Extremely Cool

Here’s a 22-year-old who builds microchips in his parents’ garage.  His most recent production contains 1200 transistors, he made a 6-transistor version when he was a senior in high school.  The famous Intel 4004 microprocessor contained 2300 transistors, and he’s hoping to get to that level soon.

The article also mentions Jeri Ellsworth…in 2002, she created a system to emulate the old Commodore 64 computer, and also other systems of that period, so that she and other people could play old games that had been developed for them.  This led to Mammoth Toys hiring her to create a computer on a chip for the C64 Direct-to-TV joystick…it sold over half a million units.

Haven’t watched it yet, but she describes her own adventures in making microchips at home in the YouTube series Cooking with Jeri.

Great to see this kind of spirit!




6 thoughts on “Extremely Cool”

  1. David — Wired wants a subscription to read the article, unfortunately. Could you please share an outline of how someone builds a microchip in his garage. The standard story is that building chips requires extreme-level clean rooms, ultra-pure water, serious chemicals — and huge investments. Someone building a chip in his garage is presumably finding ways to mitigate those kinds of requirements.

    With Biden* having cut off US chip expertise to Huawei and now to Russia, that young man could find himself both popular & wealthy if he is prepared to travel. The women are prettier in Russia, but the food is better in China. Choices! Choices!

  2. Huh…I don’t have a subscription and it let me in for some reason…maybe it has to do with browser in use? (I’m using Brave)

    He knew he couldn’t match the super-cleanrooms, etc of modern chip factories..and given a lot less transistors on a chip, the requirements were surely less-demanding, “so he read patents and textbooks from the 1960s and ’70s, when engineers at pioneering companies like Fairchild Semiconductor made chips at ordinary workbenches. “They describe methods using X-Acto blades and tape and a few beakers, not ‘We have this $10 million machine the size of a room,’” Zeloof says.”

    He found some old chip equipment at auction sites, and got a (broken) electron microscope–original cost $250K–for $1000; he was able to repair it.

    Photolithography equipment was out of sight, pricewise, so “Zeloof made his own by bolting a modified conference room projector bought on Amazon onto a microscope. It projects his designs at tiny scale onto silicon wafers that Zeloof coats in material sensitive to ultraviolet light.”


    I haven’t watch Jeri Ellsworth’s videos yet, but they probably give a good sense of how chip-making on a small-cheap scale can be done, albeit I don’t think at the 1000+ transistor level.

  3. Ellsworth went to engineering school but quite after a year due to ‘cultural mismatch’…she says that the professors didn’t like having their answers questioned. Hopefully, she’s making more money than professors of this sort, I’m pretty sure she’s having more fun.

  4. I didn’t have any trouble with the Wired article, (you might try either clearing your browser cache or using a private window.) and I watched the Ellsworth videos. I was a little disappointed to see they were from ten years ago and that she moved on to other things after only a half dozen or so. Still very interesting, who knew you could get wafers off Ebay.

    At least they were beyond middle school to avoid casting quite so stark a contrast with my own wasted youth, where my tinkering was confined to engines and such.

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