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Inside Intel's first product: the 3101 RAM chip held just 64 bits

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Tags: memory history intel 3101 microprocessor
Clipped on: 2017-09-06

Xerox Alto restoration, IC reverse engineering, chargers, and whatever

Inside Intel's first product: the 3101 RAM chip held just 64 bits

Intel's first product was not a processor, but a memory chip: the 31011 RAM chip, released in April 1969. This chip held just 64 bits of data (equivalent to 8 letters or 16 digits) and had the steep price tag of $99.50.2 The chip's capacity was way too small to replace core memory, the dominant storage technology at the time, which stored bits in tiny magnetized ferrite cores. However, the 3101 performed at high speed due to its special Schottky transistors, making it useful in minicomputers where CPU registers required fast storage. The overthrow of core memory would require a different technology—MOS DRAM chips—and the 3101 remained in use in the 1980s.3

This article looks inside the 3101 chip and explains how it works. I received two 3101 chips from Evan Wasserman and used a microscope to take photos of the tiny silicon die inside.4 Around the outside of the die, sixteen black bond wires connect pads on the die to the chip's external pins. The die itself consists of silicon circuitry connected by a metal layer on top, which appears golden in the photo. The thick metal lines through the middle of the chip power the chip. The silicon circuitry has a grayish-purple color, but it largely covered by the metal layer. Most of the chip contains a repeated pattern: this is the 16x4 array of storage cells. In the upper left corner of the chip, the digits "3101" in metal identify the chip, but "Intel" is not to be found.

Image (Asset 1/22) alt=Thanks for another great article.
Congratulations for being the (probably) first person to publish high-res, multi-layer images of this rare chip to the internet.
The 3101 is one of the simplest implementations of static ram arrays, since it holds only 64 bits and (almost) no other frills. It is a classic example of the bit-slice TTL processors from the period. You did a wonderful job of explaining it. Keep of the posts!

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