June 8th, 2013 ~ by admin

CPU of the Day: Fairchild F8 Microprocessor

Mostek MK3850P-3 - F8 Processor - 1977

Mostek MK3850P-3 – F8 Processor – 1977

In September 1974 Fairchild Camera and Instrument’s Fairchild Semiconductor division announced they were throwing their hat into the microcontroller market.  The same Fairchild whom created ‘Silicon Valley’ whom many of the ‘greats’ of the industry originally worked, including Gordon Moore, and Robert Noyce, of Intel fame.   In April 1975 Fairchild began sampling the F8 processor with production quantities available in the fall of 1975.

Fairchild knew the importance of having second sources available and in June 1975 reached an agreement with Mostek to allow Mostek to produce the F8 as well.  The 10 year agreement with Mostek included complete mask set transfers as Mosteks NMOS isoplanar process was completely compatible with Fairchilds.  The agreement also called for continuing development of the F8 processor system, allowing each company to develop F8 products independently of each other as well as together (this is important down the road).

Fairchild 3850PC - 1977

Fairchild 3850PC – 1977

Mostek was able to rapidly produce the F8 system, faster, cheaper, and more reliable than Fairchild.  The F8 introduction price was $130 per unit.  When Mostek began production in 1975 prices were down to $85 per unit.  In February 1976 Mostek lowered prices to $55 per unit ($64 to $28 if you bought more than 100 pieces).  The F8 was also licensed to SGS-Ates of Italy in 1976.

Also in February of 1976 Fairchild signed a agreement with Olympia Werke A.G., a German company, allowing production and sharing of information on the F8 processor.  It also allowed Fairchild (and any of its second sources, including Mostek) to use any of Olympia’s processor technology and products. So why did Fairchild reach such an agreement with Olympia, a relatively small company?  Because General Instruments was suing Fairchild at the time.

AEG Telefunken U3870M - F8 Processor

AEG Telefunken U3870M – F8 Processor

It gets a little messy here but try to follow along. A man named Dr David Chung (head of GI’s microprocessor division) was dispatched to Olympia to pick up some proprietary information on a top secret 8-bit processor Olympia was developing called the C3PF.  GI had an agreement to license this processor technology from Olympia and it was Chung’s job to get the information to make that possible.  Very shortly after Chung’s return from Germany he quit GI.  Who hired him? Fairchild of course.  GI accused Fairchild (and Chung) of using the proprietary information on the C3PF to develop the F8 processor.  By reaching an agreement with Olympia, Fairchild now was legally covered if in fact they HAD used information on the C3PF in the design of the F8.  Unfortunately very little information exists on the C3PF but it is widely believed that it was the basis of the Fairchild F8.  The court case went on into the 1980′s by which time it didn’t really matter.  I was unable to determine who ‘won’ but by production dates of the F8, it didn’t matter one way or another.

So what about the processor?
Read More »

February 5th, 2011 ~ by admin

Atmel Buys MHS, Again – The Twisted History of Atmel, Temic and MHS

Today Atmel purchased MHS Electronics, a French company.  Why is this interesting? Because this is not the first time Atmel has bought MHS, in one form or another.  Atmel, Matra, MHS, and Temic’s histories are rather intertwined, with mergers, acquisitions and name changes occurring frequently over the last 25 years.

A Bit of History….

Atmel 4Mbit EPROM - 1995

Atmel was founded in 1984 by George Perlegos, a former Intel employee, as a fab-less semiconductor company.  Originally Atmel designed EPROM’s and PLDs.  They were manufactured by Sanyo, which had an Intel license.  Intel, however, sued Atmel (along with Hyundai, iCT, AAS, Cypress, and Pacesetter Electronics) over EPROM patents in 1987.  The courts sided with Intel which severely hampered Atmel’s ability to make EPROM’s.  Their focus then switched to non-volatile memories, such as Flash for which they have become very well known and continue to make.  In 1989 they bought their own fab (from Honeywell) in Colorado Springs, CO and in 1993 released an 8051 (Intel licensed) with integrated Flash memory.  This catapulted Atmel into the microcontroller market that is today one of their core businesses.  In 1994 Atmel Purchased SEEQ, an EPROM and EEPROM company that Perlegos helped start in 1981.  In 1995 Atmel opened a fab in Rousset, France, thus beginning the French connection.

Temic 80C32 - 1998

Temic had its beginning in 1903 as Telefunken (Ironically a joint venture of Siemens and another company).  In 1967 AEG merged with Telefunken and in 1985 Daimler-Benz bought Telefunken-AEG and renamed it to simply AEG. The semiconductor division of AEG was then called TEMIC (TElefunken MICroelectronics).  In 1998 AEG sold TEMIC to Vishay, another automotive electronics supplier.  Vishay only had interest in the discrete and power electronics portions so immediately sold the IC portion to Atmel. This gave Atmel a Bipolar fab in Germany

Matra Harris Semiconductors SA (MHS) was created in 1979 as a joint venture between Matra, the French high technology group, and Harris Semiconductor, an American semiconductor manufacturer. In 1989, Harris withdrew from the partnership, and the name was changed to Matra MHS SA. Two years later, AEG (The electronics division of Daimler-Benz) purchased 50% of Matra and merged the unit with its TEMIC Semiconductor subsidiary. In 1998, AEG purchased the remaining shares of the company and the name was changed again, to MHS SA.

MHS 80C52 - 1988

This was part of the sale to Vishay mentioned above, which Atmel then purchased.  MHS had one CMOS fab in Nantes, France which was included in the sale

Here is where it gets complicated…

The result of all of this was Atmel now owned Temic, MHS, 2 fabs in France, one in Germany, their original fab in Colorado as well as a fab in England, and one in Texas.  Atmel needed to consolidate their fabs so in 2005 they sold the MHS fab in Nantes France to Xbybus, a French company. Xbybus ran the Nantes fab as MHS Electronics.  In 2008 Atmel sold their fab in Germany (the former TEMIC fab) to Tejas semiconductor.  This left Atmel with one fab in Colorado, and one in Rousset, France.  Labor issues at the French fab in regards to Atmel’s need to reduce production led to indefinite strikes at this fab, hampering Atmel’s work to sell it.  Finally in 2010 Atmel received approval from the French gov’t to sell the fab to LFoundry, a French company.  This marked the end of Atmel’s fab presence in France…..

Telefunken U3870M CPU (Mostek Clone) - 1986

For about 9 months…

Today, Atmel has bought MHS Electronics, and their fab in Nantes, France, a fab they owned from 1998-2005.  MHS had been having financial troubles since 2008.  An interesting end to a series of event that began over 30 years ago.

I suspect though that we have not yet heard the last of MHS, or perhaps TEMIC.