Archive for the 'Museum News' Category

October 22nd, 2017 ~ by admin

The CPU Shack Gets a Scope

Microscope – Packed with a free roll of tape

For quite some time I have wanted a microscope for the Museum.  It would be very useful for inspecting unknown wafers and dies, as well as learning a lot more about EPROM dies.  So often one die is used for many devices, often of different sizes or even manufacturers.  Recently the Museum also received a whole bunch of MIPS prototypes, mostly all unmarked, and all with open die covers.  The only way to positively identify them, and find all the die art that the MIPS designers added, is with a scope.

Make that 2 rolls of tape

A good deal on an Accu-Ray 3035 inverted metallurgical scope showed up on eBay.  These sell new for over $2000 so at under $400 it was a good deal.  Its cost was covered by donations by many other collectors around the world, who are most likely hoping it results in more interesting article and

pretty pictures.  Metallurgical scopes are a bit different from your typical microscope.  The ‘normal’ scope is a transmitted light device, shining light THROUGH the sample into the objective.  Clearly this doesn’t work for opaque and solid items, such as wafers.  These need to use reflected light, which is a bit harder to work with.  Light is shown on the sample and reflected back into the objective.  The Accu-Ray came with 10x, 25x 40x and 60x objectives, though for wafer work 25x really is about the limit of what is needed (and it gets harder to light samples at the higher magnifica

Accu-Ray 3035 Inverted Microscope

tions).  The standard eyepieces are 10x so this results in 100x-250x magnification.  I have ordered a 4x objective and a 20x as well, which should give a good range.  The higher power

objectives have a smaller working distance, meaning they have to be much closer to the wafer/die, that can be tricky when the die is mounted in a package, or several millimeters under a window on an EPROM.

The physics of a microscope are a well understood science, getting light through the scope, to the wafer, and to the eyepiece in a way you can see anything turns out to be more of an art.  Dealing with a mirror like silicon surface, glare becomes a huge problem, so that is what I am

Quick shot through the eyepiece of a MIP R10000

learning about now, how to light the wafers.  The included halogen light is very nice and very bright but with wafers results in massive glare that makes seeing the wafer near impossible.  Using and LED flashlight (it bolts right up to the scope, surprisingly) results in much more even lighting, albeit less of it.  I have ordered a diffuser which should help even out the light from the halogen, hopefully that helps.

As soon as I get a good reliable set up you can look forward to some interesting pictures and hopefully some interesting new information.

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January 28th, 2017 ~ by admin

Stratus: Servers that won’t quit – The 24 year running computer.

Stratus XA/R (courtesy of the Computer History Museum)

Making the rounds this week is the Computer World story of a Stratus Tech. computer at a parts manufacturer in Michigan.  This computer has not had an unscheduled outage in 24-years, which seems rather impressive.  Originally installed in 1993 it has served well.  In 2010 it was awarded for being the longest serving Stratus computer, then being 17 years.  Phil Hogan, who originally installed the computer in 1993, and continues to maintain it to this day said in 2010  “Around Y2K, we thought it might be time to update the hardware, but we just didn’t get around to it”  In other words, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.

Stratus computers are designed very similar to those used in space.  The two main difference are: 1) No need for radiation tolerant designs, let’s face it, if radiation tolerance becomes an issue in Michigan, there are things of greater importance than the server crashing and 2) hot swappable components.  Nearly everything on a Stratus is hot-swappable.  Straus servers of this type are based on an architecture they refer to as pair and spare.  Each logical processor is actually made from 4 physical CPU’s.  They are arranged in 2 sets of pairs.

Stratus G860 (XA/R) board diagram. Each board has 2 voting i860. (the pair) and each system has 2 boards (the spare).  The XP based systems were similar but had more cache and supported more CPUs.

Each pair executes the exact same code in lock-step.  CPU check logic checks the results from each, and if there is a discrepancy, if one CPU comes up with a different result than the other, the system immediately disables that pair and uses the remaining pair.  Since both pairs are working at the same time there is no fail-over time delay, it’s seamless and instant.  The technician can then pull the mis-behaving processor rack out and replace it, while the system is running.  Memory, power supplies, etc all work in similar fashion.

