This week, 40 years ago, Intel Corporation introduced the world’s first commercially available microprocessor – the Intel 4004 – triggering the start of the digital revolution. We celebrate the landmark with a special feature on the past, present and future of microprocessors – and personal computing. We also recall some significant Indian contributions to the Intel chip saga.
The PC is 30 years old in 2011 and its brains, the microprocessor – is even older, a staggering 40 years old. The first microprocessor – the Intel 4004 – saw the light in 1971. Since then, the PC has been undergoing a transformation to become the phenomenal tool is today and has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity and pervasiveness. Is there still room for expansion and what shape will future incarnations take? Here are a few facts to help shed light on these topics.
The PC market : On average almost one million PCs were shipped every day during 2010. Growth is likely to continue when you consider that PCs are much more affordable today; Consumers placed notebooks/laptop PCs at the top of their consumer electronics wish lists. Forrester predicts that by 2015 there will be 2.25 billion PCs in use across the world (compared to one billion PCs at the end of 2008) and this will be driven largely by emerging markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China accounting for more than 800 million new PCs by 2015.Gartner forecasts a 10.5% increase in PC shipments in 2011 (rising to 387.8m units) and a 13.6% growth in 2012 (to 440.6m units). While this is down on a previous forecast, the signs are still very much of a healthy growth market on the global stage.
PC market growth and processor performance: PC growth is increasingly driven by the huge rise in user-generated content. For example, the use of video sharing sites has doubled from 2006 to 2010. Each month alone, 12 billion videos are viewed on YouTube.People are predominantly viewing and uploading this content onto their PCs and understand that as 3D content becomes computing power is required to view and edit 3D content. The recently released 2nd generation Intel Core processors incorporate technology that can convert a four-minute HD video file on a laptop to play on an iPod in only 16 seconds.
The shape of things to come: the Ultrabook; Intel is working on redefining the consumer PC experience by delivering sought after user benefits such as: instant on, all day battery life, security, touch interface, seamless interconnectivity between devices, support for all OSs, security and best class graphics - all at mainstream price points. Intel plans to evolve the notebook into an ultra-simple, ultra-thin, ultra-versatile internet device.In May 2011 Intel announced a new category of mainstream thin and light mobile computers, called Ultrabook. These computers will marry the performance and capabilities of today’s laptops with tablet-like features and deliver a highly responsive and secure experience, in a thin, light and elegant design. The Ultrabook will be shaped by Moore’s Law and silicon technology in the same way they have shaped the traditional PC for the past 40 years. Intel expects 40% of consumers laptops to be in the Ultrabook category by end of 2012.
The first processor: Intel 4004
“Announcing a new era of integrated electronics!”: The original 1971 Intel advertisement for the 4004 microprocessor. In 1969, Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation requested that Intel design 12 custom chips for its new Busicom 141-PF printing calculator. Instead of creating a dozen custom chips specifically for the calculator, Intel's engineers proposed a new design: a family of just four chips, including one that could be programmed for use in a variety of products.
The set of four chips was called the MCS-4. It included a central processing unit (CPU) chip—the 4004, a supporting read-only memory (ROM) chip for the custom applications programs, a random-access memory (RAM) chip for processing data, and a shift-register chip for the input/output (I/O) port. Intel delivered the four chips and Busicom went on to sell some 100,000 calculators.
Intel offered Busicom a lower price for the chips in return for securing the rights to the microprocessor design and the rights to market it for non-calculator applications, allowing the Intel 4004 microprocessor to be advertised in the November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News. It's then that the Intel 4004 became the first general-purpose microprocessor on the market—a "building block" that engineers could purchase and then customize with software to perform different functions in a wide variety of electronic devices.
The first Intel 4004 microprocessor was produced on two-inch wafers compared to the 12-inch wafers commonly used for today's products. The Intel 4004 microprocessor is unique in that it is one of the smallest microprocessor designs that ever went into commercial production.
In 1971, the Intel 4004 processor held 2,300 transistors. In 2010, an Intel Core processor that includes a 32nm processing die with second-generation High-k metal gate silicon technology holds 560 million transistors.
The Intel 4004 microprocessor circuit line width was 10 microns, or 10,000 nanometers. Today Intel's microprocessors have circuit features of 45 or 32 nanometers. By comparison, an average human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide.
Intel 4004 fun facts: Comparing the speed of the first microprocessor’s transistor with the latest generation transistors, is like comparing the speed of a snail (5 meters per hour) with the speed of the Kenyan runner Patrick Makau Musyoki in his record-breaking marathon run (42,195 meters at 2:03:38 hours or an average of 20,6 km/h last month in Berlin). The fastest processors in the world can achieve frequencies of about 4GHz. They compare to the 4004 processor like the sprinter Usain Bolt to a snail.
