The 10 Most Expensive Computer Chips of All Time

diamond-computer-chip

Computer chips are expensive to design and require large lot sizes to be viable. It’s no surprise there are some out there that have sold for a hefty price tag.  Considering just how much information and capability can go into such a small space, some chips have fetched amounts north of $50,000.  While that number is rare, it does in fact exist.  The chips you will find here go above and beyond what most computer chips do.

Check out these ten expensive computer chips.

The Apple 1 created by Jobs and Wozniak in the summer of 1986.

Believed to be one of the first 50 built in their garage workshop, an Apple 1 sold for $905,000 in October of 2014. Not many of the original lot are believed to have survived making this a high-demand collector’s piece1. The Apple 1 included a 1.023 Mhz processor and 4K of RAM, upgradable to 8K.12

MOS white ceramic prototype of an MK60**, suspected to be an MK6066.

It was signed inside by the Mostek Germany research laboratory. Asking price at auction is $2,000. Prototypes tend to have a unique and extraordinary place in collections. Created before their importance is understood, they’re commonly lost or destroyed by their creator. No spec details appear to be available for this unique prototype.

The Intel 4004 was Intel’s first microprocessor

This CPU (Central Processing Unit) chip was one of four produced for The Nippon Calculating Machine Corporation2. An eBay auction with 50 watchers and one view per hour lists the price at $899. Its clock rate maxed out at 740 kHz.13

The µA702 Operational Amplifier was a huge deal

Its arrival on the market was a hit, prompting the development of a less expensive version. The cost reduced from $300.00 to $70.00 making the second opamp in the series, the μA709, much more attractive.7 I currently can’t find an example of how much this chip might cost today but as it was $300.00 in 1963 it’s likely to be expensive to acquire. The µA702 is capable of amplifying its input 7,000 times.14

The Kodak KAF-1300 Image Sensor

This chip made its debut in 1986 inside of the $13,000.00 Kodak DCS 100 digital camera.7 To give you an idea of what just the sensor might be worth today the CMOS Image Sensor High Speed (LUPA1300-2) NOIL2SM1300A is selling for $750.00 and has watchers.9  This CMOS chip was one of if not the first chips to capture 1.3 Megapixels, enough for a crystal clear 5 x 7.7

The SPARC

This chip was developed in 1984 as Sun’s experiment into creating a 32-bit RISC. Scott McNealy predicted SPARC would propel Sun into a billion-dollar-a-year company, and he was correct. The SPARC chip powered the Sun-4 workstations which propelled it to its level of fame.7 The one auction available for an original SPARC was the Eagle SPARC 2U portable military computer, listed for $495.00 with two watchers.10  The SPARC couldn’t multiply or divide integers, but it raced past its competitors with three times faster speeds.7

The TMC0280/TMS5100

This chip was a Texas Instrument creation. The first of its kind, it was an LPC speech synthesizer.5 Availability is extremely limited, but it appears to be internationally available from the UK for $54.00.

WD1402A

Western Digital introduced the WD1402A in 1971 right after its named changed from General Digital.8 It was invented by Gordon Bell to convert parallel signaling to serial and back, a process required to connect a Teletype to a PDP-1.7 It’s unclear how much this chip would cost today. There are many UARTs now available on the market, but the first would likely be worth something significant.

ARM1

Acorn Computers introduced the ARM1 in 1985. The 32-bit processor was simple by necessity as the design team was significantly smaller than is typical for such a large project. Eventually, simplicity became the key to its success.7 It’s difficult to find an early ARM1 to estimate what the first version would cost. Expect to pay a high price for a first release or a prototype. There were no typical documented MIPS per original ARM1.15

The Motorola MC68000 Microprocessor

This chip was literally designed with pen and paper. It was likely the last to be conceived that way. It was difficult to find at times even when actively marketed by Motorola.7 The MC68000 is still rare, fetching between $20.00 and $30.00 on eBay.11  As time goes on the cost of this chip will continue to rise. It’s considered to be one of Motorola’s near-misses. The 8088 was chosen instead for IBM’s PC line due to supply concerns.7 The original MC68000s were produced at speeds up to 16 MHz and are still available today at speeds of up to 20 MHz.16

As time goes on these chips will become rarer and more expensive. There are already museums dedicated to computer chips. See reference #14 for details on the Smithsonian’s collection. If you’re considering whether or not to start collecting, there’s no better time. While some chips are already astronomically expensive, many are rare or out of production whose availability will likely dry up before anyone notices they’re gone. With some research and investigation, you can easily find yourself with something that’s not astronomically expensive now but will significantly increase in value over time.

This comprehensive list gives you an excellent peak into the computer chip collection community. Don’t be afraid to dive in and consider beginning to collect yourself. It’s a lot of fun to look for these old chips, and many of them are tangible and functioning pieces of history you can see in action. Good luck finding unique and exciting hardware!

References

1 http://www.chipsetc.com/computer-memorabilia-collectors.html
2 http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/history/museum-story-of-intel-4004.html
3 http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Intel-C4004-4004-CPU-MCS-4-chip-Holy-Grail-of-CPUs-1st-CPU-/181912858930?hash=item2a5ad9f132:g:K-sAAOSwAYtWLROl
4 http://www.ebay.com/itm/MOSTEK-WHITE-CERAMIC-CPU-MK-60-PROTOTYPE-1973-NOT-MOS-MCS-6502-NOT-INTEL-4004-/201427918413?hash=item2ee60a1e4d:g:xuIAAOSwiLdV9ZQu
5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Texas_Instruments_LPC_Speech_Chips
6 http://www.ebay.com/itm/TMS5100NL-Integrated-Circuit-Case-DIP28-/401092198321?hash=item5d62f53fb1:g:GH8AAOSwxvxW79hL
7 http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/processors/25-microchips-that-shook-the-world
8 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Digital
9 http://www.ebay.com/itm/CMOS-Image-Sensor-High-Speed-LUPA1300-2-NOIL2SM1300A-/122096382808?hash=item1c6d82f358:g:-k0AAOSwFNZWz-SR
10 http://www.ebay.com/itm/Rugged-Portable-Systems-EAGLE-SPARC-2U-Portable-Military-Computer-11016-100-/331958275399?hash=item4d4a414d47:g:37sAAOSwbsBXoSnE
11 http://www.ebay.com/itm/RARE-MC68000P10-MC68000P-MC68000-68000-MOTOROLA-IC-NEW/302025192965?_trksid=p2047675.c100005.m1851&_trkparms=aid%3D222007%26algo%3DSIC.MBE%26ao%3D1%26asc%3D37570%26meid%3D4557a5ce9a324a2da54c1acd0ba185c3%26pid%3D100005%26rk%3D2%26rkt%3D6%26sd%3D111865848136
12 http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Apple/Apple.AppleI.1976.102646518.pdf
13 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intel_4004
14 http://smithsonianchips.si.edu/augarten/i16.htm
15 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ARM_microarchitectures
16 http://www.cpu-world.com/CPUs/68000/


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