Falcon custom IC die shots

Other FPGA systems, e.g. Turbo Chameleon.

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sigmate
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Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

Hi,

Are there any die shots of the Falcon's custom integrated circuits available? I'm thinking of bringing some effort in that direction for preservation and/or documentation ground for other projects and would like to gather all existing information on the subject.

Thanks for your help!
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by alexh »

The thing to look for are the netlists.

The Atari Jaguar Tom & Gerry netlists (the low-level design information) were preserved and have been converted back to HDL and re-used in an FPGA. The ultimate preservation.

The Falcon Combel, Videl & SDMA might have been made around this time? Their netlists might have been preserved too? (but I don't remember seeing them).

Also the schematics of some of the Atari ST chips were also preserved and used to make exact replica's of their function so maybe the schematics for the Falcon chips are worth looking for too?
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

My goal is to ensure we have usable microscope shots of the dies (thanks to proper IC decap) as this is the first source of truth in the process of reverse engineering an IC.

HDL models are not always elaborated from analysis of the die (because you actually need to sacrifice a real chip for that) and might be the result of comprehensive tests and blind guesses (which I both admire), which can lead to bugs, timing and compatibility issues, etc.

On the contrary, die analysis helps to reveal all "secrets" of a chip (microcode, gate arrays, timing, logic, etc) and paves the way for the possible writing of HDL models that, once running in an FPGA (or CPLD), are indistinguishable from their original counterpart and can be used as drop-in replacement.

That's why I'm looking for existing pictures first (if any).
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by stormy »

Perhaps you should get in touch with the Suska guys as they are actively trying to map the Falcon chips I think:
http://experiment-s.de/en/progress/
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

Mail sent! Thanks for the suggestion.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by ijor »

AFAIK there are no Falcon die shots, neither any internal Atari documents are publicly available. Not schematics, neither netlists, neither any tape out files. Nada.
sigmate wrote: Mon May 09, 2022 2:33 pm HDL models are not always elaborated from analysis of the die (because you actually need to sacrifice a real chip for that) and might be the result of comprehensive tests and blind guesses (which I both admire), which can lead to bugs, timing and compatibility issues, etc.
Some HDL models are developed from die shots, some are not. Unfortunately it is not always documented by the HDL developer.
On the contrary, die analysis helps to reveal all "secrets" of a chip (microcode, gate arrays, timing, logic, etc) and paves the way for the possible writing of HDL models that, once running in an FPGA (or CPLD), are indistinguishable from their original counterpart and can be used as drop-in replacement.
Die shots and layout analysis might not always tell the whole story. Sometimes there are async delays or capacitance issues that are hard to get from die shots. I've been there. Ideally you should perform both die analysis and tests with a working chip.
stormy wrote: Mon May 09, 2022 2:39 pm Perhaps you should get in touch with the Suska guys as they are actively trying to map the Falcon chips I think:
http://experiment-s.de/en/progress/
Are they actually performing chip decap and layout analysis? As far as I know they never attempted an exact cycle accurate reproduction.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by stormy »

Perhaps you could contact best electronics or wizztronics in the USA, they have all the chips and I think Rustynutt mentioned they're awesome guys and would probably donate some chips for the recap efforts.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

@ijor: Wolfgang (Suska) will shed some light, hopefully. Thanks for the info. I agree with you: dies alone are not enough to aim for perfect modelling, yet they are an important piece of the puzzle to start with, I believe. The more resource there is, the better.

@stormy: I'm in touch with Best Electronics already, trying to place an "ordinary" order with all Falcon IC's they have. You're right, I could share the details of my intent, maybe they would help somehow.
Last edited by sigmate on Mon May 09, 2022 7:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by ijor »

sigmate wrote: Mon May 09, 2022 4:20 pm I agree with you: dies alone are not enough to aim for perfect modelling, yet they are an important piece of the puzzle to start with, I believe.
Absolutely.
I'm in touch with Best Electronics already, trying to put an "ordinary" order with all Falcon IC's they have. You're right, I could share the details of my intent, maybe they would help somehow.
Do you have the means to decap and take the die shots? These chips might have multiple metal layers, which would probably require delayering to get a good image of the bottom layers.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

I have no equipment and no skills whatsoever in that domain :D

I just took a shot at contacting a great guy who has BOTH, and is willing to help. He's done an incredible similar work for arcade machine chips and the Neo Geo (among a ton of other fantastic projects). So I'm no magician here I'm afraid, but still trying to make it happen for the community :)
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sety »

You'd probably want some fancy gear to capture something like Videl in a way that's usable, scanning electron microscope, that kind of thing. Professional decaps can be 10s of thousands of dollars. I think the best bet would be to convince a university student to do this as part of their thesis using university equipment. Then it wouldn't cost anything. ;)
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by ijor »

sigmate wrote: Mon May 09, 2022 6:37 pm I just took a shot at contacting a great guy who has BOTH, and is willing to help. He's done an incredible similar work for arcade machine chips and the Neo Geo (among a ton of other fantastic projects).
May I ask where the Neo Geo die shots are available? I can only find a die shot by Furrtek (he is the guy you mention?) at McMaster site (siliconpr0n.org). But that is a rather low resolution image, not really suitable for layout analysis.
sety wrote: Tue May 10, 2022 1:03 am You'd probably want some fancy gear to capture something like Videl in a way that's usable, scanning electron microscope, that kind of thing. Professional decaps can be 10s of thousands of dollars.
I doubt you need a SEM for these chips. They are not that modern that it would require such high magnification. And you might be surprised that some of these guys do have access to a SEM. I do agree that a professional decap might be nice. They don't cost nearly that figure. I've sent multiple chips to decap to professional labs.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sety »

ijor wrote: Tue May 10, 2022 2:19 am I do agree that a professional decap might be nice. They don't cost nearly that figure. I've sent multiple chips to decap to professional labs.
Oh cool. I don't remember where I got that figure. How much are we talking? Would it be worth doing some crowd funding? I'd be more than happy to donate to that.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

