December 20th, 2014 ~ by admin
Monsanto MCT2 – LED Based Opto-coupler
This little chip, dated from 1973, is part of the history of what we are surrounded by, LEDs. And they have an unlikely and somewhat surprising beginning. The MCT2 is an opto-coupler, basically an LED and a phototransistor in a single package, used for isolating digital signals. The important portion here is the LED. LEDs are in nearly every electronic product these days, and this Christmas season we see many Christmas lights that are now LED based. THey are more efficient, and much longer lasting. Certainly the eco-friendly choice for lighting. And they have their roots in a company that does not always elicit an eco-friendly discussion.
That would be Monsanto.
That big ‘M’ on the package is for Monsanto, who from 1968-1979 was the leading supplier of LEDs and opto-electronics. In 1968 there were exactly 2 companies who made visible light LEDs (red), HP and Monsanto, and HP used materials supplied by Monsanto to make theirs.
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November 25th, 2014 ~ by admin
MCS-80 testboard with included Tungsram 8080APC processor
The CPU Shack is excited to now offer MCS-80 test boards for sale and shipping now. These boards are intended to test Intel 8080A processors as well as their many compatible second sources and clones (such as AMD, NEC, Toshiba, and many more!
Each board runs off of a min-USB connector making it very easy to use. The 8080 processor is inserted into an easy to use ZIF socket making testing many different CPUs a snap. Included with each board is a working Tungsram 8080APC processor, an Intel copy made in Hungary.
Head on over to the MCS-80 page to buy yours today!
November 12th, 2014 ~ by admin
Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko – Soon to have a pair of Harris RTX2010 Processors
In less then an hour (11/12/2014 @ approx 0835 GMT) 511,000,000 km from Earth the Philae lander of the Rosetta mission will detach and begin its decent to a comets surface. The orbiter is powered by a 1750A processor by Dynex (as we previously discussed). The lander is powered by two 8MHz Harris RTX2010 16-bit stack processors, again a design dating back to the 1980’s. These are used by the Philae CDMS (COmmand and Data Management System) to control all aspects of the lander.
All lander functions have to be pre programmed and executed by the CDMS with absolute fault tolerance as communications to Earth take over 28 minutes one way. The pair of RTX2010s run in a hot redundant set up, where one board (Data Processing Unit) runs as the primary, while the second monitors it, ready to take over if any anomaly is detected. The backup has been well tested as on each power cycle of Philae the backup computer has started, then handed control over to the primary. This technically is an anomaly, as the CDMS was not programmed to do so, but due to some unknown cause it is working in such a state. The fault tolerant programming handles such a situation gracefully and it will have no effect on Philae’s mission.
Why was the RTX2010 chosen? Simply put the RTX2010 is the lowest power budget processor available that is radiation hardened, and powerful enough to handle the complex landing procedure. Philae runs on batteries for the first phase of its mission (later it will switch to solar/back up batteries) so the power budget is critical. The RTX2010 is a Forth based stack processor which allows for very efficient coding, again useful for a low power budget.
Eight of the instruments are also powered by a RTX2010s, making 10 total (running at between 8-10MHz). The lander also includes an Analog Devices ADSP-21020 and a pair of 80C3x microcontrollers as well as multiple FPGAs.
September 27th, 2014 ~ by admin
Anandtech and Chipworks deconstructed an Apple A8 processor, the hear of the new iPhone 6. By their analysis it is not a radical departure from the A7. It includes a slightly upgrade, but still quad-core, GPU, and an enhanced dual core ARM processor. The focus here is clearly on battery performance rather then sheer speed. Perhaps most interesting is the move from Samsung’s 28nm process to TSMC’s 20nm process (Being made by TSMC will hopefully put to rest the rumors of an Apple/Intel tie up once and for all.). This results in lower power, a smaller die area, and, assuming yields are on par, a lower cost per chip. Clock speed appears to be close to the same as the A7 at around 1.3GHz, with most performance improvements being architectural. It would appear to be the smallest improvement in the Apple A series, certainly since the A4->A5.
Considering the incremental improvement from the A7, one can only imagine what Apple has in mind for the A9 which is no doubt well under development.
May 28th, 2014 ~ by admin
It’s well known that Intel missed the jump on tablet and phone processors. Intel sold off their PXA line of ARM processors to Marvell in 2006, in an attempt to ‘get back to the basics.’ It turned out that this sale perhaps was a bit premature, as the basics ended up being mobile, and mobile is where Intel struggled (by mobile we mean phones/tablets, not laptops, which Intel has no problems with).
In January of 2011 Intel purchased the communications division of Infineon, gaining a line of application and baseband processors, based on ARM architecture of course. Intel developed this into the SoFIA applications processor, which was ironically fab’d by TSMC. Eventually the designs would be ported to Intel 14nm process, or that was the plan.
Intel Atom – Now by Rockchip?
So this weeks announcement that Intel has signed an agreement with the Chinese company Rockchip, to cooperate on mobile applications processors is a bit of a surprise, but the details show that it makes sense. Rockchips current offerings are ARM based, much as Intel’s current SoFIA processor, as well as Apple Ax series, Qualcomm’s SnapDragon, TI’s OMAP, etc. However, the agreement with Rockchip is not about ARM, its about x86. For the first time in many years Intel has granted another company an x86 license, specifically, Intel will help ROckchip build a quad-core Atom based x86 processor with integrated 3G modem. Rockchip currently uses TSMC as their fab, however also with this agreement Rockchip gets access to Intel 22nm and 14nm fab capacity.
