A Particularly Festive Chip Decapping

As we approach the moment in the year at which websites enter a festive silly season of scrambling to find any story with a festive angle, we’re pleased to see the ever-reliable [Ken Shirriff] has brought his own take on Christmas tech to the table with a decapping of the UM66T melody chip that has graced so many musical greeting cards.

The surprise in this age of ubiquitous microcontrollers is that this is not a smart device; instead it’s a single-purpose logic chip whose purpose is to step through a small ROM containing note values and durations, driving a frequency generator to produce the notes themselves. The frequency generator isn’t the divider chain from the RC oscillator that we might expect, instead it’s a shift register arrangement which saves on the transistor count.

Although the UM66 is a three-pin device, there are a few other pins on the die. These are likely to be for testing. As a 30+ year old product its design may be outdated in 2021, but it’s one of those chips that has survived without being superseded because it does its task without the need for improvement. So when you open a card and hear the tinny tones of a piezo speaker this holiday season, spare a thought for the ingenuity of the design behind the chip that makes it all possible.