The Apple-I was a far cry from Apple’s later products. A $666 single-board computer, the product had some unique design features including using a shift register for video memory to save money. The shift registers of the day required high-current clock pulses that ranged from -11 to 5V and there was a DS0025 clock driver chip to handle the job. [Ken Shirriff] takes the unusual chip apart for us in a recent blog post.
The use of a shift register as memory isn’t a new idea. Really old computers like EDSAC used mercury delay lines as memory which was essentially a physical shift register. In those cases, the ALU and other processing only had to deal with a bit at a time, further simplifying things. For the Apple, there were seven shift registers to store 6-bits of display data and a cursor position. The 6 bits of character data drove — indirectly — a character generator ROM to convert the data into dots for the display.
Driving all those shift register flip flops requires a lot of clock current, so the DS0025 uses an unusual transistor design. There are 24 separate emitters in two groups. It acts like a large transistor, but you could also consider it as two 12-emitter transistors or 24 separate transistors in parallel. The metal wiring, interestingly enough, tapers because at the start of the conductor, the current for all 12 sub-transistors flows, but by the end, it is only the current for the last sub-transistor, so the conductor doesn’t have to be as wide. In addition, the two transistors have to have matched resistance which requires careful design so the transistors turn on at the same time.
The final result is an inverter that can provide 1.5 amps. This current helps overcome the relatively large capacitance in the shift register’s clock line. The clock rate was 1 MHz and the load capacitance was about 150 picofarads.
We enjoy [Ken’s] posts ranging from mysteries to space hardware. It is always interesting to see what is inside these devices or, at least, what was in the old devices we’ve all seen.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. That desire we all get to relive past memories can make you do things that in any other scenario would be out of the question. The effect seems even stronger when it comes to old video games. How else can you explain buying the same games over and over every time they get “remastered” for the next generation of consoles? But what if those remasters aren’t good enough?
If you have a burning desire to play a 100% accurate version of certain old arcade games, you might have your work cut out for you. Getting precise ROMs from some of these machines is exceptionally difficult, and as explained on the [CAPS0ff] blog, sometimes requires nearly superhuman feats of engineering.
As explained in the blog post, less invasive methods of getting inside the Taito C-Chip had already been examined and come up lacking. Despite best efforts, sending the unlock command to the chip didn’t yield the desired effect. If you can’t read the ROM the usual way, you need to get a little creative.
The process starts by milling down the case of the chip until the integrated circuit is just starting to become visible. Then acid is used to fully expose the traces. The traces are then tinned, and some very fine soldering is done to get the chip wired up to the reader. All told it takes about three hours from start to finish to pull a ROM using this method. But it’s all worth it in the end when you can play that 100% accurate version of Rainbow Islands. Or so we’ve been told.
If you couldn’t tell, this isn’t the first time a chip has been flayed open like this on the [CAPS0ff] blog.
Preserving old arcade games is a niche pastime that can involve some pretty serious hacking skills. If the story here were just that someone pulled the chip from a game, took it apart, and figured out the ROM contents, that’d be pretty good. But the real story is way stranger than that.
Apparently, a bunch of devices were sent to a lab to be reverse engineered and were somehow lost. Nearly ten years later, the devices reappeared, and another group has taken the initiative to recover their contents. The chip in question was part of a 1989 arcade game called Tatakae! Big Fighter, and it had been hacked. Literally hacked. Like with an ax or something worse.
You can read the story of how the contents were recovered. You shouldn’t try this at home without a vent hood and other safety gear. However, they did rebond wires to the device using a clever trick and no exotic equipment (assuming you have some fairly good optical microscopes and a microprobe on a lens positioner).
Continue reading “Rebonding An IC To Save Tatakae! Big Fighter”