These systems typically are used in areas where downtime is absolutely unacceptable, banking, credit card processing, and other operations are typical.  The exact server in this case is a Stratus XA/R 10.  This was Stratus’s gap filler.  Since their creation in the early 1980’s their servers had been based on Motorola 68k processors, but in the late 1980’s they decided to move to a RISC architecture and chose HP’s PA-RISC.  There was a small problem with this, it wasn’t ready, so Stratus developed the XA line to fill in the several years gap it would take. The first XA/R systems became available in early 1991 and cost from $145,000 to over $1 million.

Intel A80860XR-33 – 33MHz as used in the XA/R systems. Could be upgraded to an XP.

The XA is based on another RISC processor, the Intel i860XR/XP.  Initial systems were based on 32MHz i860XR processors.  The 860XR has 4K of I-cache and 8K of D-cache and typically ran at 33MHz.  Stratus speed rating may be based on the effective speed after the CPU check logic is applied or they have downclocked it slightly for reliability. XA/R systems were based on the second generation i860XP.  The 860XP ran at 48MHz and had increased cache size (16K/16K) and had some other enhancements as well.  These servers continued to be made until the Continuum Product Line (Using Hewlett Packard “PA-RISC” architecture) was released in March of 1995.

This type of redundancy is largely a thing of the past, at least for commercial systems.  The use of the cloud for server farms made of hundreds, thousands, and often more computers that are transparent to the user has achieved much the same goal, providing one’s connection to the cloud is also redundant.  Mainframes  and supercomputers are designed for fault tolerance, but most of it is now handled in software, rather than pure hardware.

October 30th, 2016 ~ by admin

East German IC Institutions

MME S555C1 - Hobbyist edition 2708 EPROM - 1983

ZTFM  S555C1 – Hobbyist edition 2708 EPROM – 1983

Thanks to the input of a reader I updated the East German CPU page to be much more accurate as to the various institutions that existed, and their respective logos.  There were institutions in three different cities (Erfurt, Frankfurt, and Dresden), and they had amongst them 7 different names and a variety of logos.

It helps to remember that IC’s were made different in East Germany.  There was not so much corporations as we think of them in the West such as Intel or AMD that made this or that.  In East Germany (and the USSR) IC’s (and most everything else) were made by institutions, that were typically a government organization, or sanctioned by the government to do/make certain things.  These could be changed, consolidated, opened/closed at the whim of the government resulting in a lot of confusion in identity.  Add to that the changes brought with the fall of communism, and these institutions transition to modern corporation and you get some very interesting collecting opportunities.

The updated page should help ID’ing them a bit easier.

 

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March 13th, 2016 ~ by admin

Part 3: Vintage IC Collecting – The How.

In Part 1 of our three part series on IC collecting we discussed why to collect vintage computer chips. For Part 2 we covered what to collect, how to set and keep a focus in your collection. For the final Part we’ll cover some of the ways of how to find and collect the IC’s you want.

Part 1: Why Collect Vintage Chips?
Part 2: What Vintage Chips should I Collect?
Part 3: How do I collect Vintage IC’s?

There are two main parts of the How of IC collecting. Where to I get my chips? and Where do I put them?  For most collectors cost is a concern, for the right money you can have most any chip, but since i have yet to find the dollar/Euro/yen tree cost is a factor in acquiring chips.  One of the greatest sources of chips is eBay.  Several categories in particular are a good source of chips, IC?Processors in the Business/Industrial category, the CPU/Processors and Vintage categories in Computing, and Scrap/Recovered Gold.  Of these Scrap Gold can yield some of the most interesting chips.  Scrap sellers in general though have no idea about what they are selling (as far as collectibility) but most are happy to work with you.  If you win a lot with a nice chip in it, send the seller a note to pack the chips well, and in most cases they will.  They are sold as scrap though so keep that in mind if they don’t come in perfect shape. This can be a good chance to learn the art of pin straightening.

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March 1st, 2016 ~ by admin

Part 2: Vintage IC Collecting – The What.

Where do I start? Where do I end? Focus!

Where do I start? Where do I end? Focus!

