Photos: How the microprocessor changed our lives for you

  • This little chip was created for a calculator, popularised by a video game, made smaller and its responsibilities have only got bigger and bigger. Here are some highlights from a 50-year journey.
UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST 15 Photos
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Thank this team for making the world so comfortable with technology. The microprocessor, which powers every electronic device from washing machines to space satellites was created by Ted Hoff’s team at Intel in 1971, in the building in the background.(Intel)

Thank this team for making the world so comfortable with technology. The microprocessor, which powers every electronic device from washing machines to space satellites was created by Ted Hoff’s team at Intel in 1971, in the building in the background.(Intel)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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Work began in 1969 when the Japanese Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation hired Intel to design chips for a printing calculator.(Intel)

Work began in 1969 when the Japanese Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation hired Intel to design chips for a printing calculator.(Intel)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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Instead, Intel worked out the 4004 a general-purpose processor that could be used across many devices. They persuaded the Japanese company to allow them to sell it commercially.(Intel)

Instead, Intel worked out the 4004 a general-purpose processor that could be used across many devices. They persuaded the Japanese company to allow them to sell it commercially.(Intel)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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Intel was excited about the 4004. Customers would get the same computing power as a computer built in 1946, which used to fill an entire room. They released this ad in the November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News. But even Intel didn’t anticipate the revolution to come.(Intel)

Intel was excited about the 4004. Customers would get the same computing power as a computer built in 1946, which used to fill an entire room. They released this ad in the November 15, 1971 issue of Electronic News. But even Intel didn’t anticipate the revolution to come.(Intel)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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Intel kept improving on the chip, coming out with smaller, more powerful versions. Manufacturing was simple. Semiconductors were placed in water and then a vacuum was drawn on them. A technician such as this one operated a Veeco Leak Detector. If a semiconductor had a leak, the water would destroy the integrated circuit.(Intel)

Intel kept improving on the chip, coming out with smaller, more powerful versions. Manufacturing was simple. Semiconductors were placed in water and then a vacuum was drawn on them. A technician such as this one operated a Veeco Leak Detector. If a semiconductor had a leak, the water would destroy the integrated circuit.(Intel)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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By 1973, the chips were good enough to power a computer small enough for a home. Intel’s 8080 powered the Altair 8800, a $400 mail-order build-it-yourself that became the first commercially successful PC. Bill Gates and Paul Allen started a little company called Micro-Soft (from microprocessors and software) to produce programmes for it. Back at Intel, the chip recovered its R&D costs in just five months.(Smithsonian Museum)

By 1973, the chips were good enough to power a computer small enough for a home. Intel’s 8080 powered the Altair 8800, a $400 mail-order build-it-yourself that became the first commercially successful PC. Bill Gates and Paul Allen started a little company called Micro-Soft (from microprocessors and software) to produce programmes for it. Back at Intel, the chip recovered its R&D costs in just five months.(Smithsonian Museum)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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IBM created this style of personal computer in 1981. It became one of the most popular computer design standards in the world, with Apple Macintosh as the only major competition. Most PCs are distant descendants of this IBM version.(IBM)

IBM created this style of personal computer in 1981. It became one of the most popular computer design standards in the world, with Apple Macintosh as the only major competition. Most PCs are distant descendants of this IBM version.(IBM)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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The chip-powered arcade game, Pac-Man, sparked a worldwide craze, bringing microprocessors into the mainstream. Through the 1980s, microprocessors began to power everyday devices – washing machines, Casio Databank watches, the Gameboy, VHS and Betamax tape players, multi-function TV remote controls and automatic safety features in cars.(Atari)

The chip-powered arcade game, Pac-Man, sparked a worldwide craze, bringing microprocessors into the mainstream. Through the 1980s, microprocessors began to power everyday devices – washing machines, Casio Databank watches, the Gameboy, VHS and Betamax tape players, multi-function TV remote controls and automatic safety features in cars.(Atari)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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The 1990s saw players like AMD improve on microprocessor technology, making it cheaper and allowing for still more uses. Camcorders, flip-phones, palm-pilots, Discmans brought more tech into domestic life. This Intel ad for the Pentium MMX, featuring engineers in the bunny suit, came out in 1997, making them iconic mascots for tech in general.(Intel)

The 1990s saw players like AMD improve on microprocessor technology, making it cheaper and allowing for still more uses. Camcorders, flip-phones, palm-pilots, Discmans brought more tech into domestic life. This Intel ad for the Pentium MMX, featuring engineers in the bunny suit, came out in 1997, making them iconic mascots for tech in general.(Intel)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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Did you play with a Tamagotchi or virtual pet as a kid? Popular in the late 1990s and around the millennium, it was one of the early toys that incorporated a microprocessor and helped kids get comfortable with tech.(Bandai)

Did you play with a Tamagotchi or virtual pet as a kid? Popular in the late 1990s and around the millennium, it was one of the early toys that incorporated a microprocessor and helped kids get comfortable with tech.(Bandai)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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How to keep chips from overheating and melting as they got smaller and smaller? Dual and quad-core technology hit the market in the 2000s. This AMD Phenom quad-core processor from 2006 was diffused in Germany and made in Malaysia, reflecting the international tech network that emerged from the digital age.(AMD)

How to keep chips from overheating and melting as they got smaller and smaller? Dual and quad-core technology hit the market in the 2000s. This AMD Phenom quad-core processor from 2006 was diffused in Germany and made in Malaysia, reflecting the international tech network that emerged from the digital age.(AMD)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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The Blackberry hit the market in 1999, with its 32-bit processor and 2 MB memory ushering in the smartphone revolution.(RIM)

The Blackberry hit the market in 1999, with its 32-bit processor and 2 MB memory ushering in the smartphone revolution.(RIM)

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Its new sister, Moushik, can be used in credit cards, commuting passes, voting machines, camera, smart locks and IoT devices.(IIT-Madras)

Its new sister, Moushik, can be used in credit cards, commuting passes, voting machines, camera, smart locks and IoT devices.(IIT-Madras)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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In the last decade, Alphabet, Apple and Alibaba announced that they will start making their own chips in the future. IIT-Madras designed and developed Shakti, India’s first indigenous microprocessor, geared for use in low-power wireless networks, mobile phones and other devices.(IIT-Madras)

In the last decade, Alphabet, Apple and Alibaba announced that they will start making their own chips in the future. IIT-Madras designed and developed Shakti, India’s first indigenous microprocessor, geared for use in low-power wireless networks, mobile phones and other devices.(IIT-Madras)

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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Meanwhile, some chips refuse to fit in. Cerebras Systems makes the world's largest computer chip, the newest of which came out in 2020 and has 1.2 trillion transistors across 400,000 compute cores. It’s roughly the size of an iPad and is geared to tackle AI-based deep learning tasks.(Cerebras Systems )

Meanwhile, some chips refuse to fit in. Cerebras Systems makes the world's largest computer chip, the newest of which came out in 2020 and has 1.2 trillion transistors across 400,000 compute cores. It’s roughly the size of an iPad and is geared to tackle AI-based deep learning tasks.(Cerebras Systems )

UPDATED ON FEB 28, 2021 02:59 PM IST
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