05/12/2021

045 – Low-cost MPUs – 1975

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I think I produced more millionaires in that company than anybody else.
My job was to tell them what they were doing wrong, not tell them how good they are.  Jack Tramiel

Chuck Peddle, a Canadian, worked at GE defining electronic cash registers and credit-card operated petrol (gas) pumps. He joined Motorola in 1973 as part of the 6800 processor design team.

Motorola’s MC6800 MPU was launched in mid-1974. The Altair 680B, the Sphere and SwTPC’s 6800 were designed around it and yet its price tag was high at $300.  Peddle became unpopular for seeking a low-cost alternative to the 6800 to fit the applications he was meeting.

He left with others to form MOS Technology Inc in 1975.  At the time 70% of chips fabricated were faulty; MOS Technology introduced a system before the first stage of manufacture that ensured 70% were functioning chips.

The 8-bit 6501 microprocessor was developed in 1975 and promoted for $25.  Motorola claimed infringement of proprietary information, but this forced Peddle and Bill Mensch on to develop the 6502 – an improvement and still at $25. 

Steve Wozniak designed the first Apple around the Motorola 6800 but, learning of the fully pin-compatible cheaper 6502, bought two at $20 each and a $5 manual directly from Peddle at the Wescon show in June 1975.  Atari and Commodore opted for 6502.

Peddle produced two training devices in 1975 to promote understanding and build sales for the 6502 MPU – the terminal input monitor, TIM-1, and the keyboard input monitor, KIM-1. 

These were the world’s first single-board computers.  Thousands of KIM-1 were sold to engineers, colleges and enthusiasts; later it was offered with TinyBASIC and included MicroChess.

When the calculator market crashed MOS Technology started to wobble and was acquired by its key client Commodore.  On joining Commodore Peddle was quick to suggest to Jack Tramiel that his KIM-1 design should be enhanced to become a full computer. 

This resulted in the Commodore PET 2001, Personal Electronic Transactor, thus named to overcome technophobia.  Commodore was a serious business launching a product, rather than a hobbyist supplier with a dream and a soldering iron.  Peddle showed his design to Radio Shack as a potential retailer but it already had a working prototype of its own product.

The PET came fully assembled in a smart moulded cabinet, with built-in screen, a calculator-like keyboard, a data cassette unit and peripheral edge-connectors; users could plug in and play.  In creating the PET’s screen, Peddle used a book by Adam Osborne on how to build your own television.  The first time it was switched on, the image was upside down; he quickly thumbed back through the book.

Commodore BASIC was ROM-based by Microsoft.  Microsoft, still rather young, allowed Peddle to negotiate a single, low, perpetual licence fee for unlimited use on any Commodore 6502 based products.  Peddle has always refused to announce the actual sum paid.

The CBM-PET prototype appeared at the January 1977 winter CES, first production units were available at the summer show.  It beat both Apple II and the Radio Shack TRS-80 to the market.

Commodore was the first PC manufacturer to require its dealers to prove they were proper retailers with a track record, a credit history and an engineer and workshop facility.  It had the nous to work the educational market with a turnkey solution at just $495.

1978 Production was constrained; around 25,000 PETs were sold for c$20m – but the PC market grew up with this Apple I and TRS-80!

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