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1

An engineer who worked at National Semiconductor back when reverse engineering was legal described a conference room wall covered with a patchwork of photos representing an entire Intel microprocessor. They visually extracted the circuit from the image.


2

This was part of how AMD developed their first 80386. AMD had long been a second source for Intel x86 chips. Originally the agreement was that Intel would provide details to AMD, who would build their own chips. As time went on Intel wanted to end this agreement or at least prevent AMD from making use of it. This led to numerous court battles. AMD expected ...


-4

From the '80s, chips increasingly used standard cell components. So if you can recognise a standard cell, you don't need to recognise each transistor in it. Companies like Phillips and ES2 provided standard cell libraries. Built in self test became popular at that time. It's a technique for piping a known state into and out of the chip, running it for some ...


24

It's worth noting what you can see, and what you can't. First, you cannot see any feature that is much smaller than the wavelength of light that you are using. In 1995 I designed a chip for my Master's thesis in 1.2um technology; features are clearly visible under microscope. Features in 0.5um technology might be visible, but by 1997 0.25um technology was ...


11

Yes, reverse engineering of chips with a conventional optical microscope in the late 1970s and early 1980s is generally possible. Although of course, there are limitations. Firstly, the number of wiring layers is important - already two layers of metallization and two layers of polysilicon make reverse circuit design much more difficult. Secondly, chip traps ...


42

(More of a memory dump related to Stephens Answer) At a time when ICs were of low complexity (compared today), could you actually see each transistor on the silicon and reverse engineer it? Yes. Just try it yourself. Take some 1980s TTL, like a 7400 - I'm sure you find some on old boards - and crack it open. Usually it separates well from the plastic. Put ...


63

With a powerful enough microscope, you can see each transistor. Reverse-engineering silicon then boils down to carefully removing each layer (ceramic or plastic to expose the chip, then each metal layer), taking detailed photographs, and figuring out what each part does. For CPUs of the era, this was already possible in the early eighties. Ken Shiriff does ...


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