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Fascinating facts about the invention
of the
Microprocessor by M.E. "Ted" Hoff in 1968.
When it first started in the mid-sixties, Intel produced electronic memory components. Ted Hoff was employee number 12 at the company assigned to work with minicomputers and in June, 1968, he was asked to liaison with a group of Japanese engineers from a company called Busicom. They'd approached Intel with a design for a small calculator--a design which called for 12 different semiconductor-based custom chips to handle various of its functions. Hoff says he looked at the design and struggled with it for a while, but eventually decided there had to be a better way.
He felt that programming through read-only memory and general-purpose registers could replace the separate (i.e., discrete) components the Busicom engineers had requested. When he presented his idea to Intel's then chairman, Robert Noyce, the boss was enthusiastic. But when the design was presented to Busicom's engineers, it almost died right there. They didn't want to change their design, but we were able to convince them to allow us to make a pitch directly to the owners of the company. We held an off-site meeting in October. Their engineers made their pitch and we made ours. Busicom's management bought ours.

It took another nine months before a team of Intel engineers, led by Frederico Faggin, could turn Hoff's ideas into hardware. The original 4004 was a silicon-based chip measuring 1/8th of an inch long by 1/16th of an inch wide, containing either 2,108 or 2,300 transistors (it depends on who you ask--Hoff's count is 2,108 but, he says, Faggin included 192 "virtual transistors" in his count). It had about the same amount of computing power as the original ENIAC which weighed 30 tons, occupied 3,000 cubic feet of space and used 18,000 vacuum tubes.

It didn't take Intel long to discover it had something here. The only problem was that the company didn't have it. The 4004 belonged to Busicom (which was also sometimes known as Nippon Calculator). Noyce and his crew flew to Japan and bought back the rights for $60,000. A short time later, Busicom went bankrupt.

"The first microprocessors were industrial controllers," says Hoff. No one really thought of using them in computers. Instead, they wound up as embedded controllers in things like automated gas pumps, traffic controllers and manufacturing pressure and flow meters."  In the 1970s refinements in integrated circuit technology led to the development of the modern microprocessor, integrated circuits that contained thousands of transistors. Modern microprocessors contain millions.

Dr. Ted Hoff doesn't work for Intel any more. After a brief stint at Atari, he's become chief technical officer and a consultant for a small California firm called Teklicon, specializing in patent research. He says he couldn't have anticipated what his microprocessor would become and there have been surprises--such as the amount of progress in miniaturization that has occurred (the first 4004 used gateways 10 microns wide compared to today's .35 microns). But he's even more delighted over the social impact microcomputers have had and continue to have.


History of Computing   from The Great Idea Finder
Ted Hoff, Inventor Profile
   from The Great Idea Finder

Creating the Digital Future: The Secrets of Consistent Innovation at Intel
by Albert Yu / Hardcover - 256 pages (August 1998) / Free Press

The history and culture of Intel and shows how the company maintains the mindset of a 30-year-old start-up.

Only the Paranoid Survive : How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company
by ANDREW S. GROVE / Paperback: 240 pages / Doubleday (March 16, 1999)
Under Andy Grove's leadership, Intel has become the world's largest chip maker and one of the most admired companies in the world. In Only the Paranoid Survive, Grove reveals his strategy
High Output Management
by ANDREW S. GROVE / Paperback: 272 pages / Vintage; Reissue edition (August 29, 1995)
IHigh Output Management teaches you what techniques and indicators you can use to make even corporate recruiting as precise and measurable as manufacturing.
Inside Intel: Andy Grove and the Rise of the World's Most Powerful Chip Company (Out of print.)
by Tim Jackson / Paperback: 432 pages / Plume; (November 1998)

By combining public records, private documents, and interviews with more than 100 of those who know the company best, Financial Times columnist Tim Jackson has produced the fascinating, definitive story.

Invention Dimension - Inventor of the Week
Celebrates inventor/innovator role models through outreach activities and annual awards to inspire a new generation of American scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs. Featured may, 1996, Ted Hoff for his invention of the misroprocessor.
National Inventors Hall of Fame
Located at Inventure Place, the online home of creative minds. Marcian E. (Ted) Hoff was inducted in 1996 for his invention of the Memory System for a Multi-Chip Digital Computer (CPU), Patent Number  3,821,715

25th Anniversary for Microprocessor
Article by Myles White for the Toronto Star, Fast Forward, fron November, 1996.


Microprocessor History
At Intel's interactive history of the Microprocessor.
Silicon Genesis - Ted Hoff
Pioneers Interview with Marcian (Ted) Hoff March 3, 1995 Los Altos Hills, CA.
US Patent 4,942,516
A patent on the microcontroller predating the Hoff, Mazor, Faggin patent was granted to Gilbert Hyatt in 1990. This patent described the architecture and logic design of a microcontroller, claiming that it could be integrated into a single chip. This patent was later invalidated in a patent interference case brought forth by Texas Instruments, on account that the device it described was never implemented and was not implementable with the technology available at the time of the invention.
Another Opinion
Yet Another 'Father' of the Microprocessor Wants Recognition From the Chip Industry. Article by Dean Takahashi for The Wall Street Journal..

How Microprocessors Work
Based on a real-life exhibit installed in the Intel Museum in Santa Clara, California.
From the learning about Journey series at Intel.


  • The Intel Pentium Pro, contains 5.5 million transistors; the UltraSparc-II, by Sun Microsystems, contains 5.4 million transistors; the PowerPC620, developed jointly by Apple, IBM, and Motorola, contains 7 million transistors; and the Digital Equipment Corporation's Alpha 21164A, contains 9.3 million transistors.
  • The original 4004 had about the same amount of computing power as the original ENIAC which weighed 30 tons, occupied 3,000 cubic feet of space and used 18,000 vacuum tubes.
Reference Sources in BOLD Type This page revised August 23, 2005.

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