Chuck Peddle, designer of Apple II microprocessor, dead at 82

Chuck Peddle, the engineer who spearheaded the creation of the microprocessor that powered the Apple II and many other early personal computers, passed away of pancreatic cancer earlier this month, at age 82. His story is recounted in an obituary in The New York Times.

Chuck Peddle worked for Motorola Corp. in the 1970s when he came up with the idea for a lower-cost chip. The company wasn’t interested in the design and told him to abandon the project, so he took it to a competitor – MOS Technology – and brought seven other engineers from Motorola with him.

The design ultimately because the MOS 6502, an 8-bit processor that debuted in 1975. That chip, available for a fraction of what other similar processors cost, enabled Apple to build the Apple I and Apple II. Commodore used it in the PET and Commodore 64. Atari used it to create the 2600 video game console and its Atari 400 and 800 computers, and it served as the brain for the BBC Micro, as well. Nintendo even used a variant to power the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) game console.

Chuck Peddle was born in Maine and moved to California after graduating the University of Maine with an engineering degree. There he worked for General Electric and later worked for Motorola on the 6800 chip, which Motorola sold at the time for $360 each. That’s when he came up with the idea for a simplified processor design that could be produced at a much lower cost, but Motorola saw the chip design as incongruent with its marketing strategy and told him to stop working on it.

Peddle knew the nascent microprocessor market was ripe for change, however. He took his idea to MOS Technology, and by late 1975 the 6502 processor was available for sale for $20 each – a mere fraction of what the 6800 cost. MOS’s disruption forced Motorola and Intel to adjust their prices, leading to the PC boom and consumer technology boom of the early 1980s.

MOS would ultimately be acquired by Commodore, which used the 6502 chip in its PET personal computer and other PCs it would produce later, including the legendary Commodore 64. Peddle went on to found several other computer companies before retiring.

The Apple II and Commodore 64 defined a generation of computers, and the Atari 2600 and NES defined multiple generations of video game consoles. Peddle’s foundational contribution to modern computing and consumer technology was certainly monumental.

Do you have any experience with MOS 6502-based hardware? Sound off in the comments – let me hear from you.