Oral Histories of Semiconductor Industry Pioneers
Interview with Gordon E. Moore
March 3, 1995
Hosted by Rob Walker
Co-Founder, LSI Logic Ltd.
Transcription by Dag Spicer
Program in History and Philosophy of Science
Department of History
(c) 1996 Stanford University Libraries
[ Start of Tape: 0:00]
RW: We're here today in Woodside, California with Gordon and Betty Moore.
Gordon is a senior statesman in semiconductors, having started at Shockley
Labs, been a founder of Fairchild, and then a founder of Intel Corporation.
He's presently Chairman of the Board of Intel Corporation and Betty and
he are going to take us on a little tour of their estate here...
[Garden tour segment omitted. Approximately seven minutes.]
... Well, let's go do an interview.
[ Start of Interview: 7:46]
GM: OK, fine.
RW: Well, Gordon, tell me about your early days. I guess you were born
right here in California?
GM: That's right. I was born actually in San Francisco only because
it was the nearest hospital to Pescadero, a little farm town kind of community.
Pescadero was really my home town. I stayed... its only distinction is
that it's the only town I know of in California that's smaller now than
it was sixty years ago. The main street used to go through it and then
the moved the highway onto the coast and Pescadero became a bit of a backwater.
I moved to Redwood City when I was ten years old. My father was deputy
sheriff and he got a promotion and had to move into the county seat. And
I lived in Redwood City, less than five miles from where we are right now,
until I went away to school. In fact, my parents lived there until they
I went through grammar schools here locally, Sequoia High School, two
years at San Jose State, where I met my wife-to-be, and then transferred
to University of California at Berkeley for my junior and senior years.
I got a bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1950 and went on to Caltech to
do graduate work. Got a Ph.D., it was awarded in 1954.
Actually at that time, it was hard to find technical jobs in California. I had my new Ph.D. in chemistry and physics and started looking around and decided I really had to look east in order to find a job. So my first job was at the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington, DC. I went to work there in September of 1953, just after I had finished the requirements for my graduate work, about a year before the degree was actually awarded. There I did basic research on such things as flames, some shapes of spectral lines... what caused them to behave the way they did. And I found myself calculating the cost per word to the taxpayer in the published articles coming out of that work, and I wasn't really sure that society was benefiting sufficiently from what I was doing!
It was time I should get to something a bit more practical. That was helped by the fact that the group I was working in was kind of breaking up, it was a little research group within the Applied Physics Laboratory. So I started looking for another job and put out feelers in several places. One of them happened to be the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and I interviewed in Livermore and the work they wanted me to do wasn't something I found very attractive. But that actually led into my getting into the semiconductor industry. Because Dr. William Shockley knew the people at Lawrence Livermore and got
access to their records, the people to whom they had made offers and
had turned them down. And he got my name, thought he needed a chemist in
a new operation he was setting up, and gave me a call one evening to see
if I would be interested in talking to him about that possibility.
And that's really how I got into semiconductors.
RW: Well, what was Bill Shockley like?
GM: Well he was an unusual fellow. First of all, he was extremely competitive
and controversial. If there were two ways of stating things, one of which
was controversial, and one of which was straightforward, he'd pick the
controversial one every time. He just thrived on stimulating controversy.
He had phenomenal physical intuition. One of my colleagues once said he
thought Shockley could see electrons, he had such a good idea of
what was going to happen. He was very competent in the solid state physics
area, actually had been in other technical areas before that.
But he had some peculiar ideas on how to motivate people. This was the
first time he really took on a major management responsibility. At Bell
Laboratories, he had run a relatively small research group. But here he
was trying to set up a new enterprise and some of his ideas, frankly, didn't
work out too well for the success of that enterprise.
RW: Did he do polygraph tests on people?
GM: Well that was one of the things that happened. We had an
incident in the laboratory where, actually a little pin point was left
in one the doors and a lady cut her hand on it a bit. And Shockley decided
that was malicious and started trying to track down who had put this point
there in order to hurt this lady. And it got to the point where he was
going start going through the whole staff with a polygraph test. He didn't
get very far with that one however, we all kind of rebelled and that one
RW: I also heard a story that a visiting professor came in and was giving a presentation in the morning at eight o'clock or so and Shockley came in and the technical staff was there, and he said: "How come you guys aren't at work?" Is that one that you recall?
