The Pokey Chip Story

A long time ago, at a company far far away… The Atari Years continue.

Pokey Anecdote Number Two — Doug Neubauer, June 25, 2009

Introduction

Like many folks, it seems like most of the time I have no idea where I’m going. And I figure myself lucky if half the time I can remember where I’ve been, but thanks to Wikipedia I remember exactly where I was on the afternoon of September 10, 1978… I was in Chip Designer Hell…

Pokey Anecdote Number Two

On that date layout designer Steve Stone and I were doing one of the horrible tasks they don’t tell you about when you think you want to be a chip designer. We were painstakingly checking the hundreds of thousands of transistors, interconnects, contacts and vias in the Pokey layout completely by hand.

Of course today, thanks to modern layout tools, this process is totally automated. Today all you have to do is design your chip in some high level programming language such as Verilog, press a few buttons and voila! you’ve got a chip.

But back in the bad old days it was all done by hand.

Pokey The Pokey chip (right).

The process went something like this:

  • Steve: (Looking at the Layout) – “I have a trace running from the output of a nand gate to the input of a 3-input nor gate.”
  • Me: (Looking at the Schematic) – “The trace is D3”, and with a yellow highlighter, I mark the trace and the nand gate.
  • Steve: “The trace from the output of the nor gate goes to a 2-input nand gate”.
  • Me: “That trace is Audio4”.

And so on, all day long.

But why would Wikipedia know anything about us working on the Pokey Chip you ask? Well, we had the radio on and it was Sunday afternoon and there was a football game…

Oakland Raiders LogoSan Diego Chargers LogoIt was the second week of the NFL season, and the San Diego Chargers were playing the Oakland Raiders.

Now as it turns out, Steve hated the Raiders, for reasons I can no longer remember, but at any rate he was rooting for the Chargers.

I on the other hand, liked the Raiders. Being from Oregon, the Raiders were pretty much the only game in town. (The Seahawks weren’t in existence yet and a guy named Joe Montana was still in college.)

So there we were working away, with Steve muttering about how the Raiders always won and dirty tricks and so on.

This game however looked to be different.

The Raiders were down 20 to 14 with only 10 seconds left in the game. The Raiders did have the ball on the Chargers 14-yard line, but time was running out. Raiders quarterback Ken Stabler took the final snap and then he fumbled the ball. It was over, but wait…

…Stabler fumbled the ball, and it rolled towards the San Diego goal line. Running back Pete Banaszak tried to recover the ball on the 12-yard line, but could not keep his footing, and bobbled the ball even closer to the end zone. Raiders tight end Dave Casper was the next player to reach the ball but he also could not get a handle on it. He batted and kicked the ball into the end zone, where he finally fell on it for the game-tying touchdown as time ran out. With the ensuing extra point by placekicker Errol Mann, the Raiders won, 21-20.

It was to be known in latter years as the Holy Roller. The game is listed in Wikipedia, and thanks to the internet you can even listen to the same radio broadcast we heard way back in ’78.

Considering the historic nature of the “Holy Roller”, Steve took it reasonably well, we continued on with the terrible task at hand and the Pokey chip took it’s place in history too.

Epilogue

One thing that’s got me wondering though, did the name Oakland “Raiders” have anything to do with the naming of “Star Raiders”?

I don’t know, who can remember that far back…

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