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By Jack Ganssle

EDN Turns 50

Published 7/31/2006

In May of 1956 the first issue of Electrical Design News appeared. Later renamed EDN, that magazine is today probably <i>the</i> electronics publication of record. It celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

EDN was born long after the invention of the vacuum tube ushered in the electronics revolution. But think about the change that magazine has seen! Only two years earlier the first commercial silicon transistor became available - for $100 each. 1956 was the year Shockley, Bardeen and Brattain were awarded the Nobel Prize for their invention. Though transistors existed and were used in some products in 1956, computers still relied on vacuum tubes. In fact, an EDN article that year (http://www.edn.com/article/CA6317063.html ) described the RAMAC, the first commercial computer that used hard disks, which sported nary a single transistor. The machine offered a breathtaking 5 Mb of storage spread across 50 - count `em - two foot-diameter disks. See http://www.magneticdiskheritagecenter.org/MDHC/SANJOSE.MPG for a video of the unit in action or http://www.answers.com/topic/ramac for pictures.

In EDN's first year only 29 million transistors were produced world-wide. Today, according to http://semiconductormuseum.com/Museum_Index.htm, the semiconductor industry cranks out some 10**18 transistors per year (mostly in ICs), or almost 200 million for each person on the planet.

The IC was invented when the magazine was a toddler, Jack Kilby having filed his patent in 1959. Noyce et al produced the first RTL logic ICs for Fairchild in 1961. See
http://www.electronballet.com/DataSheets/Fairchild%20Micrologic%201/RTL%20uL900-914/1.jpg for the datasheet of a typical logic IC of the time, which contained a whopping four transistors arranged in a very simple manner.

EDN was 7 when TTL technology appeared.

I discovered the magazine around 1967 while visiting my Dad's company. It was, and still is, free for practicing engineers. A bit of creative fiction on the qualification form soon brought this 14 year old a subscription. Though much of the content went over my head, I perused every issue and learned a lot about electronics and the state of the art.

Some events are so stunning that the details surrounding them are forever burned into your brain. Those of us over 50 can remember where we were when we heard of JFK's assassination. Similarly, I remember sitting in the kitchen and reading the January 15, 1972 issue. EDN reported about Intel's 4004, the first "computer on a chip." See http://edn.com/article/CA6351283.html?spacedesc=features . The data sheet is here: http://smithsonianchips.si.edu/ice/4004thb.htm . Though the story is very dry and matter-of-fact, the idea of a miniaturized computer seemed science fiction. Yet this was the space age; America was routinely landing men on the moon, so the impossible never looked more likely.

The 4004 cost $100 in 1972. Today we can buy a 32 bit processor for a few bucks, yet, ironically, the 4004 now brings in as much as $1000 on eBay. Its (at the time) startling 2300 transistors seems quaint compared to the 370 million in some Pentiums.

I can remember one grizzled old engineer claiming the EDN article about the 4004 was just marketing hype. Computers were big and clunky, and would always be big and clunky.

Over the following years the magazine followed the transition of the computing industry from big iron to flecks of silicon that today form the fabric of our technological society. The magazine, too, has evolved, having added Dilbert cartoons, a snazzier layout, and short columns by industry experts. But it continues to report on new trends and products, with detailed design guidelines on emerging technologies. Every electrical engineer simply must have a subscription.

Happy birthday, EDN! I hope to be reading it when the magazine turns 75. And I cannot even imagine what astonishing technology will be described in that issue.