How the MOS 6502 Sparked a Computing Revolution
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How the MOS 6502 Sparked a Computing Revolution


you might not know its name but you’re
probably familiar with the pixels it pushes to the screen it made the
calculations necessary to make you die from dysentery it shifted bits so Mario
could punch those question mark boxes and zip down green pipes it is the brain
of beloved bending robots in terminators the world over and it allows Tamagotchis to poop I’m talking of course about the mos design 6502 microprocessor these days it’s easy to act all
nonchalant about the processing power available to the average human being
need to make an international call record some 4k video host cat memes in
real-time on Twitter while binging Breaking Bad in HD you’re goddamn right
even bottom shelf phones these days can pull all those feats off and more
without breaking a sweat but this 40 pin chip is from a far far
simpler time an era when earth tones were in cars were slow and ugly and
corduroy was the only fabric available you see it was the early 1970s and a
bunch of ex motorola engineers at MOS technology were appalled by the state of
the industry micro processors were expensive I mean how are you going to
spark a personal computing revolution if the average Joe or Jane can’t even
afford one measly chip but with the 6502 MOS’s clever engineers were able to
drive the price down at the time a similar chip for Motorola cost around
$300 mos were able to get their chip down closer to $20 to put that into
perspective imagine if a bunch of ex Apple engineers offered a
top-of-the-line iPhone xs+ competitor for $90 instead of $1500 obviously this
price gouging and corporate intrigue caused some drama between the two
companies there was a legal scuffle and mos had to pull one of their processors
off the market but when the dust settled the company was still intact and they
had a killer affordable microprocessor in the 6502 the chip went on to be used
in some of the most influential personal computers of the 70s and 80s Steve
Wozniak put the 6502 at the heart of the Apple 2 home computer the system
that would spark a personal computer revolution a derivative of the 6502 the
6510 was the brainchild behind the Commodore 64 which is considered one of
the best selling personal computers of all time yet another 6502 based processor was
used to power the first-ever Nintendo Entertainment System the device that
would single-handedly revived home video game systems and would serve as the
touchstone for today’s nerd positive culture I don’t think it’s an
overstatement to say that this little package of silicon and plastic is one of
the most influential pieces of technology in the world it’s a testament
to the 6502’s utility that variants of it are still in production to this day
they’re used in embedded devices like sound controllers and also more
specialized applications like modern Tamagotchis there’s also a cadre of
dedicated programmers and tinkerers who are still writing new code that runs on
6502 devices like the Commodore 64 their demos push the hardware to it’s
very limits combining brilliant mathematical trickery with chip
specific hacks to achieve hypnotic effects the humble 6502 shaped the
entire technology industry as we know it today because it took computing out of
gigantic mainframes and put it in the hands of people like you and me by
democratizing access to technology it helped bring about the digital
interconnected age that we take for granted today thanks for watching
did you have a c64 or NES growing up do you have an idea of what we should
discuss in our next episode let us know in the comments leave us a like if you
enjoyed this video and subscribe if you want to see more from us so over the
summer I taught myself some like rudimentary form of 6502 assembly
language which seems really scary but it’s not you get this book from Derek
Morris the link will be in the description of the video and it is a
pretty clean way to learn it if you ever wanted to mess around with the 6502 over here the Commodore 64 it was very fun it was very intimidating at
first but it’s a good read and you should learn you’ll learn more about
programming overall if you read it so thank you for watching

17 Comments

  • fauxscot1

    Nice video. Well done and I'm picky. (That was my era, and I'm familiar with 1802's, 9900s, 8008, 4004, 6800/68000, 8051/2 (and variants), 8096( and variants) and the usual pile of intel hardware, plus a few bit slice micros and the National Semi micros. ) Not sure what else you should talk about, but the big thing back then was the Harvard v. Von Neumann architectures and the contest between Intel, Motorola and National for the direction of technology. A slug fest. A lot of outfits came and went in the micro space. Fascinating time to be an engineer.

  • f15sim

    Am I the only one that did a double-take at seeing a MOS-labeled 6502 that was built in the 62nd week of 2017? πŸ™‚ Nice video!

  • VWestlife

    Silicon, not silicone. And don't forget the 6502's main rival, the Zilog Z80, which powered computers by companies like Radio Shack, Sinclair, and Amstrad, as well as a whole slew of computers running CP/M, video game consoles like the ColecoVision and Sega Master System, and Texas Instruments graphing calculators even today.

