Die shrink: How Intel scaled down the 8086 processor
> The revolutionary Intel 8086 microprocessor was introduced 42 years ago this month so I’ve been studying its die. I came across two 8086 dies with different sizes, which reveal details of how a die shrink works. The concept of a die shrink is that as technology improved, a manufacturer could shrink the silicon die, reducing costs and improving performance. But there’s more to it than simply scaling down the whole die. Although the internal circuitry can be directly scaled down, external-facing features can’t shrink as easily. For instance, the bonding pads need a minimum size so wires can be attached, and the power-distribution traces must be large enough for the current. The result is that Intel scaled the interior of the 8086 without change, but the circuitry and pads around the edge of the chip were redesigned.
Discovering Dennis Ritchie’s Lost Dissertation
> It may come as some surprise to learn that until just this moment, despite Ritchie’s much-deserved computing fame, his dissertation—the intellectual and biographical fork-in-the-road separating an academic career in computer science from the one at Bell Labs leading to C and Unix—was lost. Lost? Yes, very much so in being both unpublished and absent from any public collection; not even an entry for it can be found in Harvard’s library catalog nor in dissertation databases.
> Perhaps the highly anticipated moment that I’m going to contextualize today is totally inevitable, in a way. For years, there’s been a rumbling that Apple would take its knowledge of the ARM processor architecture and bring it to its desktop and laptop computers. Next week, at a virtual Worldwide Developers Conference, the iPhone giant is expected to do just that. Of course, many will focus on the failed partner, the jilted lover of the business relationship that led to Apple’s move to vertically integrate: Intel. But I’m interested in the demise of the platform Intel vanquished on its way to taking over Apple—and the parallels that have emerged between PowerPC and Intel over time. Today’s Tedium dives into Apple’s long list of jilted processor partners, leaning closely on the shift from PowerPC to Intel. Keep Apple happy, or else.
Extracting ROM constants from the 8087 math coprocessor's die
> I opened up an 8087 chip and took photos with a microscope. The photo below shows the chip’s tiny silicon die. Around the edges of the chip, tiny bond wires connect the chip to the 40 external pins. The labels show the main functional blocks, based on my reverse engineering. By examining the chip closely, various constants can be read out of the chip’s ROM, numbers such as pi that the chip uses in its calculations.
Engineering and Technology History Wiki
> The ETHW is not a “how-does-technology-work” site. The scope of the ETHW is historical; instead of focusing on the inner workings of technology, it aims to explain how the technology was developed, who were the major players involved, and what long term significance the technologies have. The ETHW is not only an encyclopedia of the history of technology, but it also contains a full range of materials that relate to the legacy of engineering, including personal accounts, documents, and multimedia objects. In that sense, it is a combination reference guide, blog, virtual archive, and on-line community.
A Codebreaker's Dream: The Bombe!
> What is this, sporting dozens of colorful knobs, almost like a “turn-the-knob” toddler’s game at a playground in a nearest mall? This the awesome British Bombe electro-mechanical codebreaking machine which only had one purpose: to determine the rotor settings on the German cipher machine “ENIGMA” during WW2.
DVD+R and DVD-R; What was that about?
A format war within a format...
'Soviet Space Graphics' takes you inside the cosmic visions of the USSR
> One new book transports readers back to the early days of Soviet spaceflight with an unbelievable collection of stunning, colorful and nostalgic images. “Soviet Space Graphics: Cosmic Visions from the USSR,” (Phaidon, 2020), released April 1, is a masterful compendium of images showcasing space design ideas from the then Soviet Union from the 1920s through the 1980s. It highlights the beauty of early space design in imaginative, colorful artworks.
The Early History of Usenet
>November 2019 is, as best I can recall, the 40th anniversary of the conception of Usenet. (What’s Usenet? The Wikipedia article is ok but not perfect.) I should have written a proper paper; instead, there will (probably) be an irregular series of blog posts.
I didn’t notice the series concluded a while back, so if you were waiting to read the whole thing, it’s done.
Touch And Go
> Pondering the disastrous fate of the HP TouchPad, an early tablet based on WebOS that’s best known for being the subject of a well-remembered fire sale.
How are Unix pipes implemented?
> This article is about how pipes are implemented the Unix kernel. I was a little disappointed that a recent article titled “How do Unix pipes work?” was not about the internals, and curious enough to go digging in some old sources to try to answer the question.
