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Atari Chips Reborn?

posted Dec 17, 2009, 1:59 PM by Troy Cheek   [ updated Dec 17, 2009, 2:01 PM ]
From AtariAge again:  Curt Vendel of the Atari History Museum and Legacy Engineering has been hard at work reconstructing several proprietary Atari chips, including the GTIA (used in the Atari 8-bit computers and 5200), the MARIA (used in the Atari 7800), and the TIA (from the Atari 2600). There is great potential for creating new Atari machines in a variety of form factors, based on Curt's work. When asked about these new developments, Curt had the following to say:

"Many in the Atari community, myself included, have cobbled together one thing or another to keep our systems alive. A dream for everyone has always been the possibility of perhaps a new Atari 8-bit system. As many know, I have most of what was Atari's mainframe archives, among them are what are called "Tape Outs"--these are 9 track reel to reel tapes that in the 1980s and early 1990s would be sent from a chip design firm--such as Atari's "ASG" (Atari Semiconductor Group) to a place called a "FAB" which is a chip fabricator. The final layered data files are in a streaming binary format called "GDS" and this data instructs the FAB on how to process and create actual IC chips.

I've been spending a great deal of time as of late recovering the data from the tapes, having to massage them to process and create a viable GDS and/or DB file so that the actual chips could be plotted and tested with some software that I use. The effort has been successful for the most part and several of Atari's proprietary chips are coming back to life in simulation. Now we need to see if they can be recreated in a FAB at a reasonable cost. What is the potential of this? Doing the chips in smaller SMT packaging, and potentially bringing back to life some of the later CMOS designs of combo chips which could lead to a SoC - System on a Chip. This is all very early work, but the future just got a little brighter in terms of preserving and continuing the legacy of Atari's custom IC chips."

You can read all about Curt's hard work over in our Atari 8-bit Computers Forum. In addition to technical discussion (which includes Curt Vendel), you'll find various high-resolution images of the reconstructed chips.