# 4-bit computing

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4-bit computing is the use of computer architectures in which integers and other data units are 4 bits wide. 4-bit central processing unit (CPU) and arithmetic logic unit (ALU) architectures are those that are based on registers or data buses of that size. A group of four bits is also called a nibble and has 24 = 16 possible values.

4-bit processors were widely used in electronic calculators and other roles where decimal math was used, like electronic cash registers, microwave oven timers, and so forth. This is because a 4-bit value holds a single binary coded decimal (BCD) digit, making it a natural size for directly processing decimal values. As a 4-bit value is generally too small to hold a memory address for real-world programs or data, the address bus of these systems was generally larger. For instance, the canonical 4-bit microprocessor, the Intel 4004, had a 12-bit address format.

4-bit designs were used only for a short period when integrated circuits were still expensive, and were found primarily in cost-sensitive roles. While 4-bit computing is mostly obsolete, 4-bit values are still used in the same decimal-centric roles they were developed for, and modern implementations are generally much wider and process multiple 4-bit values in parallel. An example of such a system is the HP Saturn design of the 1980s. By the 1990s, most such uses had been replaced by general purpose binary designs.

## History

A 4-bit processor may seem limited, but it is a good match for calculators, where each decimal digit fits into four bits.[1]

Some of the first microprocessors had a 4-bit word length and were developed around 1970. 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. It was succeeded by the Intel 4040, which added interrupt support and a variety of other new features.

The first commercial single-chip computer was the 4-bit Texas Instruments TMS 1000 (1974).[1] It contained a 4-bit CPU with a Harvard architecture and 8-bit-wide instructions, an on-chip instruction ROM, and an on-chip data RAM with 4-bit words.[4]

The Rockwell PPS-4 was another early 4-bit processor, introduced in 1972, which had a long lifetime in handheld games and similar roles. It was steadily improved and by 1975 been combined with several support chips to make a one-chip computer.[5]

The 4-bit processors were programmed in assembly language or Forth, e.g. "MARC4 Family of 4 bit Forth CPU"[6] (which is now discontinued) 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, and C++, and more languages require that the size of the `char` data type be at least 8 bits,[7] and that all data types other than bitfields have a size that is a multiple of the character size[8][9][10]).

The 1970s saw the emergence of 4-bit software applications for mass markets like pocket calculators. During the 1980s, 4-bit microprocessors 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.

The Zilog Z80, although it is an 8-bit microprocessor, has a 4-bit ALU.[11][12]

Although the Data General Nova is a series of 16-bit minicomputers, the original Nova and the Nova 1200 internally processed numbers 4 bits at a time with a 4-bit ALU,[13] sometimes called "nybble-serial".[14]

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.[15][16][17]

In addition, some early calculators – such as the 1967 Casio AL-1000, the 1972 Sinclair Executive, and the aforementioned 1984 HP Saturn – had 4-bit datapaths that accessed their registers 4 bits (one BCD digit) at a time.[18]

## Uses

One bicycle computer specifies that it uses a "4 bit, 1-chip microcomputer".[19] Other typical uses include coffee makers, infrared remote controls,[20] and security alarms.[21]

The processor in Barbie typewriters that can encrypt is a 4-bit microcontroller.[22]

## Details

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.

## List of 4-bit processors

• Intel 4004 (first 4-bit microprocessor from 1971, though Four-Phase Systems AL1 from 1969 is older, discontinued 1981)
• Intel 4040 (discontinued 1981)
• TMS 1000 (the first high-volume commercial microcontroller, from 1974, after Intel 4004; now discontinued)
• Atmel MARC4 core[23][24] – (discontinued because of Low demand. "Last ship date: 7 March 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[20][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 "COPS I" and "COPS II" ("COP400") 4-bit microcontroller families[34]
• National Semiconductor MAPS MM570X
• Sharp SM590/SM591/SM595[35]: 26–34
• Sharp SM550/SM551/SM552[35]: 36–48
• Sharp SM578/SM579[35]: 49–64
• Sharp SM5E4[35]: 65–74
• Sharp LU5E4POP[35]: 75–82
• Sharp SM5J5/SM5J6[35]: 83–99
• Sharp SM530[35]: 100–109
• Sharp SM531[35]: 110–118
• Sharp SM500[35]: 119–127  (ROM 1197×8 bit, RAM 40×4 bit, a divider and 56-segment LCD driver circuit)
• Sharp SM5K1[35]: 128–140
• Sharp SM4A[35]: 141–148
• Sharp SM510[35]: 149–158  (ROM 2772×8 bit, RAM 128×4 bit, a divider and 132-segment LCD driver circuit)
• Sharp SM511/SM512[35]: 159–171  (ROM 4032×8 bit, RAM 128/142×4 bit, a divider and 136/200-segment LCD driver circuit)
• Sharp SM563[35]: 172–186

