I am wondering what was the first chip ever with over 1000 transistors?

I already am aware of the following:

  1. The Intel 4004 was the first commercially available single-chip microprocessor and it was released in 1971 and had 2300 transistors.
  2. The MP944 (designed for the Tomcat) is also considered the first microprocessor and was designed in 1970, but largely kept secret so the details are fairly uncertain (including transistor count), also it wasn't a single-chip microprocessor, it was part of a chipset.
  3. The TMS1000 was designed in 1971 and had 8000 transistors, but wasn't comercially available until 1973.

Basically, I would like to know what came before these chips that had 1000 or more transistors?

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Lots of chips are designed and then never discussed in public, so I don't think this question is answerable. Why exactly do you need to know the first chip with more than 1000 transistors? Why isn't a general trend of transistor-count in commercially released products over time adequate? \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Aug 21 '15 at 16:20
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Undoubtly it will be some secret military device that if someone tells you about, both of you will enjoy a government sponsored trip \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Aug 21 '15 at 16:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ To one of those beautiful sandy cuban beaches \$\endgroup\$ – AlanZ2223 Aug 21 '15 at 16:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ThePhoton, For my purposes, I am looking at transistor count over time. Every comparison I see with actual values just lists the 4004 as the starting point, but I think that's a little naive to think we went from one transistor to the 4004, it kind of ignores the intermediate progress that the 4004 was derivative of. \$\endgroup\$ – Veridian Aug 21 '15 at 16:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ So just find some chips from before the 4004 and add them to your chart. If you find one with 700 or 1200 transistors, that's still good. Transistor count was often published because mil standards use it to estimate reliability. (Although if you go back too far, those standards might not have been in place yet) \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Aug 21 '15 at 16:38

Based on the datamath webpage there were ICs around with more than 1000 transistors as early as 1967 used in TIs calculators prototypes.

But it's not clear if this is a single chip or all three had together 1000 transistors and the exact chip is not mentioned.

I've done some further research on the CalTech prototype. There is a patent available: Patent US3819921 which describes the calculator prototype from TI.

Figure 15, 16, 17 and 18 show the logic of the four implemented ICs. The biggest one in figure 15 has 151 NAND gates. Figure 20 shows the construction of a single NAND gate. As can be seen, they are made using 6 PNP and 2 NPN transistors, so each NAND gate needs 8 transistors.

For the chip with 151 gates this results in a total transistor count of 1208.

Now that patent was filed in 1971, which is later than the original prototype, so I'm not 100% sure that the early prototype used already this chip. The patent mentions an application number 671,777 filed in Sept. 29, 1967. I've found a document where the original patent application and it's claims get discussed but as the whole description is not available, it's hard to say if the ICs were altered during the 4 years. Claims 15 and 35 speak of a "large plurality" of same gates, so that might be an indication that the ICs were already the same.

Based on the computer history webpage in 1965 there was a MOS ROM with 1024 bits developed from General Microelectronic. As a MOS ROM it would have needed 1 transistor per bit (if I'm not mistaken), so that chip should have had 1024, sounds like maybe the first as only 2 companies were working on MOS at that time (based on this). I haven't found a supporting source for that claim though.

In mid- 1965 only two companies were producing MOS ICS — General Microelectronics and General Instru- ment—but interest in the new process was high.

Also mentioned in the Electronicsmagazine Special Commemerative Issue on page 251 is a MOS device for the military containing 968 components. Probably not all of them are transistors, but it seems like it was doable in 1965. Reading further in that document they claim that a 1024 bit ROM was announced by Philco-Ford in 1968 (page 271):

A 64-bit MOS memory organized into 16 4-bit words was offered by Fairchild. A year later Philo-Ford announced a 1,024-bit ROM.

| improve this answer | |
  • \$\begingroup\$ It was a quite interesting research, I also stumbled upon some formerly top secret documents from the NSA (I thought a crypto-IC might have been there earlier) (they are now released to the open) but they weren't filled with much technical details sadly. \$\endgroup\$ – Arsenal Aug 24 '15 at 16:52

Intel 1101 256 bit SRAM probably had over 1K transistors. July 1969. They had an even early product- a bipolar SRAM, but bipolar SRAMs tend to use mutant BJTs with multiple emitters rather than multiple transistors so I doubt it hit the 1K milestone.

There may have been others- prototpes, those aimed at military applications or in labs that were earlier.

Also, given @crasic 's contribution of 120 in '65 and applying Moore's law, probably ca. 1968-69 for commercial offerings.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.