Silicon die analysis: Inside an op amp with interesting “butterfly” transistors


An excellent in-depth look at theTL084 op amp by Ken Shirriff:

Some integrated circuits have very interesting dies under a microscope, like the chip below with designs that look kind of like butterflies. These patterns are special JFET input transistors that improved the chip’s performance. This chip is a Texas Instruments TL084 quad op amp and the symmetry of the four op amps is visible in the photo. (You can also see four big irregular rectangular regions; these are capacitors to stabilize the op amps.) In this article, I describe these components and the other circuitry in the chip and explain how it works. This article also includes an interactive chip explorer that shows each schematic component on the die and explains what it does.

See the full post on Ken Shirriff’s blog.

Inside the 76477 space invaders sound effect chip: Digital logic implemented with I2L


Ken Shirriff has written an excellent in-depth look at the 76477 sound effects chip:

The 76477 Complex Sound Generation chip (1978) provided sound effects for Space Invaders1 and many other video games. It was also a popular hobbyist chip, easy to experiment with and available at Radio Shack. I reverse-engineered the chip from die photos and found some interesting digital circuitry inside. Perhaps the most interesting is a shift register based white noise generator, useful for drums, gunshots, explosions and other similar sound effects. The chip also uses a digital mixer to combine the chip’s different sound generators. An unusual feature of the chip is that it uses Integrated Injection Logic (I2L), a type of digital logic developed in the 1970s with the goal of high-density, high-speed chips. (I wrote about the chip’s analog circuitry last year in this article.)

See the full post on his blog here.

Taito C-Chip: data by lobotomy


CAPS0ff writes:

In a previous post we described some early attempts to analyze the Taito C-Chip. See Haze’s forum post for some background on the C-Chip itself.
In particular we’re interested in the EPROM. Previous efforts focused on less invasive techniques with the goal of keeping the C-Chip alive after dumping. Unfortunately, we’ve been unable to successfully send an unlock command and efforts to rebond the EPROM die have been difficult with the equipment we have on hand.
With this in mind, we took a break to regroup. If we remove the ASIC we can solder to PCB traces shared with the EPROM. Traces are documented in our wiring diagram

More details on his blog here.

STM32F103 vs GD32F103


Sjaak wrote about a Chinese ARM chip compared to a ST ARM chip:

Most of us do know the ST line of ARM chips called STM32. They come in multiple flavours and the STM32F103 is one of the most common entry level family of chips. They are called by ST as mainstream. They are a full featured 32 bit ARM Cortex M3 chip running at max. 72MHz with all the requisite peripherals like ADC, DAC, USB, CAN, I2C, I2S, SPI, SDIO, PWM, RTC, interrupts and various timers. Lets zoom into the STM32F103C8 chip (which seems the be the go-to choice of the Chinese el-cheapo development breakout boards)

See the full post at

A journey into Capcom’s CPS2 silicon – Part 2


Here’s an informative part 2 of the Capcom CPS2 reverse engineering series by Eduardo Cruz:

Capcom’s Play System 2, also known as CPS2, was a new arcade platform introduced in 1993 and a firm call on bootlegging. Featuring similar but improved specs to its predecessor CPS1, the system introduced a new security architecture that gave Capcom for the first time a piracy-free platform. A fact that remained true for its main commercial lifespan and that even prevented projects like Mame from gaining proper emulation of the system for years.

See the full post on the Arcade Hacker blog. Be sure to see Part 1 here.

Examining a vintage RAM chip, I find a counterfeit with an entirely different die inside


Ken Shirriff writes, “A die photo of a vintage 64-bit TTL RAM chip came up on Twitter recently, but the more I examined the photo the more puzzled I became. The chip didn’t look at all like a RAM chip or even a TTL chip, and in fact appeared partially analog. By studying the chip’s circuitry closely, I discovered that this RAM chip was counterfeit and had an entirely different die inside. In this article, I explain how I analyzed the die photos and figured out what it really was.”

See the full post on his blog.

A look inside the DS3231 real-time clock


Pete posted an article taking a closer look at Maxim’s DS3231 real-time clock:

Fortunately, Maxim also offers the DS3231, which is advertised as an “Extremely Accurate I2C-Integrated RTC/TCXO/Crystal”. This chip has the 32kHz crystal integrated into the package itself and uses a built-in temperature sensor to periodically measure the temperature of the crystal and, by switching different internal capacitors in and out of the crystal circuit, can precisely adjust its frequency so it remains constant. It’s specified to keep time within 2ppm from 0°C to +40°C, and 3.5ppm from -40°C to +85°C, which means the clock would only drift 63 and 110 seconds per year, respectively. Very cool.

See the full post at blog.

Reverse engineering the 76477 “Space Invaders” sound effect chip from die photos


Ken Shirriff has written an article on reverse engineering the 76477 “Space Invaders” sound effect chip:

Remember the old video game Space Invaders? Some of its sound effects were provided by a chip called the 76477 Complex Sound Generation chip. While the sound effects1 produced by this 1978 chip seem primitive today, it was used in many video games, pinball games. But what’s inside this chip and how does it work internally? By reverse-engineering the chip from die photos, we can find out. (Photos courtesy of Sean Riddle.) In this article, I explain how the analog circuits of this chip works and show how the hundreds of transistors on the silicon die form the circuits of this complex chip.

More details at Ken Shirriff’s blog.

Inside the vintage 74181 ALU chip: how it works and why it’s so strange


Ken Shirriff writes:

The 74181 ALU (arithmetic/logic unit) chip powered many of the minicomputers of the 1970s: it provided fast 4-bit arithmetic and logic functions, and could be combined to handle larger words, making it a key part of many CPUs. But if you look at the chip more closely, there are a few mysteries. It implements addition, subtraction, and the Boolean functions you’d expect, but why does it provide several bizarre functions such as “A plus (A and not B)”? And if you look at the circuit diagram (below), why does it look like a random pile of gates rather than being built from standard full adder circuits. In this article, I explain that the 74181’s set of functions isn’t arbitrary but has a logical explanation. And I show how the 74181 implements carry lookahead for high speed, resulting in its complex gate structure.

More details at Ken Shirriff’s blog.