One of my favorite projects at the 2016 Maker Faire Bay Area was Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories’ insane MOnSter 6502 board. The MOnSter 6502 is a “dis-integrated” circuit project, a transistor-scale replica of the classic MOS 6502 microprocessor. This year, the MOnSter is back, now with more MOnStrousness. It is now a fully working board capable of running programs in assembly, BASIC, and Forth. Another 100 LEDs have also been added to the board to further visually illustrate the status of the board’s operations.
For those who aren’t up on their computer chip history, the MOS 6502 holds a significant place there. It was the processor at the heart of the Apple ][, Commodore PET, Atari 400 and 800 game consoles, the BBC Micro, even Tamagotchi digital pets! Variations of it were also found in the Commodore 64, Atari 2600, and the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
This thing really is a monster, with over 4,000 individual components installed on a single circuit board, including over 3,000 transistors that correspond 1:1 to the transistors found on the original microprocessor. The board is 7,000 times the size of the original 6502 chip! Here, EMS Labs describes the current status of the project:
What is the current status of the project?
We fabricated the first full-scale prototype and publicly demonstrated it (still in progress) at the the 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire. Since then we have brought it up to the stage of successfully running programs in assembly, BASIC, and Forth.
Since the 6502 is just a microprocessor (CPU), about half of our work on the project (and most of our work over the past year) has actually been building up the capabilities around this processor — adding interfaces for a keyboard, monitor, and programming — so that you can actually use it. In the process of doing so, we have built up a single-board computer (a tiny motherboard) that uses the 6502 as its CPU, such that you can either use a socketed (vintage) 6502 IC, or the MOnSter 6502 through a cable.
We are currently working on the second prototype of the MOnSter 6502. (We plan to exhibit this new version, in progress, at the 2017 Bay Area Maker Faire, May 19-21 in San Mateo CA.) This new version fixes a few issues that we encountered when bringing up the first version (resulting in a few patch wires) but also adds over 100 additional LEDs, including one for every instruction on the 6502’s decode ROM.