The very first electronic, monolithic CPU was invented by Federico Faggin, Masatoshi Shima, Marcian Edward Hoff, along with a supporting team of core Intel employees. The first commercially available computer processor was none other than the legendary Intel 4004, which was officially released by Intel in 1971.
Frederico Faggin was an Italian-American physicist who joined Intel in 1970 after developing the Fairchild 3708 integrated circuit. Masatoshi Shima is a Japanese electronics engineer, who presented his MOS chip design to Intel in 1969. Marcian Hoff was responsible for pushing the “universal” microprocessor concept, an idea that is directly carried over to the CPU we know and love today.
Why a ‘central’ processing unit was such a revolutionary idea
The computer technology development landscape of the late 1960s into the 1970s was that of custom-made boards and circuits. Despite the emergence of tech companies that took on the demand for this newfangled integrated circuit concept, nearly all computer designs were so far vastly different from each other. The idea of interoperability and universal connectivity was yet to be the norm.
This was when the microprocessor revolution occurred. The conceptual success of the Intel 4004 led to the development of the Intel 8008 and Intel 8080. For the first time, adoption levels for such integrated circuits have become wide enough that the first operating system, CP/M, became possible. From this point on, the adoption of computers in almost all modern business application skyrocketed even further.
Who invented the CPU we are familiar with today?
Intel first developed the square-shaped socketable CPU (we know and love) in the form of the Intel 80186 microprocessor. Introduced in 1982, it was the first of the brand new third-generation processors that showcased the power 16-bit systems. Despite its monumental milestone in the history of computers, it was largely overthrown by its successor the Intel 80286, as the latter is far more compatible with the construction of PCs of that time.
To be fair, socketable CPUs were already available as early as the release of the Intel 8086, and square CPUs have been designed by Motorola several years back. But it was mostly Intel’s (and eventually AMD’s) line of 16-bit and 32-bit processors that combined both ideas in a form we are familiar with and can be compared to the CPUs that we use today.
And of course, the most popular CPU today within the realm of the classic PC enthusiast space is still none other than the Intel 80386, commonly abbreviated as the Intel 386 or i386. It has all the elements found on CPUs today. From the socket retention system, PGA contacts similar to AM4 Ryzen processors, down to the supported operating systems, were Linux (3.0, Woody) and Windows (95).
The road to where CPUs stand today
Later engineering revolutions aside, AMD and Intel CPUs experienced little fundamental design change even as we welcome the 2000s. AMD kept the same PGA layout even during its downfall in the mid-2010s and eventual rise to excellence post-2017 with AM4 and Zen. Intel, on the other hand, decided to switch over to the more advanced LGA configuration when moving from the old Socket 478 platform to LGA 775, and thus Intel CPUs starting that era no longer have pins, but instead use contact points. The rest was literally history after that.