Today, the average annual energy cost to power a modern laptop is about Rs 1500. If the energy consumption had remained unchanged since 1971, today’s laptops would consume 4,000 times more energy and cost about 100 000 euro per year. At that cost, not many people could afford to operate a home computer…
The die of the 4004 processor consisted of 2,300 transistors. The current 2nd gen Intel Core™ processor has almost one billion transistors. This is like comparing the population of a large village to the population of China. Had today’s 2nd gen Intel Core processor (actual size: 216mm2 / equals 0.33 sq. inch) been manufactured in the historic 10µm process technology it would be as large as 21m2 (equals 227 sq. ft.). Or roughly 7m x 3m (equals 23ft x 10ft). Can you imagine a monster like that inside your laptop?
Fortunately, the size of transistors has shrunk at the pace of Moore’s Law, which states that the amount of transistor on a chip roughly doubles every 2 years.The Intel 4004 microprocessor ran at 740 kilohertz (the current 2nd generation of Intel Core processors achieves almost 4 GHz. If the speed of cars had increased at the same pace since 1971, it would take about one second to drive from San Francisco to New York (or from Lisboa in Portugal to Moscow in Russia assuming the car speed in 1971 was 60 miles/hour and the distance between San Francisco and New York is 3 000 miles).
The current Intel Core processor has 995 million transistors. Compared to Intel’s first microprocessor, the 4004, Intel’s current 32nm CPU runs almost 5000 times faster and each transistor uses about 5000 times less energy. In the same period, the price of a transistor has dropped by a factor of about 50,000.
The original transistor built by Bell Labs in 1947 was large enough that it was pieced together by hand. By contrast, more than 100 million 22nm tri-gate transistors could fit onto the head of a pin.
Some famous first ( and last) words:
“Oh, my God. How could I have screwed up so bad?” In late December 1970 Ted Hoff received the first wafers for the 4004. When he loaded them up…nothing happened – recollects Federico Faggin, part of the team that developed the Intel 4004, the world's first commercial microprocessor, which was released in 1971.
“The roots of all things smart, mobile, and personal is the Intel 4004”: Dan Hutcheson, CEO, Chairman, and Principal Analyst for VLSI Research.
“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home."DEC chairman Ken Olson in 1977, when the first microprocessor-based personal computers that didn't require assembly began appearing.
“What the hell is a microprocessor good for?”:Robert Lloyd from IBM’s Advanced Computing Systems Division in 1968.
“When I was Chief Executive at Intel I remember one of our young engineers coming in and describing how you could build a little computer for the home. I said “Gee that‘s fine. What would you use it for?‘ And the only application he could think of was housewives putting their recipes on it. I didn‘t think that was going to be a very powerful application”-Gordon Moore, retired Chairman and CEO of Intel Corporation, author of Moore’s Law. April 13, 2005
“When I step back and think about it, I realize we‘re at a very significant point in time. It‘s a time where technology is no longer the limiting factor. What limits us today is really our own imagination”. Justin Rattner, September 2011, Intel Developer Forum, San Francisco
THE INDIA IDEA:
Intel’s India development teams as well as Indian members of Intel’s US R&D have played a significant part in the Intel chip saga. The 6-core4 Xeon processor and its later enhancements were almost entirely developed in Bangalore. Eight of the 12 team members of the experimental 80-core chip were Indians. Another Indian – Sriram Vangal --heads the team that is workin on the next generation solar powered chip. The links below tell part of Intel’s India story
Intel developing new chip designs in India: http://www.consumercourt.in/computer-hardware/26951-intel-developing-new-chip-designs-india.html
India-developed Intel processor (Xeon) http://www.techtree.com/India/Techtree_Notes/India-developed_Intel_processor/551-93235-889.html
Intel shows off new India-made processor http://www.rediff.com/money/2008/sep/16intel.htm
The Indian behind Intel’s super chip: http://www.benglued.com/the-indian-behind-intels-super-chip/
Indian engineers do IT for Intel /Anand Parthasarathy The Hindu http://www.hindu.com/2008/01/20/stories/2008012058621300.htm
Indian leads Intel quest for solar-powered chip http://www.indiatechonline.com/indian-behind-intel-solar-chip-project-565.php
40 years of innovation: http://download.intel.com/newsroom/kits/40thanniversary/pdfs/Intel_40th_infographic.pdf
The evolution of the Microprocessor: http://download.intel.com/newsroom/kits/40thanniversary/pdfs/40_anniversary_evolution_FV.pdf
Smart World: http://download.intel.com/newsroom/kits/40thanniversary/pdfs/Its_a_Smart_World_infographic.pdf
(material sourced from Intel -- and IndiaTechOnline archives)November 17 2011