Chuck Peddle, the patriarch of the 6502 microprocessor, died recently. Most people don’t know the effect that he and his team of engineers had on their lives. We often take the world of microprocessor for granted as a commonplace component in computation device, yet there was a time when there were just processors, and they were the size of whole printed circuit boards.
Chuck had the wild idea while working at Motorola that they could shrink the expensive processor board down to an integrated circuit, a chip, and that it would cost much less, tens of dollars instead of ten thousand plus. To hear Chuck talk about it, he got a cease-and-desist letter from the part of Motorola that made their living selling $14,000 processor boards and to knock off all of the noise about a $25 alternative.
In Chuck’s mind this was permission to take his idea, and the engineering team, elsewhere. Chuck and his team started MOS Technologies in the 1970’s in Norristown PA, and re-purposed their work on the Motorola 6800 to become the MOS 6502. Lawsuits followed.
If you asked Chuck about his contribution he would dismiss the claim that he was the father of the KIM-1 single board microcomputer of the early era, “Look at the keyboard, you can tell that was done by someone on the calculator side of things” I believe I heard him say.
When asked about the 6502, his reply was that he was more proud of the peripherals, the Input/Output (I/O) chips that supported a microprocessor. These support chips made it possible for a user to interact with the microprocessor and his reply was something along the lines of the fact that you couldn’t have a terminal or cash register system unless there was a way to read the user’s keys and display something back.
The story of the venerable 6502 is one of those that we will never know just how much influence it had on people’s computing experience, even today. You may have not played an Atari game yourself, but the chances are good that the architect/designer/programmer of your computer did. The designer of the game Minecraft started on a Commodore C128, a 6502 based system as was its famous predecessor the C64, and if you have ever seen a TV show about the 1980’s they inevitably show an Apple computer, based on the 6502.
Chuck and crew were gone by the time I got to Commodore, though I was officially hired by MOS first. We sat in their same chairs in their same offices and could feel their presence, I used to joke about a still warm cigar in the ashtray or spotting Peddle’s unicorn down the hall, a reference to the wizard-like aura we attributed to the early guys. I also used to call the early team the “Motorola 5”, in tribute to their “on the run” status from Motorola, though there may have actually been 6 of them.
In the video below, Jeri Ellsworth and Bil Herd ask Chuck Peddle if he is really an Evil Genius bent on world destruction.
I have seen the original 6502 schematic, it was as close to a religious experience as I have felt, it seemed to me that the lights dimmed and thought I could smell incense and hear chanting as the schematic was pulled from the lowest drawer… apparently early schematics were printed on parchment such was the condition of the old hand drawn schematic. My friend Benny, father of many a disk drive that you may never have heard of, brushed at something written lightly on one of the pad symbols and then laughed when he read what had been penciled in. What was written was in a sense a tribute to Chuck on a pin that he had lobbied for specifically to be included in the 6502, the Set Overflow (SO) pin, the pad had been renamed CPS for the Chuck Peddle Special pin.
To Chuck Peddle, one of the fathers of the modern processor AND the chips that made it usable: 1937-2019