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Some of the first microprocessors had a 4-bit word length and were developed around 1970. The TMS 1000, the world's first single-chip microprocessor, was a 4-bit CPU; it had a Harvard architecture, with an on-chip instruction ROM, 8-bit-wide instructions and an on-chip data RAM with 4-bit words.[1] The first commercial microprocessor was the binary-coded decimal (BCD-based) Intel 4004,[2][3] developed for calculator applications in 1971; it had a 4-bit word length, but had 8-bit instructions and 12-bit addresses.

The HP Saturn processors, used in many Hewlett-Packard calculators between 1984 and 2003 (including the HP 48 series of scientific calculators) are "4-bit" (or hybrid 64-/4-bit) machines; as the Intel 4004 did, they string multiple 4-bit words together, e.g. to form a 20-bit memory address, and most of the registers are 64 bits wide, storing 16 4-bit digits.[4][5][6]

The 4-bit processors were programmed in assembly language or Forth, e.g. "MARC4 Family of 4 bit Forth CPU"[7] because of the extreme size constraint on programs and because common programming languages (for microcontrollers, 8-bit and larger), such as the C programming language, do not support 4-bit data types (C requires that the size of the char data type be at least 8 bits,[8] and that all data types other than bitfields have a size that is a multiple of the character size[9][10][11]). While larger than 4-bit values can be used by combining more than one manually, the language has to support the smaller values used in the combining. If not, assembly is the only option. The 1970s saw the emergence of 4-bit software applications for mass markets like pocket calculators. During the 1980s 4-bit microprocessor were used in handheld electronic games to keep costs low.

In the 1970s and 1980s, a number of research and commercial computers used bit slicing, in which the CPU's arithmetic logic unit (ALU) was built from multiple 4-bit-wide sections, each section including a chip such as an Am2901 or 74181 chip.

The Zilog Z80, although it is an 8-bit microprocessor, has a 4-bit ALU.[12][13]

Modern uses

While 32- and 64-bit processors are more prominent in modern consumer electronics, 4-bit CPUs continue to be used (usually as part of a microcontroller) in cost-sensitive applications that require minimal computing power. For example, one bicycle computer specifies that it uses a "4-bit 1-chip microcomputer".[14] Other typical uses include coffee makers, infrared remote controls,[15] and security alarms.[16]

Use of 4-bit processors has declined relative to 8-bit or even 32-bit processors, as they are hard to find cheaper in general computer suppliers' stores. The simplest kinds are not available in any of them, and others are "non-stock" and more expensive.[17] (A few expensive ones can be found, as of 2014, on eBay.)[18][19][20]

Electronics stores still carry, as of 2014, non-CPU/non-MCU 4-bit chips, such as counters.

As of 2015, most PC motherboards, especially laptop motherboards, use a 4-bit LPC bus (introduced in 1998) to connect the southbridge to the motherboard firmware flash ROM (UEFI or BIOS) and the Super I/O chip.[21][22]


Main page: Nibble

With 4 bits, it is possible to create 16 different values. All single-digit hexadecimal numbers can be written with four bits. Binary-coded decimal is a digital encoding method for numbers using decimal notation, with each decimal digit represented by four bits.

Binary Octal Decimal Hexadecimal
0000 0 0 0
0001 1 1 1
0010 2 2 2
0011 3 3 3
0100 4 4 4
0101 5 5 5
0110 6 6 6
0111 7 7 7
1000 10 8 8
1001 11 9 9
1010 12 10 A
1011 13 11 B
1100 14 12 C
1101 15 13 D
1110 16 14 E
1111 17 15 F

List of 4-bit processors

16-pin DIP
Intel C4004
infrared remote control PCB
an infrared remote control transmitter controlled by a NEC D63GS 4-bit microcontroller
20-pin PSOP
NEC D63GS: a 4-bit microcontroller for infrared remote control transmission
card-edge PCB
Olympia CD700 Desktop Calculator using the National Semiconductor MAPS MM570X bit-serial 4-bit microcontroller
16-pin DIP
National Semiconductor MM5700CA/D bit-serial 4-bit microcontroller
  • TMS 1000
  • Intel 4004
  • Intel 4040
  • 10NES
  • Atmel MARC4 core[23][24] – (discontinued: "Last ship date: March 7, 2015"[25])
  • Samsung S3C7 (KS57 Series) 4-bit microcontrollers (RAM: 512 to 5264 nibbles, 6 MHz clock)
  • Toshiba TLCS-47 series
  • HP Saturn
  • NEC μPD75X
  • NEC μCOM-4
  • NEC (now Renesas) µPD612xA (discontinued), µPD613x, μPD6x[15][26] and μPD1724x[27] infrared remote control transmitter microcontrollers[28][29]
  • EM Microelectronic-Marin EM6600 family,[30] EM6580,[31][32] EM6682,[33] etc.
  • Epson S1C63 family
  • National Semiconductor MAPS MM570X