## References

1. ^ a b Ken Shirriff. "Reverse engineering RAM storage in early Texas Instruments calculator chips".
2. ^ Mack, Pamela E. (2005-11-30). "The Microcomputer Revolution". Retrieved 2009-12-23.
3. ^ "History in the Computing Curriculum" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2017-06-22.
4. ^ TMS 1000 Series Data Manual (PDF). Texas Instruments. December 1976. Retrieved 2013-07-20.
5. ^
6. ^ "Forth Chips". www.ultratechnology.com.
7. ^ ISO/IEC 9899:1999 specification. p. 20, § 5.2.4.2.1. Retrieved 2023-07-24.
8. ^ ISO/IEC 9899:1999 specification. p. 37, § 6.2.6.1 (4). Retrieved 2023-07-24.
9. ^ Cline, Marshall. "C++ FAQ: the rules about bytes, chars, and characters".
10. ^ "4-bit integer". cplusplus.com. Retrieved 2014-11-21.
11. ^ Shima, Masatoshi; Faggin, Federico; Ungermann, Ralph; Slater, Michael (2007-04-27). "Zilog Oral History Panel on the Founding of the Company and the Development of the Z80 Microprocessor" (PDF).
12. ^ Shirriff, Ken. "The Z-80 has a 4-bit ALU".
13. ^ Hendrie, Gardner (2002-11-22). "Oral History of Edson (Ed) D. de Castro" (PDF) (Interview). p. 44.
14. ^ "Nova 1200"
15. ^ "The Saturn Processor". Retrieved 2015-12-23.
16. ^ "Guide to the Saturn Processor". Retrieved 2014-01-14.
17. ^ "Introduction to Saturn Assembly Language". Retrieved 2014-01-14.
18. ^ "Desk Electronic Calculators: Casio AL-1000"
19. ^ "Cateye Commuter Manual" (PDF). Retrieved 2014-02-11.
20. ^ a b "μPD67, 67A, 68, 68A, 69 4-bit single-chip microcontroller for infrared remote control transmission" (PDF). documentation.renesas.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-01-06.
21. ^ Haskell, Richard. "Introduction to Digital Logic and Microprocessors (Lecture 12.2)". Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2014-02-11.
22. ^ Paul Reuvers and Marc Simons. Crypto Museum. "Barbie Typewriter", 2015
23. ^ "MARC4 4-bit Microcontrollers – Programmer's Guide" (PDF). Atmel. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-12-15. Retrieved 2014-01-14.
24. ^ "MARC4 4-Bit Architecture". Atmel. Archived from the original on 2009-05-31.
25. ^ "Product End-of-Life (EOL) Notification" (PDF). Atmel. 2014-03-07. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-08-07.
26. ^ "μPD6P9 4-bit single-chip microcontroller for infrared remote control transmission" (PDF). documentation.renesas.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-27.
27. ^ "μPD17240, 17241, 17242, 17243, 17244, 17245, 17246 4-bit single-chip microcontrollers for small general-purpose infrared remote control transmitters" (PDF). documentation.renesas.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-03-27.
28. ^ "Microcontrollers for Remote Controllers" (PDF). documentation.renesas.com. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-19.
29. ^ "Mask ROM/ROMless Products 4/8bit Remote Control". Archived from the original on 2008-10-28.
30. ^ Cravotta, Robert. "Embedded Processing Directory".
31. ^ "EM6580". Archived from the original on 2013-12-19. Retrieved 2013-05-12.
32. ^
33. ^
34. ^ Culver, John (2014-09-27). "National Semiconductor: The COP before the COPS". www.cpushack.com. Retrieved 2020-05-28.
35. Sharp Microcomputers Data Book (PDF). September 1990. Retrieved 2018-01-05.