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March 28th, 2014 ~ by admin
1985 production 68020 ‘XC’ denotes a not fully qualified device.
In 1979 Motorola wow’d the world with the introduction of the MC68000 MACSS (Motorola Advanced Computer System on Silicon). One of the first single chip 32-bit processors. In 1982 the design was upgraded and revised, and released as the 68010. Performance wasn’t that much better then the original 68k so it saw much smaller adoption.
In 1984 Motorola continued the 68k line with the 68020. Speed was greatly improved, up to 33MHz. It was originally made on a 2 micron HCMOS process, allowing the design to use 200,000 transistors and integrate additional addressing modes, co-processor support, and multi-processor support.
The Swedish Computer archeology blog Ehliar has a nice article and die shots on its architecture and design. Check it out.
November 23rd, 2012 ~ by admin
Recently another antique computer was restored to working condition. Originally called the Harwell Dekatron, the WITCH (Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell) was built in 1949-1951. Back in the early days of computing, it often took years to build a computer, rather then the minutes it takes to make a iPhone in today’s factories.
The WITCH was a decimal computer, storing data not in 0’s and 1’s of the transistor age, but actual decimal digits. It originally could store 20 8 digit numbers (0-99,999,999 or 23 binary bits) but later was upgraded to support up to 40, which was considered more then enough (such short sighted statements did not end in the 50’s, if you’ll remember Bill Gates comment about 640k of RAM is all anyone would need.) Data on the WITCH was stored on Dekatron tubes, a Cold-cathode device filled with Neon (or Argon) that could represent 10 digits. Sending a pulse to the Dekatron would cause the glowing Neon dot (and its associated high voltage) to move from cathode to cathode, thus allowing data to be stored. One side effect of having decimal data, and glowing orange dots for volatile storage is you can literally SEE what is in memory.
Dekatron in operation (courtesy of tube-tester.com)
The WITCH was mainly used to perform mathematical computations. It was not a fast computer, it took it a good 10-15 seconds to perform a multiplication. Many humans with adding machines could actually work the problems faster, however the WITCH never complained of carpal tunnel nor did it need breaks. The Harwell Dekatron was slow, but is was steady and quite reliable. It could go for days (providing it had enough problems fed to it on paper tape) without error or breakdown and that is what made it so useful and worth restoring.
Check out the BBC article and video of its operation and listen to the relays click, and see the glowing Neon of computational history.
October 26th, 2012 ~ by admin
Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has just opened the Living Computer Museum in Seattle. Living, of course, due to the fact that many of the vintage computers on display are working units. Some very rare systems including the only working PDP-7 in the entire world (UNIX was created to run on the PDP-7, so its a rather famous machine) and other DEC’s are on display. There are original IBMs, TRS-80s, Novas, and yes even some Apples. No Apple 1 as of yet. Perhaps Paul could pick up this latest one on auction? Should go cheap as it seems to be lacking an original MOS 6502 CPU.
August 29th, 2012 ~ by admin
Shugart SA400 Floppy Drive
The HP Input Output Blog has a nice write up on the floppy disk/drive. A very interesting read about a device many took for granted, and many of today’s generation did not ever get to experience. Many do not realize its humble beginnings, and the importance that Steve Jobs, ‘the bum in the lobby,’ played in the 5.25″ floppy becoming a standard. The 5.25″, holding twice what a 8″ floppy could, was developed by Shugart Associated in 1976. Shugart went on to become Seagate, known today for their hard drives. Hard drives that can store over 2 Terabytes of information. The original 5.25″ floppy? 160K, per side. An 8 inch? 80K a side. Interestingly enough, it was sometime before the Floppy Drive Controller (FDC) was integrated onto a single chip. Many original Shugarts used an Intel 8080 CPU for drive processing. The Commodore 64’s famous 1541 Floppy Drive ran its own 6502 type CPU, and was designed in such away you could actually load code directly to the floppy drive 6502. In the 1990’s attempts were made to increase the capacity, speed, and versatility of the floppy. Apple created a 2.88MB 3.5 inch floppy that never really caught on. There was the LS-120 drive which could use normal 1.44MB disks as well as special 120MB disks (was handy, but so few people had them, they had limited use). Ultimately, like most all technology the floppy has passed by the way side, today’s floppy is the USB Flash drive, holding many gigs of data for only a few dollars. And like the floppy, flash drives are used commonly for sneakernetting files around the office. Perhaps the mbile version of the floppy is the Micro-SD card, remember when Sony built a camera with a 1.44MB floppy drive built in? Not een large enough to store the picture from a cell phone camera today.
Head on over and check out the article, its a fascinating story….
August 16th, 2012 ~ by admin
Yesterday Hans Camenzind passed away at the age of 78. Hans was a notable inventor of Swiss decent. Perhaps the most famous of all his inventions occurred in 1972 while working on a contract with Signetics he invented the 555 Timer chip, a simple oscillating IC that was inexpensive, and easy to build with. Now, even 40 years after its introduction, around a billion per year are still made, by dozens of companies around the world. The 555 Timer is often one of the very first IC’s electronics hobbyist begin experimenting with. Its applications are far reaching and while certainly not a CPU, its significance, and that of Camenzind, should not be forgotten.
The 555 Timer has of course been used in many many computers, notably in the Apple II computer as a joystick controller (558 Timer, which is a quad 555). Other uses include the IBM PC, Ataris, and many many more. In honor of Hans Camenzind, and the 555 Timer, go experiment with one and experience the joys of a device over 40 years old. Dont have one? They cost a whopping $0.95 at Sparkfun.