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"Our 8-and 8/16-bit technology is beneficial to a myriad of connected applications for the IoT space"
WDC today is the home to the revolutionary 65xx brand CMOS microprocessors, microcomputers and microcontrollers, and a pioneer in the design and licensing of microprocessor technology IP cores.
The Incredible Journey
“IP is the backbone of WDC’s technology,” asserts Mensch. “Since 1981 we’ve been providing microprocessor IP to companies around the world.” Holding 22 patents for microprocessors, microprocessor peripheral devices and microprocessor systems, WDC’s microprocessors—especially the 65C02 and 65816—are widely utilized in a variety of applications. Mensch is also credited with the creation of CMOS versions of the popular IO chips such as the ACIA, PIA, and VIA that have been continually sourced for over 33 years. WDC continues to sell these chips through Mouser, TRG and other resellers worldwide.
Just like the suit makes the man, the success of WDC reflects Mensch’s uphill battle and expedition to the complex world of microprocessors. The journey took off at Motorola where Mensch was the project and semiconductor engineer of the design of PIA (Peripheral Interface Adapter), I/O buffers, clock generators, standard cell library, process control monitor and Motorola 6800 8-bit microprocessor. The Motorola 6800 was the second 8-bit microprocessor Mensch completed with Rod Orgill and others, the first became the little known Mostek 5065. Although the 5065 was designed at Motorola as custom microprocessor for Olivetti of Italy, Mostek supplied the 5065 to the commercial market for microprocessors.
Motorola planned to relocate Mensch and the team to Austin and had no interest in their low-cost microprocessor proposal. The refusal from Motorola’s management turned out to be a blessing in disguise and a wonderful opportunity for Mensch, the lead semiconductor engineer of the team that arrived at MOS Technology in August of 1974 to design what became the low cost 6502 microprocessor.
After the development of the 6502 at MOS Technology, Mensch moved on to create The Western Design Center, Inc. (WDC) located in Mesa Arizona. At WDC, Mensch first designed a single chip 4/64-bit RISC microcomputer family for calculators with keypad and LCD interface.
My philosophy from day one has been ‘when my licensees succeed, we succeed
The NMOS 6502 initiative had achieved an impressive outcome which outperformed 8-bit competitors, the Motorola’s 6800 and Intel 8080, inspiring Mensch to develop the CMOS 65C02 and 65816 in 1981-1984.
Today, the CMOS 65xx series continues to carry a lot of clout, grabbing the interest of educational systems, along with Acorn, Apple, Atari, Nintendo, and Commodore PC and several video game systems. Continuing to be a popular CPU in embedded systems, including for example low cost games, medical equipment and car dashboard controllers.
Mensch has been recognized as a pioneer of microprocessor design and most recently has been recognized as a Top Embedded Innovator in 2017.
Creating the Difference
WDC’s microprocessors are the best combination of reduced instruction set (RISC) and complex instruction set (CISC) architectures. What sets the 65xx apart from all other architectures is what Mensch refers to as an Addressable Register Architecture (ARA). He further explains that a RISC is defined to have an optimizing C compiler to complement the architecture. Having on-chip memory running at GHz speeds in ASICs, could do things with the 65xx bus at speeds far exceeding the requirements of many applications especially for “edge computing.”
WDC has licensed the 8-and 8/16-bit microprocessors to many cutting edge companies who over the years have created or led a variety of markets. To name a few GTE, Rockwell, MOS Technology, and Synertek, are all original NMOS licensees. With WDC’s IP core model, semiconductor engineers can express their own creative ideas in the world of smart devices. The technology is deployed in a myriad of applications ranging from industrial, consumer and personal computers to advanced life-support medical devices. Mensch calls the life support devices “very personal computers.”
An engagement with WDC typically begins with WDC providing proven designs in either GDSII manually optimized format in standard chip form or in cycle compatible Verilog RTL format in FPGA VASIC™ form. The designs in IC form for evaluation and design verification have been proven for over three decades. In addition to IC/Chip Developer-Kits (discrete devices), the firm also provides IP/Core Developer-kits along with 65xx brand processor family WDC tools that comprise of free Assembly and C language software development tools. These tools support ROMable embedded code and in-circuit debug features for developing PCB, ASIC, and FPGA products. These kits enable users to get started with application development and familiarization with the reconfigurable and expandable 65xx programmable Verilog RTL technology family.
At WDC, Mensch solely focused on extending and expanding the 6502 architecture—65C02-compatible 8/16-bit microprocessor 65C816) with a 16Mbyte linear address space. Sixteen megabytes is more than adequate for “Edge computing” applications.
Besides being the creator of one of the most popular microprocessor architectures of all time, WDC also takes pride in sparking innovation and inspiration for the engineers in Acorn to create the wildly popular ARMxx series of microprocessors. Over the years, the challenges for the IP design have been fueled by the influx of Advanced RISC Machine (ARM) microprocessor technology. In the fall of 1983 the original Acorn engineers Steve Furber and Sophie Wilson, visited WDC then went on to create the ARMxx series of microprocessors.
ARM stands as a testament to WDC’s best-in-class microprocessor IP offering that has inspired several companies worldwide. “Since the beginning, licensing for mutual benefit is the key to WDC’s success. My philosophy from day one has been ‘when my licensees succeed, we succeed,’” says Mensch. Today, WDC’s IP licensing abides by this philosophy and the model is flexible and customizable to support both the application and the licensees’ best interests.
Exploring IoT, the Game Changer
With experience and history of success no other company in the industry can claim, WDC is prepared to expand widely into the realm of Internet of Things (IoT) Edge computing. With billions of smart devices—from miniscule chips to mammoth machines—partaking in the wave of IoT, Mensch identifies “an awesome opportunity for WDC,” today to leverage the potential of this technology. “Our 8-and 8/16-bit technology is beneficial to a myriad of connected applications for the IoT space—especially ‘Edge computing,’ as it offers the advantages of CMOS technology, including increased noise immunity, higher reliability, and reduced power requirements,” says Mensch.
Mensch is in the ‘pursuit of understanding’ the concept of “Embedded Intelligence (EI),” wherein he believes that man-made embedded intelligence resembles naturally occurring embedded intelligence. Putting this into perspective, Mensch provides the example of IBM’s Watson that demonstrates a high level of Artificial Intelligence (AI) when embedded in a cloud. “WDC would like to feed the cloud with more information about the world we live in with application specific embedded AI,” he adds. While working on these advancements on one side, the company also takes a unique approach in empowering the users in deeper learning, understanding of computer science and application of computers including engagement with WDC’s 65C02 and 65816 microprocessor technologies.
Per Mensch, 2017 looks like a break out year with connected IoT solutions. WDC plans to be at the center of the action with world-class partnerships to deliver a robust worldwide solution platform Mensch has named “VASIC-to- ASIC™.” The company looks forward to evaluating mutually beneficial opportunities for more partnerships. WDC’s efforts support the technology in “Futureproof” FPGAs with some designs resulting in ASICs. WDC’s IP solutions are planned for manufacturing far into the future.