Who invented the CPU? (Invention Timeline Explained)

CPUs. It’s something that just about everyone owns — that smartphone you have in your pocket is just a little computer with an advanced CPU at the end of the day. The evolution of the CPU is pretty amazing, and we’ll be looking into its first inception, as well as its progress over the years.

Who invented the CPU?

Surprisingly enough, the first commercial CPU was invented by Federico Faggin in 1971, called the Intel 4004. You would think the first commercial CPU would go way back, but the evolution of the CPU is where all the history goes.

The CPU’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Charles Babbage
    The beginning of the analytical CPU

    Invented the Analytical Engine, the blueprints of the modern CPU. The father of computers.

  • Ada Lovelace
    The mother of computers

    If Charles Babbage is considered the father of computers, Ada Lovelace — his long-time friend and working partner. A brilliant mathematician.

  • Alan Turing
    The creator of computer science

    Alongside Charles and Ada, Alan Turing’s work in computer science would herald a new age for computer development. He created the universal Turing machine.

  • Konrad Zuse
    Inventor of the first modern computer

    Developer of the very first (modern) functional computer, the Z1. He developed the computer in his parents’ living room!

  • John P. Eckert and associates
    Developers of ENIAC

    Developers of the very first high-speed CPU in 1942, known as the ENIAC.

  • Federico Faggin
    Invented the first commercial CPU

    The first commercial CPU — the Intel 4004 — was invented by Frederico Faggin and released in 1971.

  • Henry Edward Roberts
    Coined “Personal Computer”

    The Altari 8800 was released in 1974 by the father of the personal computer. The CPU certainly has many fathers, but it just goes to show how many people influenced its development!

When was the first CPU invented?

The first CPU was invented in November of 1971 by Intel, namely the Intel engineer Federico Faggin. They were able to place all the parts that helped a computer think and perform processes into a single chip.

A brief history of the CPU

We’ll be starting this brief history of the CPU with what is technically the very first analytical machine created — the abacus. It was developed more than 2000 years ago, and was necessary for matters of trade.

Naturally, people would look to advance the abacus in various ways. While Charles Babbage is responsible for what is now the modern CPU, Blaise Pascal is usually credited with the creation of what is essentially a calculator in 1642. He developed it to help his father with his work, who was a tax collector. Leave it to something like taxes to herald the development of one of the most crucial gadgets of our time!

Interestingly enough, it didn’t go over very well with the people of the age. The mathematicians feared it would take over their jobs. Eventually, the first calculator became commercially available, and progress continued.

It was at this point that Charles Babbage went on to develop the plans for the Analytical Machine, which is a blueprint of the first programmable computer. Then came Alan Turing, who helped pave the way with his work on the Turing universal machine. Konrad Zuse developed the Z1 based on the data, and the development of the computer began taking on a hectic pace.

With the development of the ENIAC in 1942 (and Alan Turing’s work on computer science), trailblazers such as Federico Faggin and Henry Edward Roberts ushered in the era of the PC. This was where the first commercial CPU was invented as we know it today. These days, Apple and Microsoft are all the rage, but without the ones who came before, programmable computers would’ve been impossible to achieve.

The CPU’s timeline

  1. 2400 BC
    The invention of the abacus

    The abacus is the very first tool that ushers in the era of the CPU.

  2. 1642
    The invention of the calculator

    The interesting thing about the calculator is many mathematicians thought they’d lose their jobs over it!

  3. The 1830s
    The Analytical Machine

    Charles Babbage, with the help of Ada Lovelace, develops the plans for the Analytical Machine — the precursor of the modern CPU.

  4. 1936
    The father of computer science

    Yes, the computer has a long list of fathers. One of them was Alan Turing, who developed the universal Turing machine. He later went on to develop computer science.

  5. 1942
    The invention of the ENIAC

    The Electrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator was the first high-speed computer.

  6. 1971
    The first commercial CPU release

    The release of the Intel 4004, developed by Federico Faggin.