GM: I don't remember that one specifically, but there are a lot of Shockley
stories. For example, the people he hired were typically young scientists
in those days and he'd ask us--we were in our twenties--he'd ask the group
one day what he could do to make their job more interesting and more rewarding
and a couple of them commented well, gee, they'd like to be able to publish
some papers. So he said "OK." That night he went home and he
worked out the theory for some effect in semiconductors, I don't exactly
remember what, brought it back, handed it to him the next morning and said
"Here, flesh this out and publish it."
Typical of the feeling he had for what was really motivating people.
RW: Yeah. So what caused you guys--was it eight?--eight of you, "the
GM: Yeah, well, we've been called a variety of things.
RW: What caused you to leave?
GM: Well, there were several of these incidents where Shockley's management
was really disruptive rather than helpful. For example, we had a secret
project--we were a very small group, forty or fifty people, total, in a
single building--and Shockley came up with a new idea and all some of us
could know was that it was "potentially as important as the invention
of the transistor." Half the group was working on it and the other
half couldn't tell what it was--very disruptive to the organization.
Anyhow, Arnold Beckman, the founder of Beckman Instruments, was the
financing behind Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, and Arnold came up
to talk to us one time and after he was done Shockley stood up and made
a few comments ending with "If you're not happy with what were doing,
I can take this someplace else." Which was completely uncalled for.
Anyhow, we used that as a reason to actually call Beckman and says "Hey,
that's not true. If Shockley tried to move here, he'd have to go almost
And Beckman used that to say "Well, I gather things aren't going
completely right there. What can we do about it?" We agreed to have
a dinner meeting with Beckman. In fact, we ended up having several dinner
meetings. I would guess four, in retrospect, where Beckman came up from
southern California and a group of us met with him to see what steps could
be taken to improve the management situation at Shockley. The kind of thing
we were looking at was something that put Shockley in a consulting position
and brought in somebody who was an experienced general manager. In fact,
I remember, Beckman had someone in his organization by the name of Joe
Louis who kept getting taller and taller every time he talked about him--he
sounded like just the kind of person we needed for the operation.
Anyhow, on the last of these dinner meetings with Beckman, you now,
we had previously been exploring such things as getting Shockley a professorship
at Stanford but keeping him as a consultant. By that time, Shockley had
won the Nobel Prize and it wasn't very difficult to find him a professorship
Anyhow, someone had gotten to Beckman... I have heard a rumor that it
was someone from Bell Laboratories... and told Beckman that if he made
this move, it would just ruin Shockley's career. So Beckman's attitude
toward us changed and he essentially said "Hey, Shockley's the boss,
you guys like it or... whatever." At that time we felt we felt we
had burned our bridges so badly that there was no way we could stick
around working for Shockley, after having gone around him to try to straighten
out this problem.
So, one of the group that had been meeting with Beckman, by the name
of Gene Kleiner, had a friend who worked at Hayden Stone, the investment
banking firm, in New York at that time. And it said, essentially, there's
a group of us who like working together, we're all going to leave Shockley,
do you think there's a company that would like to hire the group?' The
response was: "Well, wait a minute," and one of the senior partners,
by the name of Bud Coyle, and a young Harvard MBA by the name of Arthur
Rock, came to California to meet with the group.
After spending an evening with us talking about the kind of things we
wanted to do and the like, they concluded that rather than finding a company
that would like to hire us, what we ought to do is set up our own
company and sold us on the idea of establishing a new company. Now, we
found that fairly easy to accept as an idea because we all lived here,
we all owned houses in the area, and it would clearly be a lot less disruptive
to our personal lives than any other solution we were likely to come up
So, Hayden Stone agreed to take on the job of raising money to start
a company and the company we were looking at was to pursue the goal that
Shockley had earlier abandoned. He was initially going to make a silicon
transistor and then he changed to deciding to make a four-layer diode,
a rather specialized and obscure device. Well we still thought the transistor
was the way to go and Fairchild, finally was financed, started to pursue
Anyhow, Hayden Stone said they would find financing and that was before
the days of readily available venture capital. So we sat down with a copy
of the Wall Street Journal and literally went through all of the
companies on the New York Stock Exchange trying to identify everyone we
could think of that might like to start a semiconductor operation. We identified
some thirty-five companies and the Hayden Stone team visited every one
of them and got turned down by every one of them. None of them even getting
to the point where they wanted to talk to the group. The reason, presumably,
for several of them, was because they didn't see how they could support
a group on the outside while they had a lot of engineers on the inside
doing similar things who wouldn't be getting the same kind of a deal.
