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 Post subject: Cost of decapping chips
PostPosted: Wed Nov 08, 2017 11:27 am 

Joined: Sun Sep 19, 2004 11:12 pm
Posts: 21015
Location: NE Indiana, USA (NTSC)
How much would it cost to get eight integrated circuits from the early 1990s decapped, delayered, photographed, and traced?

There's demand for a white-box clone of the Super NES. That'd require micrographs of these chips:

  • S-CPU revision 2
  • S-CPU revision 1
  • S-PPU1
  • S-PPU2
  • S-SMP
  • S-DSP
  • Super FX GSU2
  • SA-1

Any applicable patents and mopyrights have expired, as a patent on the functionality lasts 20 years, and the mopyright on the topography only 10. The resulting polygons would form a netlist useful for simulation or for synthesis on an FPGA.

But the Visual 6502 project appears to have stalled; its blog has two new posts in the past four and a half years. So the community might have to seek other means of getting the job done. What other firms do this sort of thing? And how much does it cost per chip, in case someone wants to crowdfund this? I'd back it.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 5:41 pm 

Joined: Tue May 28, 2013 5:49 am
Posts: 1042
Location: Hokkaido, Japan
An open-source white-box clone would be great for documenting this piece of video game history before it's lost to time. I'd probably also back it if it was crowdfunded.

I think S-PPU2 has existing versions between 1 and 3 at least, so we might ideally want them all decapped as well at some point. And then we have the 1CHIP where changes also seems to be unknown.

PostPosted: Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:23 am 

Joined: Tue Feb 07, 2017 2:03 am
Posts: 644
Hard to say, depends on how many layers etc and what the layers are. Taking all the photos takes time as well. Probably better asking he does a lot of decaps and reverses chips, and seems to have the tool on hand. He should be able to get a good idea of at least getting the photos.

PostPosted: Sun Nov 26, 2017 8:14 pm 

Joined: Sat Dec 27, 2014 10:05 am
Posts: 6
This is something I've come to care about in the past year as I've gotten more interested in hardware.

I did some research into the Dr Decapitator saga previously and found some Reddit threads about it. Here, byuu thinks this kind of work runs in the 5-figures and up: ... eir_chips/

I raised $2500 and paid the guy to decap and dump ten chips for us. He dumped eight of them (DSP-1/1A/1B/2/3/4+ST-010/011), and had started work on the other two (Cx4 + ST-018) and had already provided die scans. He probably put in around 300 hours of work for us on equipment that costs millions of dollars (and no, I am definitely not exaggerating here.)
We ended up finding software ways to extract the last two, so we decided to end the decapping efforts there. I could not possibly be more happy with the services he rendered. We have since been able to emulate all of these chips' original microprocessors, achieving near-perfect emulation of all of them. I was able to replace about 800KB of buggy HLE code with around 60KB of LLE code, and three games that were never playable before now are.
It's my understanding that he also successfully dumped a few chips for MAME during this time as well.
Yes, it sucks that he got out of the game and moved on to something new, but he was charging us $250 to do work that would cost $50,000 or more per chip at the very cheapest from anywhere else. Again, not exaggerating. Many of us have approached various companies trying to find the best price on extracting the DSP-1 ROM data, and $50,000 was the best we could find.

(emphasis mine)

I think there's dispute of that figure somewhere in the thread or a related post I read, but it's Reddit, so it's hard to say whether that's a valid counter-opinion or just shit-posting :lol:

I have no interest in working with dangerous acids, nor do I have access to expensive microscopes, but I wouldn't mind assisting with the tedious work of tracing the circuit in polygons (assuming automated tools still can't do this accurately)

PostPosted: Mon Nov 27, 2017 9:25 am 

Joined: Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:49 am
Posts: 268
Location: Seattle
Wasn't Dr. Decapitator doing something slightly different than what tepples is asking? He had to (manually?) read off firmware bit-by-bit, whereas tepples "just" wants die shots and circuit traces. Not sure if that'd make a big difference, pricewise.

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