can check out Intel's newsroom for insightful videos on the Intel 4004 chip, as well as additional background info on how the technology that defines our modern chip landscape came to be.

"The 4004 was so revolutionary that it took about five years for Intel to educate engineers about how to build new products based on microprocessors," said co-inventor Stan Mazor. "Intel was ultimately very successful in this endeavor, and the rest is history."

It makes one wonder what inventions of today will be looked back on in 50 years as revolutionary milestones that changed the tech landscape forever.

Robert Carnevale is the News Editor for Windows Central. He's a big fan of Kinect (it lives on in his heart), Sonic the Hedgehog, and the legendary intersection of those two titans, Sonic Free Riders. He is the author of Cold War 2395. Have a useful tip? Send it to robert.carnevale@futurenet.com.

4 Comments
  • “It makes one wonder what inventions of today will be looked back on in 50 years as revolutionary milestones that changed the tech landscape forever.” That’s easy. Phones HAVE changed lots of things forever. 50 years ago, everyone had a radio. EVERYONE has a phone today. You can’t say that about any other tech/computer product.
  • and, for some reason (has to do with antenna placement) almost no Smartphones have FM RADIOS anymore (they used to all have FM radios.) This has fueled the rise of the streaming empires (Spotify, Apple Music, etc.) which dictate who/what you can hear and when ("curated", ick ) and the subsequent death of FM music stations (and along with it, most music which now all sounds the same and is "assembly-lined" by the music "Industry".)
    It really is all "manufactured" now. (reminds me of the early pre-Beatles AM radio "creations".)
    You can still find good music, but you really have to dig hard for it online.
    Artists now only make money (except for the mega-pop stars) from live gigs now, and with COVID even that has been hit hard. Anyway, the Smartphone has completely assimilated the PDA, the Pager, and the Cell Phone, and is making big inroads on the Tablet market and even in some of the laptop markets. Tech marches on...........
  • “and, for some reason (has to do with antenna placement) almost no Smartphones have FM RADIOS anymore (they used to all have FM radios.)” AM radio is 100 years old. FM radio is is around 70 years old. How much longer do these antiques need to stay around? Not to mention international shortwave broadcasting. I used to listen to LOTS of shortwave radio. It required huge antennas, listening at the correct time/frequency AND endless knob twiddling to listen. The vast majority of stations are no longer broadcasting. All can now be streamed - static-free AND in stereo AND 24/7 - on phones/iPads/whatever. You can listen to BBC World Service now and it sounds like a local station. Tech marches on indeed.
  • we need more wood-grain CPUs. :)