Anyhow, by accident, the people from Hayden Stone were introduced to
Sherman Fairchild. Sherman Fairchild was intrigued by technology and gadgets.
He had previously set up Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation and
Fairchild Aviation when he was pursuing aerial surveying. Sherman Fairchild
introduced them John Carter who was the chief executive of Fairchild Camera
John Carter sent his executive vice-president, by the name of Richard
Hodgson, out to meet with us and after spending an evening with us... there
may have been more than the one meeting, I don't really remember that too
well... anyhow, Fairchild agreed to support the group of us, and there
were eight of us in the group at that time, to try to establish a semiconductor
company and that was the beginning of Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation.
RW: What were some of the technical breakthroughs at Fairchild?
GM: Well, Fairchild did a lot of pioneering work. The company was really
in the right place at the right time. In the first place, we pursued this
idea of a diffused silicon transistor that Shockley had been initially
going to do. It was something that had been made in the laboratory at Bell
Labs but was not a commercial device at all. We were the first ones to
bring to the market what's known as a "mesa" transistor and it
was a silicon mesa transistor at that time. It was quite a successful device
on the scale that we were working at least, but that was only the first
of several devices.
That was the first silicon transistor that was built by the batch process--where
you made a lot of them on a wafer and then cut them up individually. And
it was the first device in manufacturing that used photolithography to
produce the structures. So these were fairly important early developments.
RW: Let's break right now.
GM: Speaking of lithography reminds me that when Fairchild started,
we split the major processes that had to be developed among the participants
there and Bob Noyce had responsibility for setting up the lithography capability.
He went to San Francisco to a large camera store and dug through their
supply of 35mm movie camera lenses--excuse me, 16mm movie camera lenses--and
picked out the three that were best matched in so far as focal length was
concerned. And those were the optics in the step-and-repeat cameras
we built to make the first transistor structures.
RW: In other words, there was no... you had to build everything in those
days... there was no industry that built this...
GM: That's right. We were the first ones getting into that technology.
I had responsibility for the fusion furnaces for example. I'd built furnaces
previously, so we designed furnaces and actually, one of the very first
spin-offs to start a new company out of Fairchild was a result of that.
Art Lash was my technician... we had him doing a few things but initially
he was working with some of the assembly operations and we had to make
little glass capillary tubes... to bond the gold wires onto the transistors.
We had a scheme where the gold wire was fed through the capillary and then
you heated it with a flame so it made a ball on the end and then you pushed
down the capillary and it would stick to metal. Anyhow, those tended to
get plugged so we needed a lot of capillaries, so we encouraged Art to
go into business nights and evenings making capillaries to sell to Fairchild.
And then he was helping me also with the furnaces we were designing and
those two products were the basis of the formation of Electroglass Corporation.
Art finally made that a full-time job rather than continuing to work at
Fairchild. A lot of the infrastructure companies developed more or less
like that during those early days.
Anyhow, while we were making these first mesa transistors, completing
development of the process and putting them into production, we had a person
whose background was as a theoretician, as part of the original group,
by the name of John Hoerni. And particularly when we setting up the initial
equipment, John was writing in his notebook and coming up with ideas of
things to try, and he came up with a proposal... of instead of making a
'mesa,' which exposes the sensitive area of the transistor to the outside
world, that one should just do more of these diffusions--oxide mask diffusions--and
leave the oxide over the top of the junction, the sensitive part. Well,
that was something that previously had been considered a bad idea because
Bell Labs' conventional wisdom was that the oxide was dirty and you wanted
to get rid of it.
But we couldn't try John's idea right away because it took four
index masking operations in order to make the structure he was proposing
and Bob Noyce only bought three lenses!
So we couldn't make enough masks in order to make the full structure
at first. So, the idea lay dormant for well over year--approaching two
years--before we could get it to the point where we could actually try
it. And when we did, it turned out to work beautifully. This protected
the transistors in the regions where they were really sensitive and that
was a major step forward that came out of Fairchild. In fact, when I look
at the development of the integrated circuit, I always measure it from
the first planar transistor rather than from the first integrated circuit.
RW: Well ICs today are built the same way, are they not? With an oxide
GM: That's right. Yeah, it's very much the same technology today. Now,
when the patents for the planar transistor were being filed, Noyce was
working with the patent attorney and the patent attorney suggested: "Now,
have you looked at all the ramifications of this technology?" And
Bob, who was director of research and development at Fairchild at that
time went back... actually had a meeting of the senior staff there and
during that meeting, he invented the two things that were needed to go
from the planar transistor to an integrated circuit: the idea of using
thin-film interconnections over the top of the silicon oxide, and the idea
of using extra junctions in order to isolate one transistor from another.
