May 14th, 2017 ~ by admin

SESCOSEM and the French 6800

SESCOSEM SFF96800K – Dated 7651 and made by Motorola

Sescosem was a French company that was formed during the merger of Thomson-Brandt and CSF in 1968.  Thomson-Brandt has its roots as a French subsidiary of GE back in 1892 as Compagnie Française Thomson-Houston (CFTH), while CSF was a French electronics company founded in 1918.  Thomson’s SESCO division (itself a joint venture between Thomson and General Electric) was merged with CSF’s COSEM division to form SESCOSEM.  SESCOSEM made many semiconductor products for the European market, starting with basic transistors and eventually second-sourcing microprocessors.

Sescosem SFF71708K – Mid 1978 – 2708 EPROM – Note the SESCOSEM logo

SESCOSEM began to work as a second-source for Motorola in September 1976.  Somewhat unusually SESCOSEM did not originally manufacture the IC’s they sold.  They received completed devices from Motorola, and remarked them as their own.  This may sound odd, but it served a purpose, it increased SESCOSEM’s market, and allowed Motorola to more easily sell their devices in Europe.  Buying local, to support the domestic industry, was, and continues to be important in Europe, so buying ‘Motorola’ devices, made in the US was less appealing then buying a ‘local’ chip, despite that chip simply being remarked. The agreement called for Motorola to supply
masks and information concerning the 6800 to Thomson-CSF (SESCOSEM parent) for present and future microprocessor products.  Eventually SESCOSEM was able to begin making their own devices at their 2 production facilities: Saint-Égrève , near Grenoble (COSEM site) and Aix-en-Provence (SESCO site).

Sescosem SFF71708J – Another 2708 but made in late 1979, note the switch to the Thomson Semiconductor logo

SESCOSEM also made/sold the various support products for the 6800 series, as well as several EPROM’s, including a clone of the 1702, 2708 and 2716. In mid-1979 SESCOSEM stopped using their own logo, and switched to that of Thomson and in 1982 SESCOSEM was rolled into Thomson Semiconductor, as the French government nationalized and consolidated many industries in an attempt to increase profitability.  Thomson Semiconductor also included Mostek (sold to Thomson in 1985), Silec,  Eurotechnique (French-National Semi joint venture) and EFCIS.  This allowed Thomson to produce Motorola designs, now including the 68000 series of processors. In 1987 SGS of Italy, merged with Thomson to form SGS-Thomson, what is now known today as STMicroelectronics.

While a bit convoluted, this is one reason so many companies manufactured Motorola products.  This helped contribute to the world-wide success of Motorola products.  No longer were they only a US product, but a global product, made and sold by global companies.  In a twist of irony, Freescale, the semiconductor portion of Motorola, was purchased by NXP Semiconductors of the Netherlands in 2015, adding yet another brand of 6800 and 68000 processors.  Only a year later however, in October of 2016 Qualcomm, one of the leading makers of cell-phone chipsets, announced that it will be purchasing NXP.  A Qualcomm 68k processor may very well be in our future.

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.

August 19th, 2016 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: Motorola MC6801 – The (second) first 6800 MCU

Motorola XC6801L - Early White ceramic package from 1979. XC denotes a not fully qualified part.

Motorola XC6801L – Early White ceramic package from early 1979. XC denotes a not fully qualified part.

A microcontroller (or microcomputer) is a CPU, with additional on-board peripherals, usually containing RAM, ROM, and I/O as to serve as a single (or close to single) chip solution for a computer system.  As the program space is typically small, they were designed and used for high volume, low cost, simple applications.  Today we would refer to them as embedded applications.  The Motorola MC6800, released in 1974 was a decent 8-bit processor.  It was however not inexpensive (a fact not lost upon one of its designers, Chuck Peddle, who left to design the 6502).  Initial pricing for the MC6800 was $360, dropping to $175 the next year.

For embedded use, prices needs to be in the few dollars range, with as little chips as possible required for a design.  By 1977 Motorola had a solution, the MC6802.  This MC6802 was an enhanced MC6800 64-bytes of RAM and an on-board clock-generator.  When combined with the MC6846 (which provided ROM, I/O and Timers) a complete system could be built.  Defective MC6802s were often sold as RAM-less MC6808s.

Motorola MC6802L - Dated March of 1978. The 6802 had 64-bytes of RAM and no ROM.

Motorola MC6802L – Dated March of 1978. The 6802 had 64-bytes of RAM and no ROM.

