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The Microprocessor Turns 30 15 November 2001 Edition
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It's hard to believe just how much the microprocessor has changed our lives in the 30 short years since the first wimpy 4-bit processor was designed and manufactured.

These tiny little pieces of silicon are now a very important part of almost everyone's lives and are being incorporated into an ever-increasing array of products.

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Without the ubiquitous microprocessor, many of the every-day items we now take for granted would either be impossible to make, or very pale imitations of the versions we now have.

If you take a walk around your house, you might just be surprised at how many microprocessors you own. Check your microwave, TV, VCR, car, watch, PC, cellphone, fax machine, etc, etc and you'll see what I mean.

Even more stunning is the rate at which the microprocessor has been developed and enhanced over the past three decades.

The original Intel 4004 was a very simple 4-bit chip that ran at a leisurely 0.1 MHz -- just 1/20,000th the speed of today's screaming 32-bit, 2GHz monsters.

Once the potential of this little chip became apparent, it spawned a gold-rush not unlike the recent dot-com boom. Many Intel employees left the company and had little trouble obtaining huge sums of venture capital to set up their own microprocessor design and manufacturing facilities.

Back in the "good old days" there were dozens of companies competing with Intel. Names such as Zilog, Fairchild, Signetics, RCA, and others were all vying for a share of this burgeoning revolution.

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Of course these days, the microprocessor industry has paralleled the software one, with Intel eclipsing almost everyone to become the dominant player in the desktop CPU market.

There are other players such as AMD, Motorola, etc -- but just as Linux struggles to ankle-tap Microsoft, these companies are finding it very hard to unseat the ruling king.

You really have to wonder how long Moore's law can continue, and exactly how much computing power we'll be able to hold in the palm of one hand on the microprocessor's 50th birthday.

ZED?
And now, the latest location you'll find the ubiquitous microprocessor chip is in your credit card.

Tom Pullar-Strecker makes some interesting observations on this latest piece of gee-wizardry in an interesting piece on the Stuff site.

Personally, I can't see cards like this being a particularly viable improvement to the security of online shopping until the banks provide us all with free card-readers for our PCs.

Without such a card reader, the idea of associating a PIN with a card seems to be little different to EFTPOS. And have you ever wondered why the banks haven't been promoting EFTPOS as a viable method of payment for online shopping?

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