Wow, they really crammed a lot into those 410 transistors


A colleague of mine pointed out that in yesterday's Seattle Times, there was an article about Moore's Law. To illustrate the progress of technology, they included some highlights, including the following piece of trivia:

The Core 2 Duo processor with 410 transistors made its debut in 2002.

You can see the photo and caption in the online version of the article if you go to the slide show and look at photo number three.

This is an impressive feat. Intel managed to cram a Core 2 Duo into only an eighth as many transistors as the 6502.

On the other hand, it does help to explain why the chip has so few registers. There weren't any transistors left!

Comments (29)
  1. Brian_EE says:

    That's not even enough transistors for the I/O cells on the device, much less any internal logic of any kind.

    You'd think it would be much more power efficient.

  2. Mason Wheeler says:

    I get the impression that the 410 is right, but they left off a few zeros on the end.  Anyone know how many?

  3. VinDuv says:

    Not to mention that the Core 2 Duo was introduced in mid-2006, not 2002…

    [Obviously Intel understood the repercussions of such a tremendous engineering breakthrough and spent four years adding ballast transistors so as not to shock the industry. -Raymond]
  4. SimonRev says:

    According to Wikipedia, the Core 2 Duo had anywhere from 169 million to 411 million transistors depending on the architecture.  It debuted in 2006 (with 291 million transistors)

  5. Pseudo-Anonymous says:

    @Mason Wheeler:

    According to Wikipedia's transistor count page, the Intel Core 2 Duo has somewhere between 169-411 million transistors.

    The enginners at Intel must have been really rushed when they released the Core 2 Duo with only 410 transistors.

    [These early CPUs can be identified by the quadruple-sigma printed on them, and the note "For 1-bit use only." -Raymond]
  6. DWalker says:

    @Mason:  The linked article says the number is 410 million.

  7. morlamweb says:

    @Mason Wheeler: this looks like the writer forgot the word "million" in the caption.  Both errors must have slipped by the editing net at the Seattle Times.

    What amuses me about this post is that it's essentially a nitpick on one photo caption in an otherwise well-written article.  Mr. "Nitpickers' Corner" himself is not above the fray.

    [But at least I'm trying to be funny. (By the way, check out the byline at the end of the article. The article may be well-written, but it's poorly-edited.) -Raymond]
  8. Darran Rowe says:

    @morlamweb:

    I totally disagree with it being a nitpick. Most notably, there is the lack of trying to provide the correct answer.

    What this feels more like is "Even the big ones get it wrong, but if you get it wrong, you should do it with style!" The kind of pointing out of silly mistakes that make you chuckle and then move on, not thinking any less of the actual article writer.

  9. Dan Bugglin says:

    "According to Wikipedia's transistor count page, the Intel Core 2 Duo has somewhere between 169-411 million transistors."

    Technically 410 is a number inside that range! (169 – 411,000,000)

  10. Brian_EE says:

    I pointed this out to the author. The author doesn't choose the pictures nor add the caption. The graphics department does that.

  11. AndreN says:

    The article and the graphic accompanying it had several issues (at least in the version I read in the actual paper).  They called the 4040 CPU the 40040.  Plus, they had a picture of an Apple II in their timeline for some reason.  The Apple II used a 6502 (made by MOS Technology, not Intel).  Maybe show an early computer that actually used an Intel CPU?

  12. Falcon says:

    Less than 1 transistor per pin/land!

  13. Alex says:

    It gets even better; currently there is a correction at the bottom reading: "A photo caption in a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Core 2 Duo processor with 410 transistors made its debut in 2002; it actually made its debut in 2008."

  14. lefty says:

    The photo labeled as a 40040 is probably a 4004 (not 4040 since there are only 16 pins).

    The device in the photo also appears to have a veneer of wood covering the main part of the IC – I need to get a retro CPU cooler made of wood.  "Form over function", I always say.

  15. Anon says:

    [These early CPUs can be identified by the quadruple-sigma printed on them, and the note "For 1-bit use only." -Raymond]

    Man, Intel is really pushing it. I can't afford multiple processors just to handle some two-bit calculations.

  16. Nawak says:

    @Falcon

    > Less than 1 transistor per pin/land!

    Well, each transistor has three terminals so…

  17. Evan says:

    > It gets even better; currently there is a correction at the bottom reading: "A photo caption in a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Core 2 Duo processor with 410 transistors made its debut in 2002; it actually made its debut in 2008."

    Read that as "(the Core 2 Duo processor with 410 million transistors) made its debut", not as "the Core 2 Duo processor (with 410 million transistors) made its debut."

    The Core 2 Duo with 191 million transistors [Conroe] made its debut in 2006.

    The Core 2 Duo with 291 million transistors [Conroe refresh] made its debut in 2007.

    The Core 2 Duo with 410 million transistors [Wolfdale] made its debut in 2008.

  18. Evan says:

    Though it still says "410" and not million. Maybe that's what you were saying. Whoops.

  19. Nico says:

    My favorite bit is this:

    > Today’s average smartphone has more computing power than the Apollo 11 spacecraft that took men to the moon and back in 1969.

    I think it's pretty funny how the performance gap between historical computers and familiar modern technology they're compared against keeps getting wider and wider.  I still remember my dad telling me the exact same thing about his first laptop: a Compaq LTE (en.wikipedia.org/…/Compaq_LTE)!

    A smartphone seems to be an especially absurd comparison; however, taking a look at en.wikipedia.org/…/Apollo_Guidance_Computer I'd guess we've reached the point where anything with a microcontroller made in the last 10 years and a few KB of memory could be taken as "more powerful" than what landed the Apollo 11.

  20. cheong00 says:

    Wow, a data URI. Finally we can have images here. :)

  21. cheong00 says:

    Regarding how powerful is current CPUs when compared with what we have in the past, EAR of US used to have regulation on the processing power of CPU that can be exported. By §744.17(a)(b), all current CPUs falls into the controlled category (all current CPUs have 32-bit or more address lines).

    So technically, as American hardware company, you can't trade with any of non-whitelisted countries.

  22. Tim says:

    A data URI? I figured that Raymond had made an HTML table with pixel-sized cells. :)

  23. Oh, look! The first TONT blog post with an image! Groovy!

    What's next? Changing the default font to 'Segoe UI', 'Open Sans', Tahoma instead of Verdana?

  24. Wear says:

    The first TONT blog post with an image, except for the other ones with images.

    It's weird what people latch on to.

  25. Mike C says:

    410 transistors ought to be enough for anybody.

  26. Anon says:

    @Tim

    Please do not taunt the wizards.

  27. JamesJohnston says:

    Yeah, except it's not the first one with an image.  Here is one of many: blogs.msdn.com/…/10540214.aspx

  28. Justin Paupore says:

    @JamesJohnston – If you look closely at that, you'll see that it's not at image – it's actually made of pure HTML. (Try clicking the checkbox.)

  29. Guest says:

    @Justin Paupore

    The gear and speech bubble are images.

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