And he came up with both of those during the same meeting.
So, fortunately, we were really in the right path of the technology
to do these things. Texas Instruments... Jack Kilby at Texas Instruments,
had already built an integrated circuit but his was very much a laboratory
device that was... had etched thin areas to make resistors, it had flying
wire bonds that weren't really practical for anything like a production
device. But the technology we had at Fairchild was the path to make the
practical integrated circuit.
Noyce and Kilby are often given credit as co-inventors of the integrated
circuit but what they contributed was dramatically different: Kilby made
a laboratory model by hook and crook, Noyce took the planar technology
and extended it so you could make a complete structure using the material
processing operations we had developed. So you could cover a whole wafer
with identical structures again and cut them apart and package them individually.
RW: Which again, is what is done today.
GM: Absolutely, this was the step along that path. So Fairchild really
got a lot of that going.
RW: Well, at some point in time, you took over R&D and you built
the facility at Palo Alto.
GM: Yeah, well that's another story. To digress a bit, when we set up
Fairchild the first thing we knew was that none of us had any experience
at all in running a company. And we'd seen how difficult that was at Shockley.
So, we set out to hire our own boss. The eight of us went looking rather
broadly for a general manager to come in and run the company. We advertised
in the Wall Street Journal, looked around, and we found a fellow
by the name of Ed Baldwin from Hughes Semiconductor. He'd been engineering
manager at Hughes and he knew a lot of things about operating an enterprise
that we didn't.
So we hired Ed as our boss.
Ed never really felt Fairchild was his company. I still don't understand
why--he came in very early--he had the same equity participation that the
eight of the founders did... or at least he had access to it... in fact,
he never put in his $500 and never got it. But about a year after he arrived
and after we'd put the first products into production, he and several of
the people he had brought in announced one morning they were leaving and
they went down the street and set up Rheem Semiconductor. That was the
time I became director of R&D. Until that time, I had had a position
responsible for engineering the new processes and products and putting
them into production and the quality organization, and Bob Noyce had a
parallel position running research and development, looking at new devices.
When Ed left, the eight of us sat down to discuss what should we do--should
we go out and look for somebody else? And we decided that after being betrayed
by the first guy we brought in that we would risk the fact that none of
us knew much about running a business, although we knew more now than we
had a year previously. And we decided that Bob should become the general
manager. Then I moved over and took the research and development responsibility,
and I had that at Fairchild until I left in 1968.
RW: Under your leadership, there was a tremendous amount of developments
GM: Well, Fairchild had the right technology at the time and as a result,
I think, we were the most productive laboratory in the business
for about a decade there at least. The integrated circuit developments
principally came out of there, we made more and more complex circuits,
extended the capability to linear circuits as well as to digital circuits,
we did the basic work on making stable MOS devices. Some parallel work
was done at RCA laboratories but most of it really came out of the Fairchild
We tackled such problems as how one makes small quantities of quite
complex circuits economically and came up with both of the approaches that
have proven to be useful: the standard cell approach and the gate array
approach at that time. Well, neither of those became practical applications
while I was still at Fairchild. Subsequently they have become...
RW: Yes, you find that 1980 at LSI Logic is a clone of what we did at
Fairchild. With a more modern semiconductor technology, to be sure, but
the techniques at Fairchild... we developed logic simulation, place and
route, we developed VLSI testers... which later became the Sentry series...
so all that was done under your leadership.
GM: Yeah, well it done in the laboratory at least during that time...
I don't know about my leadership... One thing we did that I don't think
it's generally recognized, is the first CMOS circuits were made there.
In fact, I remember this because my first trip to Europe in 1963 was to
describe the advantages of CMOS circuitry for low power electronics. I
went to several European countries with a group headed by Ed Keanjan, that
was under some kind of NATO sponsorship... there's a book on micropower
electronics that came out of that.
RW: Well, it was Phillips that developed LOCOS which was the forerunner
of modern CMOS, is it not?
GM: Yeah, Phillips did LOCOS which really allowed for a somewhat denser
structure. Essentially, you could put things closer together using LOCOS.
