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.
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.
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.
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.