Intel - The Microprocessor Revolution
Thursday, 05 August 2010
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Intel - The Microprocessor Revolution
Silicon Rush
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Founding Intel

After Rock decided to back their new company Noyce and Moore had no problem in getting cash and they were in the enviable position of being able to pick and choose whom they allowed to invest. They wanted to call the company Integrated Electronics, or Intel for short, but another company has already registered the full name and so they stuck with the short form.

 

moorenoyce

Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce

 

Intel started in a concrete building in Santa Clara on the site of an orchard in 1967. They were set on their idea of making semiconductor memory and didn’t plan to compete with existing companies by producing anything else.

Silicon Rush

This was the start of the boom years for Silicon Valley. At the time Intel started there were an average of three new semiconductor startups per annum.

In 1968 there were 13 and in 1969 a further eight but not all of the action was concentrated in California. In 1969 a group of Texas Instruments employees left and formed Mostek Corp in Dallas. The phenomenon of explosive growth was more to do with technology than geography.

Intel aimed to produce a high capacity, high speed memory for low cost. At the time there were some examples of solid state memory in use - small, high speed, high priced memory acted as a cache for some mainframes and slow, high capacity, high priced memory acted as buffers in peripheral equipment. What was needed was a reliable method of making LSI - Large Scale Integrated circuits.

Their target was only to cram 4,000 transistors onto a single chip but it was a difficult task. The key was to replace the metal layer by a polysilicon layer.  It took three years to master the process and even then they only got a 10% yield - that is 90% of the devices they made didn’t work.

But it was their second product that really made Intel a success. The 1103 was a 1Kbit DRAM and it rapidly became the industry standard. Intel wasn’t the first to produce a 1Kbit chip but the alternatives were slower and more difficult to use.

By 1972 Intel’s sales were $23.4 million and they were over the first hurdle. It wasn’t all plain sailing, however. Two months after the introduction of the 1103 a problem with electrostatic charge build-up inside the case caused the memory to be erased. Recognising the entire company’s future was at stake the work to put the problem right went on at a desperate speed.  It took two months to identify the cause and a further six to fix. Andrew Grove, then Vice President recalls,  

“I literally was having nightmares. I would wake up in the middle of the night , reliving some of the fights that took place during the day.”

The 1103 was new and very complex technology yet it became a mass produced item within one year of being designed. The working practices of the semiconductor industry were already beginning to form.

An egalitarian revolution

As well as producing the industry standard memory component, Intel also introduced some of Silicon Valley’s innovative work styles. Intel was open plan and even Noyce and Moore worked in a compartment roughly 12 foot square made from shoulder high partitions. 

“It bothers you a initially a little” Noyce commented, “the noise around, the clacking typewriters. But it’s an emphasis on the pride of accomplishment rather than the accoutrements of power.”

 It was often commented that Moore’s secretary had a bigger office space than he did.

Noyce in particular  has long been regarded as setting the style for Silicon Valley and many companies and company bosses have tried to model themselves on him and his methods.  Stories about him are commonplace. The best known being the day he queued in line to get a cashier’s  cheque for $1 million from his personal bank account to buy a Learjet that afternoon. 

After his divorce in 1974 and remarriage to Ann Bowers, Intel’s Personnel Director, he applied to join the snobbish Los Altos Country Club, only to be rejected because it did not approve of his new wife.

“To hell with them”,

he said and proceeded to build all the facilities that the club offered on his own property within sight of the Los Altos clubhouse.

 

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 16 November 2011 )
 
 

   
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