And there had been a tremendous number of variations on the technology
since. But Fairchild really was in the right place at the right time. Not
only did we have a lot of technical contributions, that was a time period
where it seems like every new idea that came along spawned one to five
new companies. It really was the period of time when the "silicon
valley effect" of all the spin-offs really blossomed. There's a genealogy
chart that Don Hefler published in a couple of editions that shows a lot
of the companies that ... can trace their origin back to Fairchild.
RW: Yeah, lots. Now when did you come up with "Moore's Law?"
GM: Moore's Law has been applied to ... one graph in an article I published
in 1965. Electronics magazine's 35th anniversary edition asked me
to predict the course of component technology for the next ten years and
I looked at what we had done in integrated circuits. Integrated circuits
then were about four years old. We had just gotten some of the first families
out, making some a bit more complex, and I looked at what was happening
on those and saw that the number of components--that is the number of transistors
or resistors--in an integrated circuit was about doubling every year. So
I just took that and said "What's gonna happen in components is going
to continue to happen for the next ten years, so things will be a thousand
times as complex in 1975 as they were in 1965."
And I think the most complex circuit we had around was 64 components
when I did this so I was predicting 64,000 components in an integrated
circuit by the mid-70s. And amazingly enough, we stayed almost exactly
on that curve for ten years.
RW: Did Carver Mead have anything to do with that, with his scaling
GM: Ah, no, it was completely independent of... we've talked... I certainly
have talked with Carver off and on but he wasn't involved at all in that
Now, I modified that in 1975, suggesting it was going to slow down to
more like a doubling every two years and I was a little bit too
pessimistic then--we've actually beat that. It doubles something between
18 months and two years.
RW: Yes, and when will it approach the number of atoms in the universe?
GM: I haven't extrapolated it that far. [Laughter.] That's one
thing: any exponential like that predicts a disaster if you extrapolate
it far enough.
RW: Ah, one of the questions that has come out of a number of lawsuits
as of recently, that here on the west coast, in silicon valley, we didn't
patent circuit designs or computer aided design for that matter. And as
a result, we never patented at Fairchild the ROM and the RAM. Intel never
patented the microprocessor... and others did. East coast companies or
TI in particular, took our work and patented it. How come we never recognized
the importance of that... circuit development?
GM: Well, it was probably a different attitude about patents. One thing
that happened in the semiconductor industry... semiconductor processes
are a long series of steps and the patents had gotten pretty broadly spread
because all of the people working on the technology had some of them. And
the net result was in order for any of us to operate we had to be cross-licensed
so the participants tended to all cross-license one another. So, there
was not a tremendous advantage to having more patents... with a couple
of exceptions, there wasn't much net benefit from it.
What we never anticipated, I guess, was a lot of other participants
were going to enter the business later on. So, at Fairchild we tended to
patent relatively few things, typically the ones that we thought we could
police most easily and were the most difficult to get around, you know,
the more fundamental things. But, I was responsible for a lot of those
decisions. I remember one in particular that, in retrospect, is kind of
funny. In the early days of the integrated circuit, Bob Norman, one of
the people who were involved there, suggested the idea of semiconductor
memory... the whole idea of how semiconductor flip-flops could be used
as a memory structure, and I decided it was so economically ridiculous,
it didn't make any sense to file a patent on it.
You recognize that a few years later, semiconductor memory was the basis
RW: of Intel...
GM: ...why we founded Intel. It shows how hard it is to predict what's
going to be happening.
RW: Now, you know, a guy that never gets any credit for his contributions
is Lee Boisel. And Lee in his early days at Fairchild felt a lot of things...
but what I found in my research is that he, in fact, developed the first
microprocessor. It was never commercially sold but it was, essentially,
an 8080 and it came before the 4004!
GM: Ah, I didn't realize that. Lee had done some complex circuits
at Fairchild. Unfortunately, Lee was kind of a loner and, in particular
at Fairchild, he wasn't in the laboratory, the group that doing all the
MOS stuff. He was off in an applications group and there was very little
cooperation between the two so, the stuff he was designing never really
got into the mainstream. When he went off to set up Four Phase, he extended
some of the stuff he was doing and, you know, I couldn't confirm that he
did something before the 4004. The timing would have been pretty tough
RW: Ah, he did and it was in... they still exist. They're in
his early systems. He also did the first 1K DRAM which was... which again
they kept proprietary to use in their systems and they never sold. So,
it's quite interesting... I've come across the documentation that convinces
me that that's indeed the case.
GM: How early was it?
