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Chip Hall of Fame: Computer Cowboys Sh-Boom Processor

You’ve never heard of it. But this processor’s high-speed architecture has been duplicated in every modern computer

2 min read
Sh-Boom Processor
Image: Chuck Moore

Sh-Boom Processor

Manufacturer: Computer Cowboys

Category: Processors

Year: 1988

Two chip designers walk into a bar. They are Russell H. Fish III and Chuck H. Moore (the creator of the Forth computer language), and the bar is called Sh-Boom. No, this is not the beginning of a joke. It’s actually part of a technology tale filled with discord and lawsuits. Lots of lawsuits. It all started in 1988 when Fish and Moore created a bizarre processor called Sh-Boom. The chip was so streamlined that it could run faster than the clock on the circuit board that drove the rest of the computer. So the two designers found a way to have the processor run its own superfast internal clock while staying synchronized with the rest of the computer. Sh-Boom was never a commercial success, and after patenting its innovative parts, Moore and Fish moved on. Fish later sold his patent rights to a Carlsbad, Calif.–based firm, Patriot Scientific, which remained a profitless speck of a company until its executives had a revelation: In the years since Sh-Boom’s invention, the speed of processors had far surpassed that of motherboards, and so practically every maker of computers and consumer electronics wound up using an approach just like the one Fish and Moore had patented. Ka-ching! Patriot fired a barrage of lawsuits against U.S. and Japanese companies. Whether these companies’ chips depend on the Sh-Boom ideas is a matter of controversy. But since 2006, Patriot and Moore have reaped over US $125 million in licensing fees from Intel, AMD, Sony, Olympus, and others. As for the name Sh-Boom, Moore, now at GreenArrays, in Cupertino, Calif., told IEEE Spectrum: “It supposedly derived from the name of a bar where Fish and I drank bourbon and scribbled on napkins. There’s little truth in that. But I did like the name he suggested.”

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How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor

Hoff thought designing 12 custom chips for a calculator was crazy, so he created the Intel 4004

14 min read
How Ted Hoff Invented the First Microprocessor

The rays of the rising sun have barely reached the foothills of Silicon Valley, but Marcian E. (Ted) Hoff Jr. is already up to his elbows in electronic parts, digging through stacks of dusty circuit boards. This is the monthly flea market at Foothill College, and he rarely misses it.

Ted Hoff is part of electronics industry legend. While a research manager at Intel Corp., then based in Mountain View, he realized that silicon technology had advanced to the point that, with careful engineering, a complete central processor could fit on a chip. Teaming up with Stanley Mazor and Federico Faggin, he created the first commercial microprocessor, the Intel 4004.

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