See also


  1. TMS 1000 Series Data Manual. Texas Instruments. December 1976. http://blog.kevtris.org/blogfiles/TMS_1000_Data_Manual.pdf. Retrieved July 20, 2013. 
  2. Mack, Pamela E. (November 30, 2005). "The Microcomputer Revolution". http://www.clemson.edu/caah/history/FacultyPages/PamMack/lec122/micro.htm. Retrieved 2009-12-23. 
  3. History in the Computing Curriculum. http://www.hofstra.edu/pdf/comphist_9812tla6.pdf. Retrieved 2017-06-22. 
  4. "The Saturn Processor". http://www.hpmuseum.org/saturn.htm. Retrieved December 23, 2015. 
  5. "Guide to the Saturn Processor". http://grack.com/writings/hp48/GuidetotheSaturnProcessor.html. Retrieved January 14, 2014. 
  6. "Introduction to Saturn Assembly Language". http://www.hpcalc.org/details.php?id=1693. Retrieved January 14, 2014. 
  7. Forth Chips.
  8. ISO/IEC 9899:1999 specification. p. 20, § http://c0x.coding-guidelines.com/ 
  9. ISO/IEC 9899:1999 specification. p. 37, § (4). http://c0x.coding-guidelines.com/ 
  10. Marshall Cline. "C++ FAQ: the rules about bytes, chars, and characters".
  11. "4-bit integer". cplusplus.com. http://www.cplusplus.com/forum/general/51911/. Retrieved November 21, 2014. 
  12. Masatoshi Shima; Federico Faggin; Ralph Ungermann; Michael Slater. "Zilog Oral History Panel on the Founding of the Company and the Development of the Z80 Microprocessor".
  13. Ken Shirriff. "The Z-80 has a 4-bit ALU".
  14. "Cateye Commuter Manual". http://cateye.com/images/manual/CC-COM10W_ENG_v3.pdf. Retrieved February 11, 2014. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 μPD67, 67A, 68, 68A, 69 4-bit single-chip microcontroller for infrared remote control transmission
  16. Haskell, Richard. "Introduction to Digital Logic and Microprocessors (Lecture 12.2)". http://cse.secs.oakland.edu/haskell/CSE171/Lectures/Fall2004/L12.2%20Microcontrollers.ppt. Retrieved February 11, 2014. 
  17. "Embedded - Microcontrollers - Integrated Circuits (ICs) - DigiKey". http://www.digikey.com/product-search/en/integrated-circuits-ics/embedded-microcontrollers/2556109?k=4-bit. Retrieved 9 April 2018. 
  18. "Other Integrated Circuits - eBay". http://www.ebay.com/itm/Toshiba-TMP47C1637N-4bit-MCU-microcontroller-skinny-DIP42-/111294657595?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item19e9adb43b. Retrieved 9 April 2018. 
  19. "Motorola IC MC14500B / MC14500BCL ( 100% NEW ) - eBay". http://www.ebay.com/itm/Motorola-IC-MC14500B-MC14500BCL-100-NEW-/320837692605. Retrieved 9 April 2018. 
  20. "KL1868VE1 Soviet CMOS Clone Matsushita MN15500 4bit MCU - eBay". http://www.ebay.com/itm/KL1868VE1-Soviet-CMOS-Clone-Matsushita-MN15500-4bit-MCU-/400212898610?pt=US_Vintage_Computers_Mainframes&hash=item5d2e8c3332. Retrieved 9 April 2018. 
  21. Scott Mueller. "Upgrading and Repairing Laptops". 2004. p. 176.
  22. David S. Lawyer. "Plug-and-Play-HOWTO: LPC Bus" 2007.
  23. "MARC4 4-bit Microcontrollers - Programmer's Guide". Atmel. Archived from the original on 2014-12-15. https://web.archive.org/web/20141215021454/http://www.atmel.com/Images/doc4747.pdf. Retrieved January 14, 2014. 
  24. "MARC4 4-Bit Architecture". Atmel. Archived from the original on May 31, 2009. https://web.archive.org/web/20090531214448/http://atmel.com/products/MARC4/. 
  25. "Product End-of-Life (EOL) Notification". March 7, 2014. http://www.atmel.com/images/he140901.pdf. 
  26. μPD6P9 4-bit single-chip microcontroller for infrared remote control transmission
  27. μPD17240, 17241, 17242, 17243, 17244, 17245, 17246 4-bit single-chip microcontrollers for small general-purpose infrared remote control transmitters
  28. Microcontrollers for Remote Controllers
  29. "Mask ROM/ROMless Products 4/8bit Remote Control". Archived from the original on October 28, 2008. https://web.archive.org/web/20081028181219/http://www.necel.com/micro/en/product/mr_48_remocon.html. 
  30. Robert Cravotta. "Embedded Processing Directory"
  31. "EM6580". http://www.emmarin.com/Products.asp?IdProduct=215. 
  32. "EM6580 low power Flash 4-bit microcontroller"
  33. "EM6682"

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