RW: His essentially 8080 was "69 and is still in use today by the
IRS, unfortunately... As you know, they're not too swift on...
GM: ...modern technology...
RW: They and the FAA don't seem to upgrade too quickly.
GM: Well, you ask about patenting on the microprocessor and frankly,
we didn't think the microprocessor per se was that patentable. What
we had done was take a computer architecture and make it all on one chip
instead of on several chips. And that was kind of the direction that the
integrated circuit technology was pushing in anyhow, always putting more
and more of the system on a chip. What TI did was then start saying: 'Well,
a microprocessor with a keyboard is an 'invention,' and I'll admit, I never
would have thought of filing patents on those things that TI got issued
RW: Yeah, well I mean it was really... minicomputers were around, controllers
RW: The organizations were well-established and we all in our minds
knew that someday we'll put it on one chip and it's just a question of
having the process.
GM: Yeah, and you know Ted Hoff happened to recognize what the right
time was, was very familiar with hardware efficient devices so was able
to design one that was within the realm of being able to produce it economically.
GM: And he also saw that it was useful for much more than just a family
of calculators, the particular problem he was solving at the time. So,
I always give Ted full credit for the vision of where that was going to
RW: And it went a long way...
GM: It sure did. Well, it probably went further than his vision but
it went further than any of our visions.
RW: It was incredible. I mean, he talks about trying to convince the
folks at Intel to do a microprocessor... and the marketing folks and they
said: "well, there something like 10,000 minicomputers in the world
and, you know, we're starting late, the most we could get would be 20%
share of market--that's only 2,000. It doesn't make sense to go into the
business for just 2,000."
GM: Well, you know, everybody's memory of these things tends to be a
little different, I think. I didn't really have any trouble at all going
along with Ted's idea there. And the marketing people weren't really controlling
the decisions on that. He may have thought he had to convince more people
than he did... but once we got the Japanese calculator customer convinced
to take that approach then we were off and running.
RW: Yeah. Well, we're already into Intel and we haven't left Fairchild
really. Why did you guys leave and found Intel? What did you not like about
GM: Fairchild went through a peculiar period and I don't know all of
the history, but they fired John Carter as CEO and put Dick Hodgson in
and six months later--almost six months to the day--Hodgson was
out as chief executive. You ought to get his story about what happened
there... I've always been wanting to ask him but haven't.
GM: Yeah. My impression was he also got fired but I heard from someone
else that he resigned, that he just didn't want to do the CEO job, which
kind of surprised me. Anyhow, they had fired two CEOs... or two CEOs were
gone within a six month period, and they were trying to run the company
with a three-man committee of the board of directors, while looking on
the outside for another CEO. The likely internal candidate was Bob Noyce...
you know, certainly well-qualified by any measure, he'd run the most successful
part of the company--it was a world-leading operation, but they were going
to bypass him. That kind of ticked Bob off and he decided that he didn't
like that very much. And knowing Bob wasn't happy and was going to leave,
and that we were going to have somebody else coming in from the outside,
who'd probably want to make major changes in the operation I headed...
I said "Ah, I think I'd rather leave before than after." So the
two of us decided to leave and then went out and got financing to set up
a company to look at new technology and new product areas in semiconductor
RW: Was... your first product at Intel was bipolar...
GM: That's right. We set out to develop three technologies actually
for memories: Schottky bipolar using aluminum Schottky diodes which hadn't
been done previously; silicon gate MOS that had only been used for individual
transistors and we had no idea if it could be done in production; and a
multichip assembly where we were gonna to place several memory chips on
a ceramic substrate and the like.
It turns out that the bipolar technology worked out extremely easily.
The aluminum Schottky diodes worked better than we had any reason to believe
and the net result was that product went into production first,
so we got our 64-bit bipolar memory out... I think it was in August of
the year after we started, and the MOS device followed about a month later
so we had a 64-bit bipolar in August and 256-bit MOS in September. Those
were our first two products. We never did succeed in getting a multichip
product out... still trying... we have one in the P6 now, it's two chips.
RW: OK, let's break here.
RW: Intel corporate culture... and I worked for both Intel and Fairchild...
Intel corporate culture was markedly different than Fairchild... night
and day. Was that a conscious decision?
GM: Ah, I think it's more a case of having a chance to start over again.
At Fairchild, everything was a surprise, it was really on-the-job training
for everybody. At Intel, we had a chance to take advantage of what we learned
at Fairchild and set things up a bit differently. Somewhat different people
in charge. It started out in the beginning... well, in the beginning, Noyce
and I kind of running it as a team. And then I think we shared more or
less philosophical concepts about how some of the things ought to get done.
