RIP Chuck Peddle - Legendary Founding Father of the Home Computers
By: E. Bolognesi
Published: 21 December 2019, 10:59 am
Legendary engineer Chuck Peddle died on December 15, 2019. In case you didn't know, Chuck Peddle is the creator of the 6502 chip, the 8-bit microprocessor that started the home computer revolution. He also designed the KIM-1, probably the world's first single-board computer, and the Commodore PET, one of the first three personal computers, released in 1977.
In 1973 Chuck Peddle was working at Motorola on the 6800 chip when he realized that he could have been able to build a much cheaper microprocessor. He estimated a price of $25, while the 6800 was sold at $200-$300 (multiply by 4 to have the corresponding amount in today's dollars). Motorola was not interested in selling such a cheap product, so in 1974 Peddle left the company with another engineer called Bill Mensch, and he went to work for MOS Technology. At MOS, Peddle led the team that created the famous chip called 6502. He was able to maintain the promise, building a highly optimized, faster, and cheaper CPU. Suddenly, mass-market computers became possible. The 6502 was released in 1975.
Since the 6502 was not compatible with 6800 motherboards, Peddle needed a device to demonstrate what could be the use of the 6502. He designed a device called the KIM-1. It was a single-board computer with the 6502 chip, 1K of RAM, a small keypad, an LED display showing 7 characters, and input/output ports. It was released in 1976. Thanks to the affordable price, the KIM-1 was a success. Not only engineers but also thousands of hobbyists and computer enthusiasts ordered one. Peddle was traveling a lot to promote the 6502 chip, and apparently, he went to help even two young guys that were working in their garage. They were Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.
In the meantime, a calculator company called Commodore bought MOS Technology. Commodore started to sell a rebranded KIM, named Commodore KIM-1.
There's one thing that you have to realize: personal computers did not exist in 1976. At the time, computers were expensive and big like entire rooms. Terminals were used to enter commands, but these devices were not part of the equipment, they didn't have a CPU or a memory. They were not an independent machine. So it was not trivial to imagine that if you put together a CPU, RAM, keyboard, screen, and all the rest, you can create a fully-fledged, autonomous computer that people can bring at home. In part, Peddle already made this a reality with the KIM-1, but the real masterpiece was the Commodore PET.
Peddle designed his personal computer around the 6502 chip, with 4KB of RAM, a 9'' monochrome monitor, and a full keyboard (including uppercase, lowercase, and graphical characters called PETSCII). As storage, it was using an integrated tape cassette. Peddle himself programmed the machine language code that was controlling the tape.
Chuck Peddle also convinced Bill Gates and Microsoft to create a version of their BASIC that could be included in the ROM of PET. The first prototype was presented in January 1977 at the Winter CES.
As you know, 1977 is the year of the Trinity, where not only the PET but also 2 other personal computers were released: the Apple II and the Tandy TRS-80. Of the world's first three personal computers, two of them included the Chuck Peddle's 6502 chip. The home computer revolution was started and, as they say, the rest is history. In the following years, many other 8-bit computers were released, and most of them were based on the microprocessor created by Chuck Peddle. Not only the Commodore Vic-20 and Commodore 64/128 but also the Apple II and Apple III (and all the models in between), the Atari 400/800 (and all the 8-bit series), the BBC Micro, the Oric-1. Even the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was based on the 6502.
Thanks, Chuck Peddle! Thanks for all the fantastic computers we had in the '80s and all the incredible memories we have about programming and playing games on them. Thank you!
If you want to read more about Chuck Peddle, we suggest this article: The Legendary Chuck Peddle, Inventor of The Personal Computer.
I also suggest this article I wrote some time ago: Did Commodore, more than Apple, contribute to the birth of the personal computer?