The 8721 PLA, or programmable logic array, was one of the chips that had to be invented to make the Commodore 128, the last of the 8-bit computers that formed the leading edge of the early PC revolution, a reality. [Johan Grip] got a hold of one of these chips and decided to reverse engineer it, to see what the C-128 designers had in mind back in mid-1980s.
PLAs were the FPGAs of the day, with arrays of AND gates and OR gates that could be connected into complex logic circuits. [Johan]’s investigation started with liberating the 8721 die from its package, for which he used the quick and easy method favored by [CuriousMarc]. The next step was tooling up, as the microscope he was using proved insufficient to the task. Even with a better microscope in hand, [Johan] still found the need to tweak it, adding one of the new high-quality Raspberry Pi cameras and motorizing the stage with some stepper motors and a CNC controller board.
With optics sorted out, he was able to identify all the pads on the die and to find the main gate array areas. Zooming in a little further, he was able to see the connections between the matrices of the AND and OR gates, which makes decoding the logic a relative snap, although the presence of what appears to be an output block with latching functions confounds this somewhat.
The end result is a full Verilog HDL file that reflects the original 8721 logic, which we think is a pretty neat trick. And we’d love it if our own [Bil Herd] could chime in on this; after all, he literally designed the C-128.