In 1968, Ted Hoff became the twelfth employee at Robert Norton Noyce and Gordon E. Moore's new start-up company, Intel. Noyce was impressed with the practicality of Hoff's academic research and was hoping that Hoff would be able to develop commercial applications for the integrated circuits that Intel was making. At the time, the integrated circuit was relatively simple. Once the processes it would run were burned into its circuitry, it was capable of doing only that one thing. As a result, devices based on integrated circuits required a large number of circuits, one for each process or function. For simple functions such as basic bookkeeping mathematics, mechanical adding machines were still more cost-effective, although they were prone to breakdown as their gears wore down with use.
While working on an assignment for a Japanese calculator company, Hoff began to see the limitations of the integrated circuits. To build a complex, multifunction calculator with hardwired chips would tax the abilities of the entire team at Intel. There were simply too many chips that would have to be designed. If instead it was possible to design a chip that could read programs from memory, execute them, and then remove them when finished, this single chip could do hundreds or even thousands of different functions. It would be easy to create a machine that could do almost any range of functions, limited only by the amount of memory included in the memory chips.
Noyce encouraged Hoff to continue exploring the idea even after the commissioning company showed little interest in it. With the aid of fellow employee Federico Faggin, who designed the actual chips themselves, Hoff developed an entirely new architecture for integrated circuits. This new design took all the circuitry of a computer's central processing unit (CPU) and etched it onto a single piece of silicon. The resultant chip contained 2,300 transistors and had a computing power equal to that of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC), the first general purpose electronic computer. Moreover, while ENIAC and its ilk required a cabinet the size of a desk to hold all CPU circuitry, Hoff and Faggin's microprocessor chip was hardly bigger than a human thumbnail. Even with the protective ceramic casing and the lead wires for its socket, it was still hardly bigger than a postage stamp.
However, Noyce and Moore knew that the development of the CPU chip, which they called the Intel 4004 (released in 1971), was not an unbeatable coup. Thus, Hoff's team was set to work on a successor chip, the 8008 (introduced in 1972), which contained twice as many transistors and was faster than its predecessor. In 1980, Hoff was made an Intel Fellow, the highest technical position at Intel. However, in 1983 he left Intel to become vice president of corporate research and development at Atari, which had gained its reputation in the arcade game industry and subsequently expanded into console game systems for home use. At the time, Atari was starting to build machines that went beyond gaming to include general-purpose computing functions. However, Atari was already in financial trouble, and a year after Hoff moved, it was sold. Hoff found the new management less than congenial to his interests, so he left to start his own consulting firm, setting up an office and lab in the garage of his Sunnyvale home. He found consulting particularly agreeable because of the freedom it afforded him: He could pick projects of interest to him without having to justify them to corporate management.
In 1986, Hoff decided to return to the corporate fold, becoming vice president and chief technical officer with Teklicon, a company specializing in expert witnesses for patent infringement litigation cases. However, he continued to maintain his home laboratory and to work in his spare time on various projects. Hoff has received a wide variety of honors, including the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Davies Medal, the Stuart Ballantine Medal from the Franklin Institute, and induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Hoff's creation of the microprocessor revolutionized the computer industry. For the first time, a single piece of silicon could be a general-purpose programmable computer. The chip's small size and inexpensive manufacture placed computers within the reach of ordinary people for the first time and allowed the integration of computer technology into a wide variety of applications. . .
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