The PC at 40: Its Forgotten History and True Origins

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The Start of Intel's Involvement

Frassanito recalled accompanying Roche to a meeting with Bob Noyce, head of Intel, in early 1970 to try to get Intel -- then a start-up devoted to making memory chips -- to produce the CPU chip. Roche presented the proposed chip as a potentially revolutionary development and suggested that Intel develop the chip at its own expense and then sell it to all comers, including CTC, Frassanito recalled.

"Noyce said it was an intriguing idea, and that Intel could do it, but it would be a dumb move," said Frassanito. "He said that if you have a computer chip, you can only sell one chip per computer, while with memory, you can sell hundreds of chips per computer." Nevertheless, Noyce agreed to a $50,000 development contract, Frassanito recalled.

Frassanito's recollection of Noyce's negative reaction is echoed in the transcript of a group interview done in September 2006 at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. (download PDF). The group included six people who were involved in the development or marketing of Intel's first CPU chips: Federico Faggin, Hal Feeney, Ed Gelbach, Ted Hoff, Stan Mazor and Hank Smith. They agreed that Intel's management at the time feared that if Intel put a CPU chip in its catalog, the computer vendors that were Intel's customers for memory chips would see Intel as a competitor and go elsewhere for memories.

That fear, they indicated, was evident as late as 1973. The group also recalled that work was suspended on the CTC chip, called the 1201, in the summer of 1970 after CTC lost interest, having decided to go ahead with a CPU board using transistor-transistor-logic (TTL) circuits instead of relying on a chip-based design. TTL is the level of integration that preceded microcircuits, where a chip might have tens of transistors rather than thousands.

Hoff, then an Intel engineer, wasn't surprised. The CTC processor architecture "could go to 16,000 bytes of memory, and if you were going to spend that much on memory, then there was no sense in saving maybe $50 on the processor by moving it out of TTL," Hoff told Computerworld. Memory fell to a penny a bit in 1972, he recalled, so 16KB would have then cost $1,280 (around $6,700 today).

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