By Thomas Bartlett

Do you have a media centre? Of course you know that these are, at heart, Windows computers tuned towards multimedia performance. What you may not be as familiar with is that little bit of silicon deep in its heart.

Today it is likely to be some form of Pentium central processing unit. But it is a direct descendent of a device that hit the market in April 1974.

That product was the Intel 8080, a humble microprocessor.

Do you recall – assuming that you are old enough to have done so – using a computer powered by the Intel 8080? Probably not. The 8080 never became famous in the way that later computer processors did. But it deserves its place here because the processors that power the overwhelming majority of computers available today are derived from this chip.

Let us go back in time, briefly, to April 1974. There were what could be called ‘personal computers’ around. But they were large and extremely expensive. It was still a little over three years away from the release of the first ‘home computer’ – generally agreed to be the Apple II – which established the pattern for computers that has been followed ever since.

The Apple II did not use an Intel 8080 chip, but in fact a quite different processor from MOS Technology, called the 6502. Weeks after the appearance of the Apple II, Tandy released the first model of its computer: the TRS-80. This did not use an Intel 8080 either.