In Part 1 of our three part series on IC collecting we discussed why to collect vintage computer chips.  For Part 2 we’ll cover what to collect. which is the most important part of collecting (not just IC’s but anything).

Part 1: Why Collect Vintage Chips?
Part 2: What Vintage Chips should I Collect?
Part 3: How do I collect Vintage IC’s?

There are millions of different IC’s made since the dawn of the IC in the 1950’s, obviously it would not be prudent to try to attempt to collect all of them, so one needs to set a focus for their collection.  The earlier this is done, the easier collecting will be, and the less chance of going insane, broke, or both.  The CPU Shack, as the name implies, began collecting just CPU’s, the brains of computers.  Through the years (and due to things being donated to the museum) this has expanded to microcontrollers, SoCs. UV-EPROMs. GPU’s, and even the occasional DSP.  It’s a broader slice of IC’s then most would want to attemp, at least when starting.  So let’s figure out ways to gain a focus in collecting.

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February 18th, 2016 ~ by admin

Part 1: Vintage IC Collecting – The Why.

First Start of IC Collecting

First Start of IC Collecting

This will be the beginning of a three part series on Vintage IC Collecting, as I get asked a lot, ‘why do you collect computer stuff?’ and How do you do it? Where do you find chips etc.

Part 1: Why Collect Vintage Chips?
Part 2: What Vintage Chips should I Collect?
Part 3: How do I collect Vintage IC’s?

These really are the fundamentals to collecting/curating anything, and are important if you wish to have any structure to your hobby of collecting.  Collecting itself seems to be built into human nature, and psychologists and evolutionary scientists have many theories as to why.. Freud, who else, claimed that people collect things due to ‘unresolved toilet training issues.’ Others see collecting as a evolutionary strength, that allowed for a better chance of survival, those that collected scarce resources, had a better chance of living to procreate.

Myself, I started collecting coins when I was young, among other things.  While scrapping out computers in High School I figured the processors should be saved, as the ‘brains’ of the computer, and thus my hobby, and the museum, began.

The Collection Progresses

The Collection Progresses

There really has become two main reasons for continuing to do so.  First, I see a need to preserve some small portion of the technology that has driven us to where we are today, and where we are going.  Second, its genuinely fun, the hunt for new chips, the research into finding where they were used, and why they were made and the camaraderie with fellow collectors.

This leads us to the Why, specifically for collecting Vintage IC’s.  Many assume that those who collect computer chips will be ‘a bunch of nerds’ and while some certainly are, there is a great variety.  Like other collecting areas, there are those who collect for economic reasons, they see a good deal, buy it, with the intent of reselling it for profit at some later date, and there is certainly nothing wrong with this.  Others have some historical connection with the chips they collect.  They may be retired Electrical/Computer Engineers, programmers and the like, that see collecting as a way to preserve some of what they did.

It gets big quickly without proper focus

It gets big quickly without proper focus

For some collecting computer chips is a matter of convenience, they have ready access to them (recycling, etc) and are drawn to the fact, that like coins, IC’s have an extrinsic value in their rarity, obscurity, or provenance, but also some intrinsic value in the precious metals they contain.  Computers chips also have the benefit that their entire history is contained in a period of time that numbers in the decades, 50 years, shorter than an average human lifetime, contains the current sum of IC history.  This can be seen to make the hobby more ‘manageable’ though we will see if Part 2, that this may not be the case.

For some, computers chips are shiny, pretty, and look ‘cool’ and thats all thats needed, they collect not for any historical, or technological reason, but for the fact that they like neat looking ‘stuff’.  Some collect very large/gold chips only for this reason, or wafers, because they are drawn first, to their beauty.
On the extreme of this is those, as a fellow collector in Romania once told me:

“Basically when I saw in the same place 3 different objects of the same type, my first thought is ” I should start a new collection”

And sometimes, that’s all it takes to get started.  Next week we will explore the What of collecting, how to determine what specific type of IC’s you want to collect, and figuring that out early is so important.

