Computer History MuseumSemiconductor History

1964 - First Commercial MOS IC Introduced

General Microelectronics uses a Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor (MOS) process to pack more transistors on a chip than bipolar ICs and builds the first calculator chip set using the technology.

Achieving the MOS promise of higher density and lower cost than bipolar (1960 Milestone) proved more difficult than anticipated due to complex manufacturing and reliability issues. Speakers at a symposium on the Physics of Failure in Electronics likened competing solutions to the story of the blind man and the elephant – it depends on which part you examine. Frederic Heiman and Steven Hofstein built an experimental 16-transistor IC at RCA in 1961 and later made important contributions to understanding surface oxide quality. Between 1963 and 1966, Bruce Deal, Andrew Grove, and Ed Snow at Fairchild identified the issue of sodium contamination and published many papers on the electrical nature of oxides that informed Grove’s classic textbook Physics and Technology of Semiconductor Devices. Collaboration and competition across the globe, including researchers from NEC, IBM and Philips, resolved the fundamental yield and reliability issues by the end of the decade that allowed MOS to emerge as the dominant IC technology.

General Microelectronics introduced the first commercial MOS integrated circuit in 1964 when Robert Norman used a 2-phase clock scheme to design a 20-bit shift register using 120 p-channel transistors. GMe designed 23 custom ICs for the first MOS-based electronic calculator for Victor Comptometer in 1965. After the company was purchased by Philco-Ford and the operation transferred to Philadelphia most employees moved on to other companies, including AMI and General Instrument, where they continued to develop chips for a burgeoning calculator market. By 1969 Rockwell Microelectronics had reduced the chip count to four devices for Sharp's first portable machine, the microCompet QT-8D, and went on to become the largest supplier of calculator chips in the early 1970s. Mostek and TI (1974 Milestone) introduced single-chip (except for external display drivers) solutions in 1971.

Contemporary Documents

Norman, Robert H. and Stephenson, Homer E. "Shift Register Employing Insulated Gate Field Effect Transistors," U. S. Patent 3454785 (Filed July 27, 1964. Issued July 8, 1969).

Grove, A. S., Snow, E. H., Deal, B. E., Sah, C. T. "Simple Physical Model for the Space Charge Capacitance of Metal-Oxide Semiconductor Structures." J. Applied Physics,, Vol. 49, (1964) pp. 2458-2460.

Grove, A. S., Deal, B. E., Snow, E. H., Sah, C. T. "Investigation of Thermally Oxidized Silicon Surfaces using Metal-Oxide-Semiconductor Structures," Solid State Electronics, Vol. 8, No. 2 (February 1965) pp. 145-163.

Grove, A. S. Physics and Technology of Semiconductor Devices. John Wiley and Sons, (1967).

Other Oral Histories

Deal, Bruce interviewed by Henry Lowood (6.9.1998). Stanford and the Silicon Valley Oral History Interviews. Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California.

Grove, Andrew S. interviewed by David C. Brock and Arnold Thackray (7.14.2004 and 9.1.2004). Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA 19106.

More Information

Sah, C.T. "Evolution of the MOS transistor-from conception to VLSI" Proceedings of IEEE, Vol. 76, Issue 10, (Oct 1988) pp: 1280-1326.

Moore, G. E., "The Role of Fairchild in Silicon Technology." Proceedings of IEEE, Vol.86 Issue, 1 (Jan 1998) pp. 53-62.

Ebel, G.H. "Reliability physics in electronics: a historical view," IEEE Transactions on Reliability, Vol. 47, Issue 3, Part 2 (September 1998).

Bassett, Ross Knox. To the Digital Age. (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002) pp. 150-153.