  • J Bearss

    You missed one important fact the 6502 was also in the Atari 2600. Great video I have subscibed. And I will look into the book you mentioned. I have been programing in assembly for over 34 years if you questions I have time. Thanks for sharing… By the way I also repair everything Commodore… 8 bit in general…

  • MrJdiffend

    Saying "the MOS 6502 Sparked a Computer Revolution" is misleading.
    The Altair 8800, which was based on the intel 8080, came out in January 1975.
    6800 machines such as the SWTPC, and Sphere 1, shipped in 1975, and the Altair 680 was announced in 1975.
    The 6502 wasn't even introduced until the fall of 1975, after one or more of the other machines were already shipping.
    The first 6502 machines, the KIM-1 and Apple 1, didn't come out until 1976.
    The 6502 certainly caused CPU prices to drop, which probably sped up the market, but the computer revolution was already underway.

  • CommandLineCowboy

    Perhaps another legacy of the 6502 are the ARM processors that are now in everything that doesn't need to run windows. Acorn computers wanted a upgrade from the 6502, they visited Westerm Design Center who were creating a 16 bit follow on from the 6502 the 65816. That didn't impress Acorn, but they noted that Western Digital was basically a one person company, if WDC could design a processor maybe Acorn could too. The result was the ARM a 32 bit RISC design that like the 6502 was cheap (25,000 transistors) and had fast interrupt response so I/O could be done cheaply using the processor rather than needing DMA chips. WDC's 65816 was a design somewhat like Intel's 8086 with segmented memory. The deal breaker for Acorn was the 65816's block to block memory copy that took too many cycles for fast interrupts to work. I guess the idea of making a 6502 that could compete with the 8086 was attractive for Apple and Commodore, it gave them an upgrade path to PC memery sizes. Both companies ultimately went with Motorola's 68000 a much more elegant design with flat memory addressing, like the ARM.

  • Hello Kitty Lover Man!

    Oh yeah, right. Since when can a 6502 fit into a Tomagotchi case? Are you saying they managed to make a small chip-caseless version of it to stick right on the little board, like under a dark coating, or…?

  • Hello Kitty Lover Man!

    Even some of Commodore's disk drives, like the venerable 1541 (and maybe the 20- and 4040), etc., use the 6502. The other drives like 9090, 1551, 1001, 1570/1, and 1581, use a similar processor too, if I understand right.

  • Silver Spoon

    >the first Nintendo console
    >guy uses a SNES paddle.

    also how many companies did the same when it comes from >licensing a design that is more successful than the original.
    >AMD Athlons allowed people to build decent gaming rigs
    >AMD Opterons dominated the server and HPC world for a while
    >Ryzen and Epyc are keeping on this direction.

  • G. David Turnblom

    One great thing about the 6502 is that the ISA (instruction set architecture) is one of the easiest to memorize since all of the instructions have straight-forward mnemonics.

  • Charles Hines

    I have a Commodore 64. It may not be the fastest computer there is (or even close) but it was a fun computer to play games on. I don't know how its sound compared to other computers of its time but it has the famous SID chip. Has anyone ever made reproductions of the SID chip?

  • ZKH Prins Sven Olaf van CyberBunker-Kamphuis

    'silicone and metals and ceramic' in those days. not a single piece of plastic in early 6502s. also what did apple pay you to 1) present steve jobs in any way that would be relevant, the guy sold 100 units at most (and was a total crackhead in all other aspects) and 2) 'compare' the iphone to the 6502… even if iphones would be sold at 1 dollar each by a group of 'former apple engineers' (do they even have any 'engineers', as it looks like it's just a qualcomm design built by foxconn with an apple logo on it ;), they still would not be implemented as components in other products and as such cause a whole industry to come to live, from nuclear missiles to silly tv games. πŸ˜‰ if you're looking for those that 'started the home computer revolution' it's better to completely ignore apple and only look at commodore and atari, and in a way, ibm and hp (for offering simular products for decades already but at a higher price). specifically the commodore part would have happened anyway wether steve jobs decided to sell wozniak his cheap ass computers or go into the broken second hand car sales business. πŸ˜› (in fact it would have been better if he did – both for apple inc, and computing in general, but that only became a problem in the 2010s πŸ˜‰

  • hektik

    I think you should talk about how the DoD/military funded many big tech giants like Google, and the CIA funded Facebook. Talk about Jeff Bezos and his close working relationship with the NSA and how he helps the U.S. government to illegally spy on its citizens.

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