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PragmatIC creates flexible 6502 processor




PragmatIC Semiconductor, the flexible electronics company on Cambridge Science Park and winner of the Cambridge Independent Innovation award at this year's Science and Technology awards, has manufactured a flexible version of the 6502 processor, the iconic design that kick-started the personal computer revolution.

The PragmatIC flexible wafer
The PragmatIC flexible wafer

Launched in 1975, the ground-breaking processor was sold for a fraction of the price of competitor chips, which is why Steve Wozniak built it into his Apple I computer. The chip and its variants went on to become the main brains of seminal computers like the Apple II, Commodore PET, Commodore 64 and BBC Micro, as well as pioneering gaming platforms including the Nintendo Entertainment System and Atari 2600. The design is still supported today by Western Design Center (WDC), who estimate their licensees have shipped over 6bn embedded 65xx processors – and growing – to date.

The 6502 was developed at MOS Technology, prior to being purchased by Commodore, by a team of designers who had left Motorola because they were convinced that the high cost of the company’s 6800 was a barrier to high volume adoption. At the time, the perceived wisdom was that computing power was not for the masses, as immortalised by Ken Olsen of DEC who said: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home”. The rest, as they say, is history.

Scott White, CEO of PragmatIC Semiconductor. Picture: Keith Heppell
Scott White, CEO of PragmatIC Semiconductor. Picture: Keith Heppell

PragmatIC’s flexible 6502 was laid out and manufactured in less than two weeks, demonstrating the game-changing ability of the FlexIC Foundry to support rapid realisation of semiconductor hardware. A second iteration has already been taped out to optimise pinout, footprint and speed, leveraging an agile design approach that would never be possible with the high cost and long lead times of silicon fabrication.

“We are delighted to have made a flexible 6502, the processor that is credited with creating the personal computer revolution,” said Scott White, CEO of PragmatIC Semiconductor. “The design symbolises one of our key beliefs that a new paradigm for semiconductors is required to enable innovators to build extraordinary electronics solutions that improve everyday life.”

The PragmatIC foundry
The PragmatIC foundry

“I see what PragmatIC is doing to be as transformational as what we did at MOS Technology back in the 1970s,” said Bill Mensch, founder of WDC, who created the original 6502 with Chuck Peddle. “In validating the 6502 design on their FlexIC Foundry, we can now extend the original goal of the design to support embedded processing for the Internet of Everything.”



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