This photo closely resembles a satellite image of a coastal town with a stretch of beach, a marina, alongside what can be assumed to be parks, buildings, and roadways. It is in fact a section of an Intel Pentium 32-bit microprocessor.
The Intel Pentium 32-bit microprocessor is the fifth generation of Intel microprocessors. This image was taken at 6x magnification. Each individually discernible section of the “town” actually represents different internal components of the microprocessor, such as the Arithmetic-Logic Unit (ALU), Floating Point Unit, Data Caches, Buses, and Registers etc. Most people do not get a chance to look at the inside structure of a microprocessor; thus, the purpose of this entry is to highlight the visually striking core that usually goes unseen given the bland packaging it comes in.
Microprocessors are the heart of all computers, and are now used in almost every electronic device, from portable gadgets such as GPS units and MP3 players, to powerful mainframe and supercomputers used by military and research organizations, and even in unseen RFID Tags on the shelved products in stores for inventory management. They are essentially computation engines, usually fabricated on a single chip, and whose key component is the electronic transistor. On their own, transistors are set up to provide simple binary logic outputs, but when clubbed together, can provide more complex solutions. Starting with approximately 2,300 transistors in the Intel 4004 microprocessor which first came out in 1971, the number has steadily risen to almost 2 billion transistors in the state-of-the-art 6-core Intel Xeon.
Learning how to use microprocessors, connect devices to, and program them directly is an integral part of the undergraduate Electrical & Computer Engineering curriculum. Unfortunately, the students have to assume microprocessors to be not much more than expensive black boxes. This image aims to show people the beauty, fragility and nature of the devices they otherwise take for granted.