Development of the computer chip started in 1958 when Jack Kilby of Texas Instruments demonstrated that it was possible to integrate the various components of a CPU onto a single piece of silicon. These computer chips were called integrated circuits (ICs) because they combined multiple electronic circuits on the same chip. Subsequent design and manufacturing advances allowed transistor densities on integrated circuits to increase tremendously. The first ICs had only tens of transistors per chip compared to the tens of millions of transistors per chip common on today’s CPUs.
In 1967 Fairchild Semiconductor introduced a single integrated circuit that contained all the arithmetic logic functions for an eight-bit processor. (A bit is the smallest unit of information used in computers. Multiples of a bit are used to describe the largest-size piece of data that a CPU can manipulate at one time.) However, a fully working integrated circuit computer required additional circuits to provide register storage, data flow control, and memory and input/output paths. Intel Corporation accomplished this in 1971 when it introduced the Intel 4004 microprocessor. Although the 4004 could only manage four-bit arithmetic, it was powerful enough to become the core of many useful hand calculators at the time. In 1975 Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems introduced the Altair 8800, the first personal computer kit to feature an eight-bit microprocessor. Because microprocessors were so inexpensive and reliable, computing technology rapidly advanced to the point where individuals could afford to buy a small computer. The concept of the personal computer was made possible by the advent of the microprocessor CPU. In 1978 Intel introduced the first of its x86 CPUs, the 8086 16-bit microprocessor. Although 32-bit microprocessors are most common today, microprocessors are becoming increasingly sophisticated, with many 64-bit CPUs available. High-performance processors can run with internal clock rates that exceed 3 GHz, or 3 billion clock pulses per second.