July 11th, 2015 ~ by admin

MCS-8 Test Boards Now For Sale

MCS-8 Test BoardThe CPU Shack Museum is pleased to announce the availability of Test Board Systems for the Intel 8008 Processor.  This system will allow you to test, as well as design program for, the Intel 8008 8-bit processor as well as its several 2nd sources, including the Siemens SAB8008, the Microsystem International MF8008 and the unlicensed East German MME U808D.

The Test System is loosely based on the 1973 MARK 8 computer, one of the very first computers to use the 8008, which was arguably the worlds first 8-bit processor.

The Boards are available here for $149 with FREE Shipping Worldwide.

June 16th, 2015 ~ by admin

MCS-4/40 Test Boards once again in stock

After much delay the 4004/4040 Test Boards are now back in stock.  Only 9 of them so if you need one, order away.

June 11th, 2015 ~ by admin

Dallas: Reaffirming the Viability of the 8-bit Processor

The introduction of the Dallas Semiconductor DS87C520 reaffirms the viability of 8-bit processors for new and demanding applications.  Those were the words written about the the Dallas DS87C520 (and its ROMLess version the DS80C320) in 1994. The Intel MCS-51 architecture it was based on had been released 13 years prior, in 1981 and ran at up to 12MHz.  By 1994 the Pentium had been released, with speeds of up to 100MHz.  Full 64-bit processors were also available, yet the 8-bit processor continued to hold on, and grow.

Dallas Semi. was founded in 1984, by former Mostek employees.  Their first products were lithium battery backed SRAMs, a product pioneered by Mostek.  Dallas added power saving and sensing circuitry to them though, greatly enhancing their usefulness.  In 1987 they combined with with an MCS-51 microcontroller to make the DS5000, which ran at 16MHz and provided battery backed SRAM.

With the release of the DS87C520 in 1994 they redesigned the MCS-51 core, allowing it to complete a machine cycle in 4-clocks vs the original 12.  They were plugin compatible, providing a simple speed up for 8051 systems.  Max clock was also raised, to 33MHz as well as additional interrupts, 16K of EPROM, an extra 1KB of SRAM and many power saving features/modes.  Other companies (such at Philips, and Atmel) began to also make enhanced 8051s, including things such as Flash memory and expanded instructions/features.

Its now 2015, and the 87C520 continues to be made, as does hundreds of other MCS-51.  It was surprising in 1994 that the 8-bit processor continued to be viable, and perhaps to some, even more so, that 21 years later, it is still viable, and shows no signs of slowing down.  The recent push into the Internet-of-Things (IoT) market has 8-bit MCUs in Internet of Things yet again.  While many companies have marked numerous 16-bit and 32-bit designs as ‘a migration path from 8-bit’, that migration is yet to be seen.  There simply is no reason, no need, and no desire to plug a 32-bit processor in where an 8-bit processor, implemented in a few thousand transistors, will do nicely.

 

April 12th, 2015 ~ by admin

Processor Die Photos by Christoph Morlinghaus

Christoph Morlinghaus in front of the very large prints of an Intel 486DX and Motorola 68030

Christoph Morlinghaus in front of the very large prints of an Intel 486DX and Motorola 68030

I recently had the pleasure of helping noted photographer Christoph Morlinghaus with a die photo project.  Christoph takes photos with a large format 8×10 film camera, and wanted to do some of processor dies, so the museum sent him off a box of chips. After a lot of work decapping and cleaning the chips, as well as finding ones with the most interesting dies, Christoph was able to take some stunning shots, no easy feat with the long exposure times required for such a camera.  Exposure times for these shots can run into the minutes, and even something as minor as a truck driving by can create enough vibration to ruin the shot.  Dies also had to be selected to show a variety of detail, colors, and be big enough to take a picture of, ideally a half inch on a side or better.  You can view the results here on Morlinghaus.com. Some very large format prints are currently on display at the Snap! Gallery in Orlando Florida as well.

Christoph did 7 total die shots of a variety of processors spanning 15 years of computing.  Dies included are: Intel 186, 486 and Pentium (P54CS), Motorola MC68020 and MC68030 as well as a Cyrix Media GXm and Cx486DX2. A 17″x22″print of each was donated to the CPU Shack, which are now framed and hanging, where they make a very nice display, as well as truly artistic pieces.

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