Webster’s defines the noun wonder as, “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.”
Why, you might ask, am I beginning a blog with the definition of wonder? Because I have worked in the IT business for more than 23 years and over that time, I have had more than my share of wonder. I have often joked with colleagues, friends, and family that it is amazing that this stuff works at all.
Later this week I will be on vacation at a family member’s lake house in Nebraska. Yes, there are lakes in Nebraska, just not the more than 10,000 in my home of Minnesota. I bring it up because I still stand in amazement that I can sit on the deck overlooking the lake with my laptop tethered to a hotspot and conduct business as usual. With my camera off on a conference call no one would know where I am, but I am still being productive.
From time to time I want to know how we got here, and I find myself viewing online videos about the history of the IT industry. Recently there have been more videos posted about the worldwide chip shortage and they have led me to seek out other videos about the history of microprocessors back to the creation of the transistor itself.
So, a bit of a history lesson…
There is evidence that the concept of and designs for a transistor date back to 1925. The first well documented work on the transistor was an effort led by Bell Labs. Initially, the team worked with Germanium as Bell had experience with that substance from designing mixer diodes for radar units in World War II.
They had some modest success, but found that Germanium was too finicky, difficult to purify, and was limited in its operational temperature range. Silicon, a material few had thought to investigate, was proven to be a replacement by Bell Labs’ Morris Tanenbaum, and a team at Bell Labs developed the first working silicon transistor on January 26, 1954. We had suddenly hit the accelerator and a revolution was born.
IBM produced an early transistor-based computer in 1958, the IBM 1070. But we were still using individual transistors. If we had previously hit the gas, we were leaning into the accelerator a bit more now. That happened when General Microelectronics introduced the first commercial integrated circuit in 1964. That first integrated circuit had a “lofty” 120 transistors on a single chip.
These early integrated circuits had a serious limitation. They were custom built to perform individual tasks like be the “brain” of a pocket or desktop calculator. It was time to floor the accelerator. But what happened was what PC Magazine called a, ”combination of hard work, the right timing, and just plain luck.”
The Intel 4004 general purpose microprocessor was born on November 15, 1971, featuring 2300 transistors, followed by the 8008 less than five months later on April 1, 1972. The 8008 contained 3500 transistors.
Regular readers of my blogs will know that this is about the time I make a U-turn and head back to where I began. Well, I won’t disappoint you. This is where I get back to wonder.
We now number transistors in CPUs in the multiple BILLIONS.
Here are some current versions of microprocessors to contemplate. The AMD EPYC 7773X contains 26 billion transistors and IBM’s new Power 10 processor has 36 billion transistors. Intel’s Xeon Sapphire Rapids (56-core) is sporting 44 billion. But the king of the hill seems to be the Apple M1 Ultra with 114 billion.
We have increased the number of transistors by a factor of almost 50 million. To look at it another way, to equal the number of transistors in an Apple M1 Ultra, you would need a line of Intel 4004 processors more than 130 miles long. Think of that on your next road trip.
The birth of the microprocessor happened in my lifetime, and we have accelerated to this point while I am still alive. Maybe that is why I am amazed. Not the being alive part… the transistor count part.
So, as we enter the last month of summer vacation, I hope you can take some time to ponder what an amazing technological world we live in. I certainly will.
Get out there and take selfies with your family and immediately upload them to social media. In the blink of an eye, someone on the other side of the world will know your shorts don’t match your shirt or watch you wipe out on water skis. Wonder, indeed.
Be sure to contact us to to learn about the wonder we can do for your organization.
Patrick Schmidt is a Technology Lifecycle Management Specialist with LRS IT Solutions. For more than 23 years, he has been helping customers get a firm grasp on their asset and contract management with a combination of comprehensive service level analysis and lifecycle management best practices.