Microprocessor pioneer Victor Poor dies aged 79

August 20, 2012 // 10:48 a.m.

Tags: #intel #intel-4004 #intel-8008 #intel-8088 #microprocessor #stanley-mazor #victor-poor

Victor Poor, an early Intel collaborator and one of the minds behind the company's early microprocessors, has died aged 79.

Poor joined Intel in 1969 through existing employee Stanley Mazor, after contacting the company with an idea for a single-chip processor. The processor was intended for use with a programmable, low-cost terminal - a relatively dumb machine designed for interacting with far larger and more expensive mainframe systems - Poor was designing for the Computer Terminal Corporation.

Intel was already working on its first microprocessor, the Intel 4004 four-bit chip for the Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation. The 4004 dropped the number of integrated circuits required in the calculating machine from twelve to just four, and represented the first general-purpose microprocessor available on the open market after Intel negotiated to retain ownership of the design in exchange for a reduced fee from Nippon CMC.

Poor was looking for something even more heavily integrated, however, and joined Intel to work on the successor to the 4004 - the Intel 8008 - after Mazor explained his plan to produce a single chip that could run an entire system.

The 8008, despite funding from Computer Terminal Corporation and input from Poor, wasn't ready in time for the launch of the company's 2200-series terminal systems, but it marked the beginning of Intel's dominance of the computer market; the 8008's design would influence the creation of the 8088, which in turn would lead Intel further into the microprocessor market with the creation of the x86 instruction set architecture we know and love today.

Following Intel's failure to get the 8008 ready on time, Poor's Computer Terminal Corporation would develop its own instruction set architecture for the 2200-series and change its name to Datapoint, going into direct competition with the company. Far from being crushed under Intel's heel, Datapoint's designs would remain at least a generation ahead of Intel's until the launch of the 286 in 1982.

Building on his work on the design of Arcnet, an early computer networking system, Poor would continue to exercise his engineering talents after his retirement in 1984 by designing and building the Aplink wireless communications system - originally designed simply so he could stay in touch with family and friends while he spent his days sailing. The Aplink system had potential beyond Poor's imagination, however, and would see rapid adoption by radio amateurs and the military for data communication - groups which still use the technology today.

According to the New York Times, which reported on his death, Poor died on Friday in Florida of pancreatic cancer at the age of 79. Poor is survived by wife Florence Ann, son Merideth, daughters Shirley Jean Schmidt and Noreen and sister Dixie Lee Hagerth.