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Chip Hall of Fame: Intersil ICL8038 Waveform Generator

Intersil’s somewhat cranky chip brought complex sound generation to consumer electronics

1 min read

Intersil ICL8038 Waveform Generator

A good basic waveform—an electrical voltage varying in time—is the raw material from which much more complex behavior can be constructed. Intersil's ICL8038 integrated circuit was designed to meet the need for a convenient way to obtain a precise waveform, capable of simultaneously generating sine, square, and sawtooth waveforms with only a few supporting external components.

ICL8038 Waveform Generator

Manufacturer: Intersil

Category: Amplifiers and Audio

Year: circa 1983

Initially critics scoffed at the 8038's limited performance and propensity for behaving erratically. And the chip was indeed a bit temperamental. But engineers soon learned how to use it reliably, and the 8038 became a major hit, eventually selling into the hundreds of millions and finding its way into countless applications—including later versions of the “blue boxes" that phreakers used into the 1980s to beat the phone companies. Intersil discontinued the 8038 in 2002, but hobbyists still seek it today to make things like homemade function generators and modular analog synthesizers.

The Conversation (1)
Miguel Martins
Miguel Martins09 Jul, 2023

This integrated circuit was not created "circa 1983" as written in the sidebar. It was actually created almost a decade earlier, "circa 1974", something that can be confirmed by reading the article "Build with one IC, a 3-way function generator" which can be found in the November 1974 issue of Radio-Electronics magazine, page 100 (https://worldradiohistory.com/Archive-Radio-Electronics/70s/1974/Radio-Electronics-1974-11.pdf) .

And it was conceived and designed by the same engineer that developed the 555 timer for Signetics, Hans Camenzind (https://www.electronicsweekly.com/blogs/engineer-in-wonderland/an-engineer-in-wonderland-inventing-the-555-and-2009-03/ and https://www.electronicdesign.com/technologies/analog/article/21795307/hans-camenzind)