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Friday, January 7, 2011

Black Boxes No More! Cracking Open CPU Chips!

You guys have to see this. These guys have opened up some old CPU chips and have drawn the circuit diagrams for all the transistors. Then they made models of the circuitry. And they can runs programs on the models! From the site:

Have you ever wondered how the chips inside your computer work? How they process information and run programs? Are you maybe a bit let down by the low resolution of chip photographs on the web or by complex diagrams that reveal very little about how circuits work? Then you've come to the right place!

The first of our projects is aimed at the classic MOS 6502 processor. It's similar to work carried out for the Intel 4004 35th anniversary project, though we've taken a different approach to modeling and studying the chip. In the summer of 2009, working from a single 6502, we exposed the silicon die, photographed its surface at high resolution and also photographed its substrate. Using these two highly detailed aligned photographs, we created vector polygon models of each of the chip's physical components - about 20,000 of them in total for the 6502. These components form circuits in a few simple ways according to how they contact each other, so by intersecting our polygons, we were able to create a complete digital model and transistor-level simulation of the chip.

This model is very accurate and can run classic 6502 programs, including Atari games.


I had some technical (operator!) problems with Audacity this morning. Podcast 129 should be out tomorrow morning.


  1. Chipworks has a neat "Silicon Art" collection -- interesting pictures and doodles manufactured into the chips...First gallery here: http://www.chipworks.com/en/newsroom/silicon-art-library/silicon-art-gallery-1

  2. Very cool. I taught myself 6502 assembly language and wrote a few programs on my Apple IIe back in 1984-5. I even hand-assembled my first couple of programs and 'poked' the opcodes into memory. Then, I got an assembler and life was good. Hmmm, don't remember much of it now...


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