Slideshow: The Many Facets of Microchips
A hand-drawn diagram, a long-forgotten memo, a photo of a Ferrari--intriguing images of chips and their creators
Photo: Gene Frantz/Texas Instruments
NOW WE’RE TALKING
The Speak & Spell was a learning toy that Texas Instruments created using its TMC0281, the first single-chip speech synthesizer. One of the hits of Christmas 1978, the toy was the brainchild of four TI engineers [from left]: Gene Frantz, Richard Wiggins, Paul Breedlove, and Larry Brantingham.
When the Intel 8088 processor debuted in 1979, the reception was rapturous—evident in press articles, trade shows, and, naturally, internal Intel memos. And more was to come: In 1981, the 8088 became the CPU of IBM’s original PC line, consolidating Intel as a processor powerhouse.
Drawing: Steve Furber
CALL TO ARMS
In 1983, Acorn Computers, in Cambridge, England, set out to develop its own 32-bit microprocessor, the Acorn RISC Machine, or ARM. Steve Furber, one of the chip’s architects, did most of the design work—including a ”floor plan” with the CPU’s functional modules—using paper and pencil.
Photo: Robert Garner
NO JOY, NO PROBLEM
In 1988, the Sun Microsystems team that developed the SPARC 32-bit RISC processor gathered for a group photo at the company’s Mountain View campus. One notable absentee was Sun cofounder and programmer legend Bill Joy. But parked outside was his Ferrari—it served as a replacement.
Image: Chuck Moore
The Sh-Boom processor is a touchy topic in the chip community: Did it really innovate in the way CPUs remain synchronized with other parts of the computer that have slower clocks? One thing, though, is not in dispute: Sh-Boom creators Russell H. Fish III and Chuck H. Moore were surely innovative in naming their chip.
Image: David Fullagar
WE’VE GOT A WINNER
The subject line of the 7 July 1968 memo circulated at Fairchild Semiconductors said it all: ”We’ve Got a Winner.” The winner was the μA741 chip, a new operational amplifier designed by David Fullagar. It would sell in the hundreds of millions, becoming the standard for op-amps.
Image: Courtesy Federico Faggin
The first venture-capital firm to invest in Zilog, the microchip maker that Federico Faggin started in Silicon Valley in 1975, was Exxon Enterprises, an arm of the oil giant Exxon. The partnership worked well, and Faggin even appeared next to the famed Exxon tiger on a brochure, holding the Z80 microprocessor that would make Zilog famous.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Introduced in the mid-1980s, the ICL8038—a waveform generator chip—proved so popular that its creator, Intersil, later published a troubleshooting compendium aptly titled, ”Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the ICL8038.” Intersil discontinued the chip in 2002, but you can still read the document at: http://www.intersil.com/data/an/an013.pdf.
Image: Al Phillips
In 1971, Western Digital introduced the WD1402A, the first single-chip UART, or universal asynchronous receiver/transmitter. The chip converted parallel signals into serial signals and vice versa—a simple but crucial function in a host of computer hardware. UARTs gained popularity as part of modems and other peripherals and are used to this day.
Image: ¿Futurama¿ and © Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.
Introduced in 1975, the MOS Technology 6502 microprocessor became the main brains of seminal systems like the Apple II, the Commodore PET, and the BBC Micro. But the 8-bit microprocessor also went on to power a fictional machine: Bender, the ill-behaved robot in the sci-fi animated comedy ”Futurama.”