Chip Hall of Fame: MOS Technology 6502 Microprocessor

From the heroic age of 8-bit CPUs, this processor powered the Apple II, Commodore 64, BBC Micro, and more

2 min read
MOS Technology 6502 Microprocessor
Image: Computer History Museum

Zilog Z80 Microprocessor Image: Computer History Museum

6502 Micro-processor

Manufacturer: MOS Technology

Category: Processors

Year: 1975

When one particular chubby-faced geek stuck one particular chip into one particular computer circuit board and booted it up, the universe skipped a beat. The geek was Steve Wozniak, the computer was the Apple I, and the chip was the 6502, an 8-bit microprocessor developed by MOS Technology. The chip, and its variants went on to become the main brains of ridiculously seminal computers like the Apple II, the Commodore PET, the Commodore 64, and the BBC Micro, not to mention game systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Atari 2600 (also known as the Atari VCS). Chuck Peddle, one of the chip’s creators, recalls when they introduced the 6502 at a trade show in 1975. “We had two glass jars filled with chips,” he says, “and I had my wife sit there selling them.” (In 2016, Peddle admitted that at the time he had only enough working processors for the upper layers of the jars—they were mostly filled with nonworking chips.) Hordes showed up. The reason: The 6502 wasn’t just faster than its competitors—it was also way cheaper, selling for US $25 while Intel’s 8080 and Motorola’s 6800 were both fetching nearly $200.

The breakthrough that permitted this cost reduction, says Bill Mensch, who created the 6502 with Peddle, was a minimal instruction set combined with a fabrication process that “yielded 10 times as many good chips as the competition.” The 6502 almost single-handedly forced the price of processors to drop, helping launch the personal computer revolution. A revised version of the chip is still in production and some manufacturers still use it—in commercial embedded systems—as well as many hobbyists. More interesting perhaps, the 6502 is the electronic brain of Bender, the depraved robot in “Futurama,” as revealed in a 1999 episode.

Futurama

In an episode of that aired on November 14, 1999, the irascible robot Bender is shown to run on a 6502, pretty good going as the show is set a thousand years in the future. Image: Futurama TM/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

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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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