  7. 1974
    The personal computer’s rise

    Henry Edward Roberts coins the term “personal computer” during the release of the Atari 8800.

  8. The 1980s
    The CPU boom

    CPUs at this point could process millions upon millions of instructions a second. The amazing thing is that computers continued to make rapid progress toward the 90s.

Where was the CPU invented?

The first CPU — the Intel 4004 — was invented in California. It saw its first use in Japan where it was delivered to be housed in a 141-PF printing calculator engineering prototype. You’ll find the prototype in the Computer History Museum in California!

Why do people love CPUs?

  • It instantly answers our questions

    All you’d have to do is pull up Google and you’d have an answer to just about every question you have. You can also pull up a calculator app to help with numbers.

  • It has limitless possibilities

    The CPU has been reinventing itself since the time of its inception. It’s something that will continue to reinvent itself long into the future. A few notable examples include virtual reality, fitness peripherals and apps, smartphones, TVs, and more!

  • Definitive proof of progress

    CPUs are able to do things we only wish we could do. Its ability to solve problems at a mind-boggling pace can’t be understated!

  • Ushering the era of AI

    Artificial intelligence is no longer the realm of science fiction thanks to modern CPUs and machine learning. There’s so much more to discover and build thanks to computer tech.

  • The start of the gaming revolution

    Games are no longer considered a fad — they offer a unique experience you won’t find anywhere else. CPUs helped develop games, and the world of gaming eventually helped computers make further progress!

CPUs by the numbers

  • 85The number of beads on an abacus.
  • 1800The number of square feet it took to house the ENIAC. The first high-speed CPU’s as big as they come!
  • 30The weight of the ENIAC in measurement of tons. Relocating something as large and heavy as the ENIAC was no easy feat.
  • 90%That’s the amount of currency that only exists in the digital space. It means only about 10% is physical cash!
  • 40,000The amount in dollars it cost to purchase the world’s very first gigabyte drive.
  • 95%Since we’ve already talked about currency, this is the percentage of mail sorted around the world. It means physical mail amounts to only about 5% overall.
  • 47The number of signatures you can find in the case of the very first Macintosh!
  • 1965The year Mary Kenneth Keller got a PHD in Computer Science. She’s the first woman to have done so!
  • 15The age of Jonathan James when he hacked NASA with his computer!

Five facts about CPUs

  • Tackling brain power

    If there was ever a time when a CPU is made with the overall power of the human brain, it would be able to hold about 3580 terabytes of memory!

  • The first mouse

    The first computer mouse was developed in 1964 by Douglas Englebert. As far as the design goes, it was wooden, much like preliminary computers.

  • Punching cards

    While the abacus and the calculator helped blaze a trail for modern CPUs, the development of punched cards went a long way toward automated computing.

  • The touchscreen

    The touchscreen has effectively made it possible for modern computers to be developed with much smaller screens. The modern smartphone owes its existence to the touch display.

  • Interface manager

    If you’re wondering what interface manager means, it was the initial name of the operating system we now know as Windows.

FAQ about CPUs

  • What is currently the fastest supercomputer?

    That distinction goes to the Fugaku supercomputer. In an age where personal computers are like mini supercomputers of the previous age, the Fugaku is on an entirely different level. To put things into perspective, The Fugaku is a 1 billion (!) dollar machine. It has 7,630,848 cores. Yes, it seems like a made-up amount, but it’s true.

  • What is the slowest CPU?

    A strange question to ask for sure, but the clock holds the distinction of being the slowest CPU. Considering it has to tell the time, you can’t really expect it to go faster.

  • What is the fastest commercial processor you can find in a computer?

    The world’s fastest commercial CPU is currently the Ryzen ThreadRipper 3990X from AMD.

  • Just how important is the CPU to society?

    Do you have a smartphone in your pocket? If you do, you know precisely why it’s so crucial. If you don’t have a smartphone, the person next to you probably does. He’s probably listening to YouTube right now.

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