You know, certainly the egalitarian nature--if you want a close parking
place you get to work early...
RW: Right. No mahogany row.
GM: Yeah, in fact, no office partitions these days... It was just, I
guess, a kind of a west coast approach to a new company.
RW: Ah, I can name some others. Openness. Remember Momars?
GM: Oh yeah, communications was very important, we saw some of the Shockley
problems that... we didn't have that... we were fairly open at Fairchild
too... certainly in the laboratory I always thought we were open...
RW: And seminars once a week...
GM: Yeah. And broad distribution of the progress reports. We had quite
a few things going on there that wasn't intended to be different. Intel
had a much narrower focus than something like the laboratory at Fairchild
when we got started. We were all aiming in a fairly narrow direction to
solve some particular problems.
RW: But you also didn't have a separate R&D.
GM: No, that was definitely by design. One thing that was frustrating
to me at Fairchild was the lab was being very productive but we were having
an increasingly difficult time to get the new things we did into production.
The production people were busy but also I found that the more technically
competent the production people became, the more difficult it was to transfer
something new to them. When the laboratory was obviously the source
of the technical information, we could tell them what to do and they would
do it. The more technically competent they became, the less willing they
were to accept it that way. They wanted to re-develop it rather than take
what had already been done.
My biggest frustration was MOS where we had stable devices in the laboratory
in 1962, maybe 1961, and by the time I left in 1968, Fairchild was not
yet successful in MOS. In spite of the fact there was even a spin-off of
one of our spin-offs that was making MOS devices by then using what Fairchild
had learned. So when we set up Intel, we decided we would avoid that split
between R&D and manufacturing. We;d be willing to accept less efficient
manufacturing for a more efficient transfer process and make the R&D
people actually do their development work right in the production facility
and we have continued that with some variations ever since.
Now, we have gotten to the point where we can give the development people
a full-blown factory to set up from the beginning and tell them their development
job isn't done until they're showing high yields at high volumes.
RW: Umm, you know, one of the other interesting things about Intel is
the number of failed products... that have come all the way from MICROMA
to micropower to the 432. Umm, to the 2-bit bipolar slice. More failed
products than many successful companies. And yet, Intel is tremendously
successful. What do you attribute that to?
GM: Well, in the first place, I probably wouldn't agree with you completely
on which were failed products... I still wear my MICROMA watch! [Laughter.]
This is my $15 million watch! It still wakes me up every morning...
We did misunderstand the electronic watch business. We were the
first ones to market with a liquid crystal display watch, we were one of
the first ones out of the business. Our initial view was that this was
the beginnings of a personal electronic system that would grow in complexity
and capability. In fact, digital watches, at least for a while, went quite
the other way to be the cheapest way to tell time.
Ah, the 432, which was a very aggressive shot at a new microprocessor.
I guess, to a significant extent, I'm personally responsible for that in
that when we'd completed the 8080--which was a landmark microprocessor--I
sat down with some of our designers and said "look, we probably have
one more chance to start over and do this right. So unfettered by anything
we've done in the past, compatibility or anything, go out and make the
Now the group or one of the leaders of the groups was a young computer
scientist who knew what all the new thinking was in the computer science
departments, and every bell and whistle you could imagine was put in there.
This was to execute object-oriented code only, it had objects embedded
in the hardware, it was fault-tolerant in that it was designed for transparent
multiprocessing--if your system wasn't going fast enough you could just
plug in a new one and make it go faster. Anyhow, the functionality was
extended so far that in order to make a product, they had to take out everything
that related to performance. The net result was when we finally made the
chips, while they gave the functionality, the performance level was so
far below that of conventional microprocessors that it didn't hit any market
But in fact, it was also the wrong concept for the time. It was really
doing another closed system, since the hardware and the software were intimately
combined and the like, and the whole market was really moving toward open
systems at that time. So, we took way too big a step. It was the subject,
in fact it resulted in a textbook that we used in many computer science
courses around the country because it did embody all these advanced
architectural features. But from a product point of view it was at that
time a failure.
Now, it has been reincarnated a couple of times since then and much
of the stuff is still embodied in our 960 family of microcontrollers, but
not at all the full-blown stuff that was initially involved in the 432
RW: I guess my point was not to assess blame here but to say that how
successfully Intel has recovered from products that didn't work and a lot
of companies don't do that. So, there must be some mechanism where you're
ready to jettison an idea when it proves it doesn't work instead of just
hanging in there with it for ever.
