Speedier computing was their passion
- By John Breeden II
- Jul 14, 1997
PTO created its hall of fame in 1973 to acknowledge the creative spirit of America's
top inventors. The Washington induction ceremony focused on the man who invented RAM and
two inventors who made possible the early PC/AT computers and 286 processors.
Robert Dennard was working for IBM Corp. when he invented the first one-transistor
dynamic memory cell. Today, dynamic RAM is found in nearly every computer.
Dennard said he was disappointed with bulky 1960s memory technology that used a complex
six-transistor memory cell array to store each bit of data. Because of the memory problem,
government and private-sector mainframes were large and slow. The per-sonal computer was
nothing but a dream then, he said.
Dennard changed all that when he went home one evening and began working on a new type
of memory that stored data using an electric charge on a capacitor. Dennard laughed when
asked about his bosses' initial view of his invention.
"I had the basic idea for how we would create DRAM in my mind that evening,"
he said. "I called my boss and told him it would revolutionize the computer industry.
He basically told me to calm down, take two aspirin and call him in the morning."
Dennard's invention soon became a staple in the computer diet. "Once I showed it
to my bosses, they wanted to see if we could make it," he said. "I wanted to go
ahead and get working on it and avoid all the bureaucratic processes."
DRAM developed quickly and in 1968 IBM and Dennard patented it. DRAM appeared in
computers as early as 1970.
PTO also honored Mark Dean and Dennis Moeller, two IBM engineers in the 1980s. Dean,
vice president of IBM's RS/6000 division, said computers in the early '80s were too slow.
Dean and Dennis improved computer architecture to let PCs run high-performance software.
"We had a clock speed of about 2 MHz," he said. "When we worked with the
machine we got it up to about 8 MHz, so that was a big jump for us." Dean and Moeller
also created a new 16-bit processor that was twice as fast as a standard 8-bit machine.
Dean insisted he was just having fun. "We were playing with the computers back in
the lab," he said. "We liked the faster computers because they were more fun to
play games on."
Dean's bosses knew the processor enhancements would shift the computer revolution into
high gear. IBM began selling faster end-user computers in 1984 with the introduction of
As far as computers have come, Dean said there's still room for growth. "I know we
could be a lot farther," he said. "If we did not have to make a business out of
it, computers would be more advanced. There are lots of ideas invented all the time that
you will never see because they can't be marketed."
Bruce Lehman, PTO commissioner, thanked the inventors for their contributions to the
United States. He called the patent process the key to turning cutting-edge ideas into
Other inventors inducted into the hall of fame last month included the late Seymour
Cray, the father of modern supercomputing; Robert Bower for his work with electronic
circuits; and Richard Atchison for his invention of Carborundum, the world's hardest
John Breeden II is a freelance technology writer for GCN.