The MC6802 was followed by the more complex MC6801, which integrates the features of the MC6846 on die, as well as increasing the RAM to 128-bytes, making a true 8-bit single chip microcomputer.  Most sources refer to the MC6801 being released in 1978, however it was actually released in 1977, likely at the same time, or similar as the MC6802.  US Patent Application US4156867 filed on September 9th of 1977 references both processors.  GM was to be the lead customer for the MC6801, it was the MCU of choice for the digital trip meter (TripMaster) of the 1978 Cadillac Seville.  The 1978 Seville began production on September 29, 1977.  It is likely that all of the first production of the 6801 was reserved for GM, and it wasn’t until 1978 and later that Motorola began to market it (it begins to show up in Motorola marketing only in 1979).  The TripMaster was a $920 factory option that proved to be rather unpopular, likely due to it adding nearly $1000 in cost to a $14,000 car.

Motorola MC68701U4L-1 1987 6801 with upgraded RAM/ROM and Timers

Motorola MC68701U4L-1 1987 6801 with upgraded RAM/ROM and Timers

This lack of early availability, coupled with the fact that while capable, the 35,000 transistor 6801 wasn’t particularly inexpensive led it to have very little success in the market.  The EPROM version, the MC68701 infact is much more common, likely due to the fact that it was used in lower volume products, where cost wasn’t such an issue.  In 1979 Motorola attempted to remedy this by releasing the MC6805 series.  This was designed from the ground up to be low cost.  The first versions had half the ROM and half the RAM as the 6801, while keeping the I/O.  They were also available in CMOS (as the MC146805).  They were inexpensive, and highly functional, and were widely used.  The 6805 continues to see use today as the 68HC05 and 68HC08 series.

Motorola XC68HC11A0FN - 1987 - Preproduction, Enhanced 6801

Motorola XC68HC11A0FN – 1987 – Preproduction, Enhanced 6801

The MC6801 was not, however, done.  By this time manufacturing had improved, allowing costs to be lower.  Motorola released an upgraded 6801, the MC6801U4 which expanded the timer functions, increased the ROM to 4K, and increased the RAM to 192-bytes.   In 1985 the MC6801 was upgraded again, a second 16-bit index register was added, as well as true bit-manipulation instructions.  The Motorola MC68HC11, the name change reflecting the greatly enhanced core, was made in many varieties with different sizes of RAM, ROM, and EEPROM. The MC68HC11A8 was also the first MCU to integrate EEPROM on die, in this case, 512 bytes worth.  The MC68HC11 series, and its 68HC12 and 16 successors, continue to be made, and used today, ironically, frequently in automotive applications, where the original MC6801 failed to be a success.

 

 

November 16th, 2015 ~ by admin

MHTL: Before the Processor

Motorola MHTL - Almost the entire product line is shown. Made from 1967-1972

Motorola MHTL – Almost the entire product line is shown. Made from 1967-1972

Before the single chip processor, the Intel 4004, TI TMS1000, or Four Phase AL-1 (depending on your school of thought) ‘processing’ was done by discrete logic.  These are SSI IC’s (Small Scale Integration), a step up from literal discrete transistors, each IC contains 2-30 transistors, implementing a couple gates.

The most famous of these is the TTL (Transistor-Transistor Logic) series developed by Sylvania in 1963.  Before TTL though their was RTL (Resistor-Transistor Logic) in 1961 and the next year, DTL (Diode-Transistor Logic), whereby Diodes were added to the inputs, allowing much better fan-in.  Neither of these designs had great noise immunity, which in many applications was very important.  Motorola patented a modification to DTL in 1966 with production of the new MHTL family commencing in 1967-1968.

MHTL, Motorola High Threshold Logic, was designed for environments where high noise immunity was a must.  Noise, really any voltage that is present, and not wanted/not an actual signal, can be complicated to deal with.  Motorola’s solution was to make the signal much larger, this s clearly the ‘bigger hammer’ approach to noise.  Normal DTL has a turn on voltage of 1.5V (0-5V Logic). fairly low, and in an industrial environment, where these IC’s may be controlling large motors and solenoids, a common noise voltage.  MHTL raised that to 7.5V, requiring a 15V supply.  Speed suffers greatly, as the voltage must now swing from 0-15V for a logic 0 to a logic 1 on the outputs, 3MHz being a typical max compared to 40MHz for Motorola’s DTL.  It should be noted, that as fast as that sounds, it’s only for a few gates, a full board of these will not be able to attain anything close to 3MHz due to propagation delays through the many IC’s.

