Anthony J. Pennings, PhD

WRITINGS ON DIGITAL STRATEGIES, ICT ECONOMICS, AND GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS

How IT Came to Rule the World, 2.5: Intel and the PC

Posted on | September 14, 2010 | No Comments

The computers used for the Moon landing were already out of date when Neil Armstrong walked on the lunar surface in 1969, but the decision to use integrated circuits or “chips” by the Apollo project paved the way for the microprocessor revolution and one of its main offspring, the personal computer.

NASA decided early on to standardize its Apollo flight technology with the integrated circuits (ICs) and nurtured them into reliable, relatively high performance digital processors. Reliability, cost, and the ease of manufacturing these “chips” had been sufficiently subsidized by the space program (and the MAD “Mutually Assured Destruction” missile defense strategy) to the point where integrated circuits and their next stage, the microprocessor, could be used in business related computers. In what would become a common geek term, the PC was the “killer app” for the microchip.

While Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments is generally credited to be the first to construct an integrated circuit, his contemporaries at Fairchild conceived of a production process that could mass-produce the small chips.

While Kilby’s ICs required its combination of transistors, resistors, and capacitors to be connected with gold wires and assembled manually, Robert Noyce and others at Fairchild were developing a literal printing process to construct the ICs. His “planar process” printed thin metal lines on top of an insulating silicon oxide layer that could connect the integral components of the chip. At first they could only connect a few components, but as they refined their “photolithography” method, hundreds, then thousands of connections could be made. By the time the Internet became a household word in the 1990s, millions of transistors were placed on a single chip.

In 1968, with the Apollo project well-established, integrated chip co-inventor Robert Noyce and fellow Fairchild “traitor” Gordon Moore left the company to form a new semiconductor company. What emerged was Silicon Valley stalwart Intel, the future producer of some of the industry’s most sophisticated microprocessors and the latter half of the infamous “Wintel” combination (Windows OS/Intel microprocessor) that would dominate PC sales throughout the rest of the century.

After twenty years of government backing, the microprocessing industry was about to crawl out on its own. And it was the microcomputer that would give the semiconductor industry the legs to become viable in the commercial arena.

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AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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  • About Me

    Professor and Associate Chair at State University of New York (SUNY) Korea. Recently taught at Hannam University in Daejeon, South Korea. Moved to Austin, Texas in August 2012 to join the Digital Media Management program at St. Edwards University. Spent the previous decade on the faculty at New York University teaching and researching information systems, media economics, and strategic communications.

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