GM: Well, none of these were probably undertaken at a time when they
were set up in a manner that would kill us, you know. While we were doing
the 432, for example, one of our people--Ed Gelbach--really convinced us
we needed a plain, ordinary 16-bit processor, preferably compatible with
the 8080. This resulted in the 8086 and its companion product, the 8088,
which was the basis of the first IBM PC. So we had kind of a parallel path
going that was conventional. But I think, in my career, I've always been
a sucker for a new computer architecture. I supported one at Fairchild--you
may remember Rex Rice's [?] project, Symbol? That was a major new step
to a new computer architecture that probably would have been revolutionary
but never was successful.
RW: It did result in the DIP [Dual Inline Package] though.
GM: That's right.
RW: Which was tremendously successful.
GM: That's true... these things tend to have fallout. But, when you're
a startup company you have to bet the company on a lot of the programs
you do. When you get bigger you only want to bet half the company if you
can do that. You don't want to do something that if it doesn't work, will
put you out of business completely.
On the other hand, you gotta keep reaching. If everything you do works,
you're probably not trying hard enough.
RW: Well, I think that
s one nice thing we can say about silicon valley is it's OK to fail.
We've all done it...
GM: That's right. I used to say that when you know there was really...
people weren't risking anything when they went and tried to start a new
company because if they failed they could still get jobs for 20% more because
they're experienced. There was really no stigma at all to failing and that's
been an important part of this area... just, all the new companies that
have formed with relatively no concern about the risks.
RW: Yeah. Well, I'd like to end up with your ideas on the economics
of wafer fabs as they're moving now.
GM: Well, this is something that has changed dramatically over the last
several years. When Intel was started in 1968, we developed our first products
and put our manufacturing facility in place and developed the processes
for the $3 million that we started with. At that time, a piece of equipment--a
bank of furnaces or an evaporator, or a lithography machine--each cost
Now when we build a plant, each of those pieces of equipment costs in
the $3-5 million range. It's just been a huge escalation in the cost of
equipment. Just hard to think that for the cost of one piece of equipment
now we started Intel. The net result is, when you combine that with the
increase in process complexity--so there are more process steps--a modern
factory is a billion dollars plus. In fact, Intel is building now factories
that when they are filled with equipment will be in the $2.5 billion range,
and I suspect we'll be building 3 or $4 billion factories before the end
of the decade.
Fortunately, the industry is growing fast enough that it can afford
to do this. But, the equipment cost has certainly been a rapidly growing
portion of the total cost and I'm concerned that the economics of the equipment
are more likely to limit progress in the future than any fundamental physical
RW: Well these billion dollar fabs... what's their effective lifetime?
GM: We generally figure a fab will be good for two generations of technology,
which means about six years.
RW: You have to amortize this thing over six years?
GM: Yeah, well... Intel typically writes off its equipment in four years.
That's roughly its economic lifetime. At the end of the two generations
of technology, hopefully we can refurbish the building and use it for another
couple of generations. In fact, the ones we've abandoned have generally
been because they're too small. Our whole idea of what an economical fab
is has just changed dramatically.
RW: But amortizing a billion dollars a year is kind of difficult, isn't
GM: Well, it's hard for a small company!
RW: That's for sure.
GM: It is, and it's taken a while to get used to these new numbers.
I remember when we were first looking a $100 million years for capital.
I really had a tough time convincing myself that that was going
to happen. This year Intel will spend $3.5 billion dollars on capital--buildings
plus equipment--and probably more than that next year.
RW: Don't you have some deal where there are floating municipal bonds,
GM: We do in, at least in New Mexico, and when you're buying a billion
dollars worth of equipment, if you have to pay sales tax on it, for example,
it's a huge amount of money. By working a deal with the local authorities,
the equipment is actually owned by the county, that doesn't pay any sales
tax, and we finance that by buying municipal bonds from them. So it's actually
a scheme to give us a tax incentive to put our plant in New Mexico rather
than someplace else.
RW: You're getting bigger than some companies... countries. Are you
not, in the gross national product of some small...?
GM: Well, we've been very successful. This year, Intel's revenues will
be about $16 billion.
RW: That's probably bigger than Zaire... or some of the others... Well
RW: I appreciate it. This has been great.
[End of Interview: 1:02:48]
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