The pictured MHTL devices are:

Device Function Transistors Power (mW)
MC660 Exp 4 Input NAND (Passive Pullup) 6 88
MC661 Exp 4 Input NAND (Active Pullupt) 4 88
MC662 Expandable 4-Input NAND Line Driver 6 180
MC663 Dual J-K Flipflop 24 200
MC665 Triple Level Translator (for interface to DTL, RTL or TTL) ?? 104
MC666 Triple Level Translator ?? 105
MC667 Dual monostable multi vibrator ?? 240
MC668 Quad 2-Input NAND Gate (Passive pullup) 8 176
MC670 Triple 3-Input NAND Gate (Passive pullup) 6 132
MC671 Triple 3-Input NAND Gate (Active pullup) 9 132
MC672 Quad 2-Input NAND Gate (Active pullup) 12 176
MC673 Dual 2-Input AND-OR-INVERT (Active pullup) ?? 160
MC675 Dual Pulse Stretcher/Multivibrator ?? 180

Today, noise immunity is still relevant, and much much more complex than simply increasing the supply voltage.  Higher supply voltages not only slow down switching, but they also increase power draw significantly. The MC660 pictured has exactly 2 gates (4-input NAND), consisting of 6 transistors, and still dissipates 88mW. That would be the equivalent of an Intel 4004 dissipating 12 Watts, or an Intel 386 needing about 4 Kilowatts. Modern noise immunity is handled by adding additional transistors (keepers, pre-chargers, etc) that can keep gates from being affected by noise, whether it’s from power/ground lines, leakages, or other reasons.  This allows chips with millions of transistors to operate at sub 1 Volt levels.  An impressive feat.

March 28th, 2014 ~ by admin

Motorola 68020 Processor die shots and description

1985 production 68020 'XC' denotes a not fully qualified device.

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.

August 3rd, 2013 ~ by admin

MOS Technology MCS6501 Processor

MOS MCS6501 - November 1975

MOS MCS6501 – November 1975

One of the classic stories of the 1970’s microprocessor boom times was that of MOS Technologies at WESCON (Western Electronics Show and Convention) on September 16th 1975 in San Francisco.  MOS Technology was a newcomer to microprocessors.  They had with them two brand new processor design, the MCS6501 and the MCS6502 which they hoped to sell on the floor at Wescon, for $20 and $25 each.  However Wescon forbid sales on the convention floor, so quick thinking by MOS Technologies Chuck Peddle directed people to a hotel room, where “the beer was free and chips were $25.”  In the room were jars of 6501 and 6502 processors, to give them impression that these were in full production.  In reality the bottoms of the jars were filled with defective parts.  It was no matter, the 6500 series was a huge hit, led largely by its availability, low price and marketing to everyone (not just ‘big corporate users’).  The 6500, and specifically the 6501 have an interesting story leading up to that fateful day at WESCON.

Motorola XC6800B - July 1975 - Pre-production part, not something MOS bothered with.

Motorola XC6800B – July 1975 – Pre-production part, not something MOS bothered with.

It begins at Motorola, where Chuck Peddle, Bill Mensch and several others were employed in the early 1970’s design the MC6800 processor and its peripherals.  The 6800 was not a bad design, it was however, very expensive, a development board for it costing over $300.  Chuck worked largely as the 6800 system architect, ensuring all the ICs worked well together and were what was needed to meet customers needs.  He attended many calls to potential clients and noted that many were turned off by one thing, price.  With that in mind he sought out to build a lower cost version of the 6800 using some of the newer processes available (specifically depletion mode NMOS vs the enhancement mode of the 6800).  Motorola management wouldn’t hear it, they wanted nothing to do with a lower cost processor available to the masses.  And with that, Chuck, Bill and over half the 6800 team left.

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July 26th, 2013 ~ by admin

Apple G3 Prototype: The Goleta and IBM Arthur Processor

IBM Arthur Processor - 1997

IBM Arthur Processor – 1997

By 1997 the PowerPC 604e was getting a bit dated.  Apple needed an updated faster processor for their new computers and IBM and Motorola needed a new processor to sell to Apple.  The PowerPC 750 was an evolution of the 604e and became the core of Apple’s various G3 systems.

In early 1997 Apple , IBM, and Motorola (together known as the AIM Alliance) were working on what would become the PowerPC 750.  It’s code name? The Arthur.  Apparently someone at IBM or Motorola had a liking for Sherlock Holmes as the 745 was codenamed Conan and the 755 Doyle, after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, writer of Sherlock Holmes.  This particular part is date coded R20003PAP which means it was made in mid-May of 1997, 6 months before the G3 and PowerPC 750 were officially released.

The card the Arthur processor (hand labeled 300Mhz) resides on is an Apple Prototype known as the Goleta.  The Goleta was one of the first Apple G3 products.   It was to be used in the PowerMac 9700 aka the PowerExpress which was to be a 6 slot G3 PowerMac running at 275MHz.

Apple Goleta G3 Prototype

Apple Goleta G3 Prototype – Click here to see the full card.

