-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-

A microprocessor is a computer processor that incorporates the functions of a central processing unit on a single integrated circuit (IC), or at most a few integrated circuits. The microprocessor is a multipurpose, clock driven, register based, digital integrated circuit that accepts binary data as input, processes it according to instructions stored in its memory and provides results as output. Microprocessors contain both combinational logic and sequential digital logic. Microprocessors operate on numbers and symbols represented in the binary number system.

The complexity of an integrated circuit is bounded by physical limitations on the number of transistors that can be put onto one chip, the number of package terminations that can connect the processor to other parts of the system, the number of interconnections it is possible to make on the chip, and the heat that the chip can dissipate. Advancing technology makes more complex and powerful chips feasible to manufacture.

A microprocessor control program (embedded software) can be easily tailored to different needs of a product line, allowing upgrades in performance with minimal redesign of the product. Different features can be implemented in different models of a product line at negligible production cost.

The single-chip microprocessor was made possible with the development of metal-oxide-semiconductor (MOS) silicon-gate technology (SGT). The earliest MOS transistors at Bell Labs had aluminium metal gates. Following the development of silicon self-aligned gates for MOS transistors, Italian engineer Federico Faggin developed the first silicon-gate MOS integrated circuit chip at Fairchild Semiconductor in 1968. Faggin later joined Intel and used his silicon-gate MOS technology to develop the first single-chip microprocessor, the Intel 4004, along with Marcian Hoff, Stanley Mazor and Masatoshi Shima in 1971.

Pico was a spinout by five GI design engineers whose vision was to create single chip calculator ICs. They had significant previous design experience on multiple calculator chipsets with both GI and Marconi-Elliott. The key team members had originally been tasked by Elliott Automation to create an 8-bit computer in MOS and had helped establish a MOS Research Laboratory in Glenrothes, Scotland in 1967.

The 8008 was the precursor to the successful Intel 8080 (1974), which offered improved performance over the 8008 and required fewer support chips. Federico Faggin conceived and designed it using high voltage N channel MOS. The Zilog Z80 (1976) was also a Faggin design, using low voltage N channel with depletion load and derivative Intel 8-bit processors: all designed with the methodology Faggin created for the 4004. Motorola released the competing 6800 in August 1974, and the similar MOS Technology 6502 in 1975 (both designed largely by the same people). The 6502 family rivaled the Z80 in popularity during the 1980s.

A seminal microprocessor in the world of spaceflight was RCA's RCA 1802 (aka CDP1802, RCA COSMAC) (introduced in 1976), which was used on board the Galileo probe to Jupiter (launched 1989, arrived 1995). RCA COSMAC was the first to implement CMOS technology. The CDP1802 was used because it could be run at very low power, and because a variant was available fabricated using a special production process, silicon on sapphire (SOS), which provided much better protection against cosmic radiation and electrostatic discharge than that of any other processor of the era. Thus, the SOS version of the 1802 was said to be the first radiation-hardened microprocessor.

Another early single-chip 16-bit microprocessor was TI's TMS 9900, which was also compatible with their TI-990 line of minicomputers. The 9900 was used in the TI 990/4 minicomputer, the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A home computer, and the TM990 line of OEM microcomputer boards. The chip was packaged in a large ceramic 64-pin DIP package, while most 8-bit microprocessors such as the Intel 8080 used the more common, smaller, and less expensive plastic 40-pin DIP. A follow-on chip, the TMS 9980, was designed to compete with the Intel 8080, had the full TI 990 16-bit instruction set, used a plastic 40-pin package, moved data 8 bits at a time, but could only address 16 KB. A third chip, the TMS 9995, was a new design. The family later expanded to include the 99105 and 99110.

Motorola's success with the 68000 led to the MC68010, which added virtual memory support. The MC68020, introduced in 1984 added full 32-bit data and address buses. The 68020 became hugely popular in the Unix supermicrocomputer market, and many small companies (e.g., Altos, Charles River Data Systems, Cromemco) produced desktop-size systems. The MC68030 was introduced next, improving upon the previous design by integrating the MMU into the chip. The continued success led to the MC68040, which included an FPU for better math performance. The 68050 failed to achieve its performance goals and was not released, and the follow-up MC68060 was released into a market saturated by much faster RISC designs. The 68k family faded from use in the early 1990s.

From 1993 to 2003, the 32-bit x86 architectures became increasingly dominant in desktop, laptop, and server markets, and these microprocessors became faster and more capable. Intel had licensed early versions of the architecture to other companies, but declined to license the Pentium, so AMD and Cyrix built later versions of the architecture based on their own designs. During this span, these processors increased in complexity (transistor count) and capability (instructions/second) by at least three orders of magnitude. Intel's Pentium line is probably the most famous and recognizable 32-bit processor model, at least with the public at broad.