Hot Air and High Winds: A Love Letter to the Fantasy Airship
> I’ve had a bit of a thing for airships since I was in my teens. I loved - and love - all airships, but it was the great steampunk contraptions of wood and cloth and wrought iron that had me most under their spell. Where the ‘ship’ is taken literally and a creaking old galleon is slung implausibly and enchantingly beneath bulging balloons. Games love them too - they’re most associated with JRPGs, although I think it must have been in Super Mario Bros 3 that I first encountered them. But the airship that really sparked my love affair was in a much more obscure place. Does anyone remember the Fantastic Worlds expansion pack for Civilization 2? Anyone remember the airship units? I do. For some reason that unit captivated me. I loved it, in all its tiny, pixellated glory. I couldn’t find a picture of it. Sorry. Take my word for it, though: that was a good airship.
A Quick Tour of the HP-9000 712/100 NEXTSTEP Workstation
> While my first NEXTSTEP system was a high-end 486 66MHz PC that I purchased from a NEXTSTEP for Intel fabricator called eCesys out of Alaska, I currently own two qualifying systems: a NeXTstation Turbo Color setup and an HP-9000 712/100 PA-RISC system. I went with the rather more unique (and powerful!) HP “Gecko” for this competition, and decided to put together a little video tour of the system.
The History of the URL
> On the 11th of January 1982 twenty-two computer scientists met to discuss an issue with ‘computer mail’ (now known as email). Attendees included the guy who would create Sun Microsystems, the guy who made Zork, the NTP guy, and the guy who convinced the government to pay for Unix. The problem was simple: there were 455 hosts on the ARPANET and the situation was getting out of control.
Donald Knuth Was Framed
Knuth writes 8 pages and McIlroy writes six lines.
> A damning counter. But neither of us had ever read the paper. And as you know, I’m all about primary sources. We pulled up the paper here and read through it together. And it left us with a very different understanding of literate programming, and the challenge, than the famous story gave.
The Polygons Of Another World
> An other choice would be Eric Chahi’s 1991 critically acclaimed” title “Another World”, better known in North America as “Out Of This World” which also happens to be ubiquitous. I would argue it is in fact more interesting to study than DOOM because of its polygon based graphics which are suitable to wild optimizations. In some cases, clever tricks allowed Another World to run on hardware built up to five years prior to the game release.
> This series is a journey through the video-games hardware of the early 90s. From the Amiga 500, Atari ST, IBM PC, Super Nintendo, up to the Sega Genesis. For each machine, I attempted to discover how Another World was implemented. I found an environment made rich by its diversity where the now ubiquitous CPU/GPU did not exist yet. In the process, I discovered the untold stories of seemingly impossible problems heroically solved by lone programmers.
A brief history of liquid computers
> A substrate does not have to be solid to compute. It is possible to make a computer purely from a liquid. I demonstrate this using a variety of experimental prototypes where a liquid carries signals, actuates mechanical computing devices and hosts chemical reactions. We show hydraulic mathematical machines that compute functions based on mass transfer analogies. I discuss several prototypes of computing devices that employ fluid flows and jets. They are fluid mappers, where the fluid flow explores a geometrically constrained space to find an optimal way around, e.g. the shortest path in a maze, and fluid logic devices where fluid jet streams interact at the junctions of inlets and results of the computation are represented by fluid jets at selected outlets. Fluid mappers and fluidic logic devices compute continuously valued functions albeit discretized. There is also an opportunity to do discrete operation directly by representing information by droplets and liquid marbles (droplets coated by hydrophobic powder). There, computation is implemented at the sites, in time and space, where droplets collide one with another. The liquid computers mentioned above use liquid as signal carrier or actuator: the exact nature of the liquid is not that important. What is inside the liquid becomes crucial when reaction–diffusion liquid-phase computing devices come into play: there, the liquid hosts families of chemical species that interact with each other in a massive-parallel fashion. I shall illustrate a range of computational tasks, including computational geometry, implementable by excitation wave fronts in nonlinear active chemical medium. The overview will enable scientists and engineers to understand how vast is the variety of liquid computers and will inspire them to design their own experimental laboratory prototypes.
A new cycle-stepped 6502 CPU emulator
> I wrote a new version of my 6502/6510 emulator in the last weeks which can be stepped forward in clock cycles instead of full instructions.
> Meet the ZedRipper – a 16-core, 83 MHz Z80 powerhouse as portable as it is impractical. The ZedRipper is my latest attempt to build a fun ‘project’ machine, with a couple of goals in mind:
Teletext’s creative legacy lives on
> Like Walkmans and VHS recorders, teletext now seems impossibly quaint. But designer and writer Craig Oldham explains that not only was Teletext a revolutionary technology in its prime, its creative legacy lives on with a new generation of artists who love its creative limits.