I started to work in 1971 and after a few months I made my first acquaintance with the 4004. It was an extraordinary chip, the first microprocessor ever, firstly manufactured in March 1971, fifty years ago, packaging an unbelievable 2,300 transistors. I remember how excited all people around me were, when the first batch of 4004 were received (I was in the software group and we were ecstatic by another innovation, the possibility to use punched tape rather than having to insert instruction code via mechanical switches).
I guess this gives you a pretty good idea of the stone age programming.
IEEE Spectrum is celebrating the 50 years of the Intel 4004 in an article that I feel is a must read for the elderly to go back to those times and for all the others who don’t have a clue of what it was to be in electronics and software 50 years ago when all started.
Today’s Apple M1 chip has 16 billion transistors (7 million times more) and the largest chip so far, Cerebra, has 2.6 trillion transistors, clustered in 850,000 cores (individual processing units), that is over a billion times more than that first microprocessor.
Yet, the challenges faced by Federico Faggin and the other engineers who created that first chip were immense. There were basically no tools to support the design, and the placement of the 2,300 transistors (as drawing on the die) had to be managed manually.
Who would have imagined that in 50 years time that single chip would have changed the world? For sure I didn’t.