Sunday, November 15 marked the 44th anniversary of the Intel 4004, which was the company’s first commercially available microprocessor. The 4-bit microprocessor was used in the likes of calculators and taxi meters (however its usage in Pioneer 10, the first spacecraft to leave our solar system, is sadly a myth).
There is an Intel 4004 45th Anniversary website, and they have been recreating the complete set of VLSI (very large scale integration, a process for creating integrated circuits) mask artwork of the 4004. The goal of the website’s project is to teach people about microprocessor basics, and the 4004 is ideal for doing so because of its minimal design. Tim McNerney “took a pair of high-resolution photomicrographs and set out to trace every wire, transistor, resistor, and capacitor using Adobe Illustrator.” The large scale composite of the artwork you can see below will be a lot better for teaching than their previous artwork.
There’s also an update to the project that saw the creation of a replica of the Busicom 141-PF calculator (the first commercial product to use a microprocessor). They are currently working on “Revision 2,” with “corrections and improvements.”
You can also read a bit about the Intel 4004 on Intel’s website, which helps highlight how far microprocessors have come over the years. Intel writes that the fingernail-sized 4004 “delivered the same computing power as the first electronic computer built in 1946, which filled an entire room.” But we’ve come a long way since then. The 4004 was built on a two-inch wafter that held 2300 transistors. Today’s Skylake processors? Over 1.3 billion.