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September 12, 2006

The Microprocessor Chronicles reveals history of ubiquitous technology

Why didn't Intel patent the microprocessor? How did Intel convince IBM, Compaq, HP and others to place "Intel Inside" on their computers? How was Intel's microprocessor selected for IBM's personal computer?

These are just of few of the questions answered in a digital video documentary, The Microprocessor Chronicles, that reveals the history of microprocessors-with emphasis on Intel's-as told by the people who brought this technology to the world. The four-hour documentary, co-produced by Stanford University Libraries, Walker Research Associates and Panalta Inc., is available on DVD for $49.95 at All profits will go to Stanford to support continued research and chronicling of the history of the semiconductor industry.

"The microprocessor has become truly ubiquitous," said Rob Walker, a Silicon Valley native and engineer who conducted many of the interviews forming the backbone of the documentary. "Today everyone in the West owns dozens of these tiny computers. Yet the microprocessor has only been around since 1971, and has been ubiquitous only in the last decade. This program provides the context for that phenomenal growth by examining in depth the technology, business and personal stories of the pioneers."

Said Stanford Librarian Mike Keller: "Like its predecessor oral history, The Fairchild Chronicles, this documentary presents the insights of the original players and decision makers on how the technologies so essential to today's world came about. These interviews supplement, complement and provide context for the written documents of the period. You could say it provides a human face to the history of silicon here in Stanford's backyard."

The documentary is part of the Stanford and Silicon Valley Archives Project, which since 1983 has preserved historical documents about Silicon Valley as a center of technology and entrepreneurship. For more than a decade the archives project has been the institutional home of another project, Silicon Genesis, that has produced and archived more than 40 video oral histories of Silicon Valley.

Based in part on this oral history project, the new documentary includes more than four hours of commentary on the technology, business and personal stories of the pioneers. Intel veterans Gordon Moore, Ted Hoff, Stan Mazor and Federico Faggin tell the story of the first commercially available microprocessors, the MCS-4 and then the 8008. The story delves into competitive struggles with such firms as Motorola, Zilog and AMD. It also explores the advantages and disadvantages of reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture, which, compared to its predecessor, the complex instruction set computer (CISC) architecture employed in Intel's microprocessors, uses simpler but faster instructions to execute the same task. Researchers at IBM, the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford produced the first RISC microprocessors. In the final chapter, Stanford President John Hennessy, who led Stanford's RISC research, speculates on the next advances in microprocessors.



Henry Lowood, Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources: (650) 723-4602,

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