It’s incredible that something so small, could have had an impact so large, on human history. The microprocessor was first made commercially available, the Intel 4004, just fifty years ago in 1971. It brought with it an acceleration in man’s ingenuity and progress, like nothing else had ever done. The microprocessor is now so ubiquitous, it’s likely you’re currently walking around with several of them on you right now, and looking at dozens, or even thousands of them in your environment.
So what exactly are they? Before the microprocessor, small computers were built up of many boards carrying integrated circuits, but the microprocessor merged these into smaller, and more densely packed, integrated circuits. That compaction continued in the following decades, cramming in more functions and processing power until we reached the stage we’re at today. The Intel 4004 packed a then remarkable 2,300 transistors into its tiny space. For comparison, AMD’s latest Threadripper 3990X, a CPU you can happily fit into a desktop machine at home, crams in a simply staggering 3,800 million of them!
Fortunately, given the Threadrippers cost of well over £2,000, Art-Mint have chosen something more sedate to adorn the front of their latest nod to technology. Launched in 1972, the 555 Timer IC is, as the name suggests, used for timing, oscillation, delay, and pulse generation, and is still manufactured today. Not only is it still manufactured, it’s been estimated (in 2017) that over a billion are produced annually, and it’s probably the most popular integrated circuit ever made. It’s a brilliant choice for the coin, both harking back to the originals of the microprocessor, and being relevant today, in its own 50th year.