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The Story of the Intel® 4004

Intel's First Microprocessor

  • Its invention, introduction, and lasting influence

1969: The assignment

In 1969, Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation approached Intel to design 12 custom chips for its new Busicom 141-PF printing calculator. Intel engineers suggested a family of just four chips, including one that could be programmed for use in a variety of products, setting in motion an engineering feat that dramatically altered the course of electronics.

The Intel solution

Intel designed a set of four chips known as the MCS-4. It included a central processing unit (CPU) chip—the 4004—as well as 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.

1971: Era of integrated electronics

Intel purchased the rights from Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation and launched the Intel®4004 processor and its chipset with an advertisement in the November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News ”Announcing A New Era In Integrated Electronics.”

That’s when the Intel® 4004 became the first general-purpose programmable processor 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.

See how far we've come >

Stylized image of hand holding microprocessor the size of a fingernail

Powerfully small, even in 1971

This revolutionary microprocessor, the size of a little fingernail, delivered the same computing power as the first electronic computer built in 1946, which filled an entire room.

close up of first intel 4004 microprocessor 2-inch wafer

Early manufacturing

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.

close up of 4004 processor

Initial transistor count

In 1971, the Intel 4004 processor held 2,300 transistors. By 2010, an Intel® Core™ processor with a 32nm processing die and second-generation high-k metal gate silicon technology held 560 million transistors.

Close up under microscope human hair

Slimmer than a human hair

The Intel 4004 microprocessor circuit line width was 10 microns, or 10,000 nanometers. Today, the circuit features of Intel microprocessors range between 45 and 32 nanometers. By comparison, an average human hair is 100,000 nanometers wide.

Explore other online exhibits

If you can’t make it to the Intel Museum , you can still enjoy a tour of Intel history with these online versions of the exhibits.

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Robert Noyce

Intel’s co-founder and the co-inventor of the integrated circuit, he made numerous contributions to the advancement of technology.

Learn more about this extraordinary leader >

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Moore's Law

Four decades ago, Intel’s co-founder Gordon Moore made a bold prediction that has set the pace for ongoing innovation ever since.

Find out why Moore’s Law rules at Intel >

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Making silicon chips

From purified silicon to technology that powers your everyday life, discover the making of silicon chips—the most complex devices ever manufactured.

Explore the incredible manufacturing process >

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Learn More About Intel History

Explore the events that made news and advanced the world of technology.

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Intel Annual Reports and Anniversary Publications

Relive the Intel journey that started in 1968.

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Talk the Talk

Terms used everyday at Intel

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