The microprocessor 30 years

The difference between 4004, the first chip unveiled by Intel in November 1971 and the current processors is comparable to the evolution from the stone age and the nuclear age. Yet despite numerous technological developments, certain basic principles have not changed.

The inner workings of the 4004 scheme is based on the arithmetic and logic unit which, as its name suggests, performs arithmetic and logical operations. The processor also includes a set of registers for storing the results of ongoing calculations and an instruction decoder, which converts signals programs driving the circuits of the processor.

The architecture of the Pentium 4 differs little, except that circuits have a much higher capacity and operate in a much more sophisticated. In a way, this is not very surprising, the basic architecture has been developed by the father of computer science, John von Neumann in the 1940s.

A thousand years

Like the 4004, the Pentium 4 uses transistors as basic components. Each chip can contain thousands or even millions, of these micro-switches located on microscopic lines made of tiny aluminum deposits that store or manipulate data. These same structural elements were used for all processors. But while the 4004 uses 2250 transistors, the Pentium 4 has 42 million.

It is almost impossible to imagine what this progress. Manual manufacturing a 4004-based logic circuits élementaires compounds of two transistors of the size of a pea interconnected by cables and mounted on a printed circuit of approximately 1 square centimeter, take roughly one month at a rate of a component made every 10 minutes. Applying the same technique, the making of a Pentium 4 clearly take more than a thousand years of intensive welding, and would obtain a device whose size would represent half a football field that does not even work not.

Evolution is not just about technology. The price of 4004 at launch was 200 dollars, while the Pentium 4 2GHz costs 400 dollars. Taking into account inflation, the 4004 would nonetheless be some $ 880 today, double the Pentium 4. The cost of 4004 “to the transistor” is 40,000 times higher than the latest Intel .

Power hungry

And that’s not all, 4004 could send 5120 bits or 640 bytes of RAM, while the Pentium 4 supports 4 GB, almost seven million times. The size of the circuits used in the Pentium 4 is about sixty times less than that of the circuits 4004, although the modern chip has thirty times more pins. In addition, the Pentium consumes nearly sixty amperes, 4004 more than one hundred times less.

On the clock frequency of the Pentium 4 (2 GHz) is 20,000 times greater than that of 4004 (108 kHz), but the Pentium 4 works a hundred times more per clock cycle and manages around a million times more instructions per second than its predecessor.

Yet at the time, 4004, can process 60,000 instructions per second, has done more than good figure. This was the first processor being used as component. Before his appearance, computers were housed in huge boxes and costing too expensive. In comparison, Windows XP would put more than a year to start on a PC with a processor 4004.