It never made it past the prototype stage.  The card is labeled as serial #014 making it a very early prototype, though how many total were made is not known.  The card may have been used at Apple for testing other deigns as well and certainly was a test bench for the new 750 PowerPC Processor.  This was a chaotic time for Apple as they were struggling to pull out of near bankruptcy.  Steve Jobs had only just returned to the company and radically changed what Apple was doing, and what they were not doing (making money).

April 7th, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: Scalable Superscalar 68060 Marketing Sample

Motorola 68060 Marketing Sample

Motorola 68060 Marketing Sample

The Motorola 68060 was the last of the 68k line that was begun in the late 1970’s.  The 68k began as the first commercial success of a 32 bit processor.  It wen through many upgrades, essentially proving to be worth competition (and likely a better architecture) to Intel’s x86 line.  The ‘060 was the first 68k to bring a superscalar architecture.  It could issue multiple instructions per clock, in some ways it was better then the Intel Pentium.  The 68060 was released in 1994 but never achieved wide success.  By the time of its introduction Motorola had thrown most of its weight behind the PowerPC of the AIM Alliance. Eventually the 68060, which was released on a 0.6micron process at 50MHz, would be moved to 0.42 micron and hit 75MHz.

Motorola 68060 Marketing Sample
It, unfortunately, suffered the same fate as the 88000 RISC processor, a slow but inevitable fading away.  The 68k line (mostly the 68000 core, or its derivative, the CPU32) lives on in many of Freescale’s products.

The chip shown is what is known as a Marketing Sample.  These typically were only an empty package, given to sale people and distributors as gifts or sales aids.  They typically feature a flashy logo, more color, and often, like this one, a sales pitch. ‘Scalable Superscalar’.  It seems that the 68060 proved less salable then it was scalable.

April 2nd, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: Motorola XC88110 88000 RISC Processor

MC88100 20MHz - 1992

MC88100 20MHz – 1992

In the late 1980’s Motorola was developing a full 32-bit RISC processor from the ground up.  Initially called the 78000, it was renamed the 88000.  The first implementation of the 88000 Instruction Set Architecture was the 88100.  It included a FPU and integer unit but required a separate chip (the 88200 CMMU) for caching and memory management.  Typically 2 of the 88200s were required (one for instruction cache, one for data, 16kb of cache each).  A 64lb cache was also available called the 88204.  Made on a 1.5u process the 88100 contained 165,000 transistors while the CMMU chips contained 750,000.  Each chip dissipated 1.5Watts at 25MHz.  Prices in 1989 were $494 for the CPU and $619 each for the CMMUs.  A complete system of 3 chips would be nearly $2000.  Not exactly competitive pricing.

The initial, and biggest, customers for the 88000 were to be Apple, and Ford Motor Company, an unusual combination to say the least.  Apple invested in the 88000 to be the replacement for the 680×0 processors it had been using.  Ford was looking to replace the Intel 8061 processors (from which the MCS-96 MCUs were developed) that had run their EEC-IV engine computers since the early 1980’s.  Motorola (as well as Toshiba) had been second sourcing these for Ford for sometime.  Ford based its choice on the 88100 based ECU on the assumption that Apples adoption of the 88100 would guarantee good software and compiler support. If Apple stuck with it that is..

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March 22nd, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: IBM Micro/370 – True Mainframe on a chip

IBM System/370 - 1970

IBM System/370 – 1970

IBM introduced the 12.5MHz cabinet sized System/370 in June 1970 as an evolution of the System/360 from 1964.  These systems formed the entire base of IBM’s mainframe business.  Today’s System z, itself an evolution of the original System/360 and 370, can still run many of the original programs, unmodified, from 50 years ago.  This is a testament to 2 things, the wide adoption of the IBM systems, and the forward thinking of IBM.  Even the original System/360 from 1964 was a full 32-bit computer.  Single chip processors did not embrace 32 bit architectures until the very early 1980’s (Motorola 68k, National 32k, etc).

In 1980 IBM sought to make a single chip version of the 370, in an effort to make a version that could be used for desktop type computers.  This was to become the Micro/370.  There were 2 distinct products to come out of this goal that are widely confused and debated.  The first became the PC XT/370, an add in card(s) for an IBM PC to give it the capability to run System/370 software.  Later another version was developed called the Micro/370 as a single chip solution.

The PC XT/370 began as an experiment,  a test bed implementation of the System/370 in a microprocessor environment.  The goal was not to rebuild the 370 from the ground up (that would come later) but to merely implement its instruction set into an existing design.  The base processor had two main requirements:  it had to be 32 bits, and it had to be microcoded.  IBM’s engineers in Endicott, NY selected the then very new Motorola MC68000 processor as their basis.  It was one of the only 32-bit designs at them time so that no doubt helped in the selection process.

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