A MOS 6502 Processor.
Photographer: Dirk Oppelt / Wikipedia
I, like many of my colleagues, got my first taste of personal computing on the Commodore PET and Apple IIe. Way back in the early ‘80s, my elementary school was equipped with a room full of Commodore PETs — where I learned to program in BASIC — and my local library had an Apple IIe, along with an array of software and games I experimented with for hours on end. Later, my family bought a Commodore 64 (which I monopolized) and virtually all of my friends at one point in time owned similar, consumer-class personal computers from Atari, Apple, or Commodore. And I can’t forget all of those Atari 2600s and Nintendo Entertainment Systems littered across everyone’s living rooms either.
If you’re not a tech geek, you’re probably unaware that the vast majority of early personal computers and gaming systems from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s (like all of the devices mentioned above) featured processors in the MOS 6500 family. The Apple IIe, Commodore PET / VIC-20 / C64, Atari 800 / 2600, the Nintendo Famicom / NES, the BBC Micro, and a multitude of others, were all built around MOS 6500 series processors.
Charles “Chuck” Peddle, the man who conceived of the MOS 6502 design, passed away last week.
Chuck Peddle pioneered development of the 6502 while employed by Motorola, working on the more powerful, and much more expensive 6800 processor. Chuck believed, however, there was a huge potential market for a cheap, 8-bit microprocessor and began development of what would eventually become the 6502. The powers that be at Motorola at the time, however, thought the inexpensive processor would potentially cannibalize sales of the 6800, and eventually nixed the design. Peddle, along with seven other engineers from Motorola, not willing to give up work on the processor, claimed it as their own, and took the early design clear across the country, to Pennsylvania-based MOS Technology.
After some initial trepidation and fear of litigation from Motorola (which was justified), MOS Technology decided to go ahead with the development and manufacture of the 6502 anyway, and the little, $25 processor and its many derivatives went on to power billions of devices over the next few decades.
Although Intel’s and Arm’s microarchitectures dominate the computing world today, the affordable, personal computing revolution was kicked-off by the MOS 6500 family. Peddle’s chip powered a myriad of iconic devices and put the power of personal computing into the hands of millions. That early experience spurred a love of computing and technology that drove countless individuals to seek related careers – myself include – and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.