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Chip Hall of Fame: Microchip Technology PIC 16C84 Microcontroller

Adding easily reprogrammable onboard memory to store software revolutionized microcontrollers

2 min read
Photo of PIC 16C84 Microcontroller
Image: Microchip Technology

PIC 16C84 Micro-controller

Manufacturer: Microchip Technology

Category: Processors

Year: 1993

Back in the early 1990s, the huge 8-bit microcontroller universe belonged to one company, the almighty Motorola. Then along came a small contender with a nondescript name, Microchip Technology. Microchip developed the PIC 16C84, which took an 8-bit microcontroller and added a type of memory called EEPROM, for electrically erasable programmable read-only memory. EEPROM doesn’t need UV light to be erased, as did its progenitor, EPROM. Such read-only memory is generally used to store program code or small bits of data. Eliminating the need for a UV light meant that “users could change their code on the fly,” says Rod Drake, the chip’s lead designer and now a director at Microchip. Even better, the whole chip cost less than US $5, or a quarter the cost of existing alternatives at the time. The 16C84 was used in smart cards, remote controls, and wireless car keys. It was the beginning of a line of microcontrollers that became electronics superstars among Fortune 500 companies and weekend hobbyists alike. While the 16C84 has been retired, the PIC line is still in production and billions have been sold, used in things like industrial controllers, unmanned aerial vehicles, digital pregnancy tests, chip-controlled fireworks, LED jewelry, and a septic-tank monitor named the Turd Alert.

Diagram US5351216 This sketch from a Microchip patent shows how PIC controllers differed from other computers. In most computers, such as your PC, programs and working data are stored in the same memory—an arrangement known as a “von Neumann architecture.” But PIC controllers keep program and working-data memory separate—an arrangement known as a “Harvard architecture.” This allowed programs to be stored in cheap read-only memory.Image: Microchip Technology/U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

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The Godfather of South Korea’s Chip Industry

How Kim Choong-Ki helped the nation become a semiconductor superpower

15 min read
A man in a dark suit, bald with some grey hair, leans against a shiny blue wall, in which he is reflected.

Kim Choong-Ki, now an emeritus professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, was the first professor in South Korea to systematically teach semiconductor engineering.

Korea Academy of Science and Technology
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They were called “Kim’s Mafia.” Kim Choong-Ki himself wouldn’t have put it that way. But it was true what semiconductor engineers in South Korea whispered about his former students: They were everywhere.

Starting in the mid-1980s, as chip manufacturing in the country accelerated, engineers who had studied under Kim at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) assumed top posts in the industry as well as coveted positions teaching or researching semiconductors at universities and government institutes. By the beginning of the 21st century, South Korea had become a dominant power in the global semiconductor market, meeting more than 60 percent of international demand for memory chips alone. Around the world, many of Kim’s protégés were lauded for their brilliant success in transforming the economy of a nation that had just started assembling radio sets in 1959 and was fabricating outdated memory chips in the early ’80s.

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