@ijor: yes, he’s the man. Although these shots on siliconpr0n.org may not reflect the equipment he’s using now. Not sure either if all his pictures are available at the moment: all of this is a very long ongoing work in progress, I’ve been following his work on social medias for a long time but I chose to leave them all. Anyway, he suggested to start with the VIDEL which seems to be a good candidate as he has experience with the manufacturing company and process, etc. We’re having a very nice detailed talk which I’d prefer not to echo before anything concrete can really happen (I hope that’s understandable). For now I’m waiting for Best Electronics’ feedback.

@sety: that’s exactly the spirit. I’m willing to spend time/energy/money to turn this initiative into reality, for the community, but if other people want to join the effort, that’d be fantastic. But I keep my dreams under control and try to be pragmatic only until real things happen 😊
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by ijor »

sigmate wrote: Tue May 10, 2022 7:57 am Although these shots on siliconpr0n.org may not reflect the equipment he’s using now. Not sure either if all his pictures are available at the moment
...
@sety: that’s exactly the spirit. I’m willing to spend time/energy/money to turn this initiative into reality, for the community, but if other people want to join the effort, that’d be fantastic.
I think that @sety was talking about crowd funding the costs of a decap at a professional lab. If you want other people to contribute to an individual person performing the job instead, then it might make sense to first see the quality of the die shots he can get. The license and copyright of the pictures is also important. I understand that McMaster retains the copyright and doesn't put them on public domain. Not so sure this is best for preservation purposes.

Otherwise, IMHO, it might be better to get the die shots professionally, and still let him perform the layout analysis if he agrees.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by derkom »

I'm certainly willing to contribute to a professional decap job, if someone arranges it, and if the resulting data are made available free for everyone to use.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

I got confirmation from Wolfgang (Suska) that he wasn't able to find die shots of the custom ICs either. I guess he'd be interested as well, then.

I started thinking about this project with the humble resources I have but if a group of people agree on the initiative and want to join forces to get professional decapping, that's even better, of course! And yes, a free license for the pictures is a fundamental requirement for me too. Like CC-SA if several people are involved, or even CC-0.

@ijor: do you have any lab to recommend?
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

Alright, my order from Best Electronics is completed. I'm now waiting for shipping. Here's what I'll receive:
  • C302096 IC CUSTOM AJAX FDD CNTRL 28PDP
  • C302799 IC YM3439-F 44P PQFP
  • C302824 IC STV8438 PQFP 44P
  • C302829 IC CUSTOM VIDEL 120P QFP
  • C302830 IC GAL16V8-12 DIP 20P ECLK
  • C302831 IC GAL16V8-12 DIP 20P UDS/LDS
  • C302832 IC GAL16V8-12 DIP 20P DSACK
  • C302833 IC GAL16V8-12 DIP 20P AS/BG
  • C302834 IC GAL20V8-12 DIP 24P DSP
  • C302897 IC 53C80 PLCC 44P
  • C302995 IC CUSTOM COMBEL 208P QFP
  • C302996 IC CUSTOM SDMA 144P QFP
  • C303001 IC 68LC030 132P QFP
  • C303002 IC DSP56K 80P QFP
  • C303003 IC STEREO AUDIO CODEC 44P PLCC
  • C398106 IC MC68901 PLCC 52P
  • C398109 IC Z85C30 10MHZ 44P PLCC
  • C398170 IC DS1287 DIP 24P .600
  • C398784 IC 68B50 ACIA 24P
All these in duplicate. I'd like to keep one set of components for my own Falcon's sustainability, but the second set is meant for decap and RE.

I also found a lab in France (where I live): https://www.texplained.com (see their "IC Inside Lab"). Trying to get in touch.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by alexh »

Has Best Electronics confirmed your order? I have seen posts in the past from people claiming that they ordered more than one of any Falcon IC from Best and their order was not fulfilled. The feedback was that they were not consumers but either traders or hoarders. I have not experienced this myself because I've never ordered Falcon IC from Best but it sounded plausible. It would be good to dispel this rumour.

Out of interest what was the price for a "full set" of Falcon IC?

Are you missing any chips here? Could you populate a blank Falcon030 motherboard if you had one?
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by sigmate »

I proceeded with payment so I hope everything is fine. As everything was done with mails, this sure invites one to give details on the reason of purchasing components, which I did (even though it's a little too late to mention the preservation project, but that's OK). I'll report when the package arrives.

Total was 986,40 USD (incl. shipping + insurance). So that's a little less than 500 USD for one set above. The only missing parts are the 32KX8 SRAMs for the DSP. But I believe that's not an issue. A quick search revealed these are easy to get (e.g. from Mouser). Also, there are two ACIAs (U24, U52) but that's also the cheapest item (4 USD). Every other chip is single, so yes, this should qualify for a complete set, hopefully.

As for populating a whole motherboard, I'm not sure: there are probably a lot of other obsolete discrete components that'd be needed but also might be easily replaced by newer equivalents. That's another story, and a lot of people here sure know better than me ;)
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by kolla »

68LC030? Never ever heard of before.
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Re: Falcon custom IC die shots

Post by czietz »

kolla wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 3:06 am 68LC030? Never ever heard of before.
Best would have taken that from Atari's service manual or schematics for the Falcon, where the CPU is indeed designated as 68LC030. The actual chip inside the Falcon has a Motorola custom part number (SC[...]).
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