Motorola 68000

Motorola 68000 architecture
Introduced1979; 40 years ago (1979)
BranchingCondition code
General purpose8× 32-bit + 7 address registers also usable for most operations + stack pointer
Motorola 68000 CPU
Data width16
Address width24

The Motorola 68000 ("'sixty-eight-thousand'"; also called the m68k or Motorola 68k, "sixty-eight-kay") is a 16/32-bit CISC microprocessor, introduced in 1979 by Motorola Semiconductor Products Sector.

The design implements a 32-bit instruction set, with 32-bit registers and a 32-bit internal data bus. The address bus is 24-bits and does not use memory segmentation, which made it popular with programmers. Internally, it uses a 16-bit data ALU and two additional 16-bit ALUs used mostly for addresses,[1] and has a 16-bit external data bus.[2] For this reason, Motorola referred to it as a 16/32-bit processor.

As one of the first widely available processors with a 32-bit instruction set, and running at relatively high speeds for the era, the 68k was a popular design through the 1980s. It was widely used in a new generation of personal computers with graphical user interfaces, including the Apple Macintosh, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and many others. It competed primarily against the Intel 8088, found in the IBM PC, which it easily outperformed. The 68k and 8088 pushed other designs, like the Zilog Z8000 and National Semiconductor 32016, into niche markets, and made Motorola a major player in the CPU space.

The 68k was soon expanded with additional family members, implementing full 32-bit ALUs as part of the growing Motorola 68000 series. The original 68k is generally software forward-compatible with the rest of the line despite being limited to a 16-bit wide external bus.[1] After 40 years in production, the 68000 architecture is still in use.

Pre-release XC68000 chip manufactured in 1979
Die of Motorola 68000


Motorola MC68000 (CLCC package)
Motorola MC68000 (PLCC package)

Motorola's first widely-produced CPU was the Motorola 6800. Although a capable design, it was eclipsed by more powerful designs like the Zilog Z80 and less powerful but faster designs like the MOS 6502. As the sales prospects of the 6800 dimmed, Motorola began a totally new design to replace it. This became the Motorola Advanced Computer System on Silicon project, or MACSS, begun in 1976.

The MACSS aimed to develop an entirely new architecture without backward compatibility with the 6800. It ultimately did retain a bus protocol compatibility mode for existing 6800 peripheral devices, and a version with an 8-bit data bus was produced. However, the designers mainly focused on the future, or forward compatibility, which gave the 68000 design a head start against later 32-bit instruction set architectures. For instance, the CPU registers are 32 bits wide, though few self-contained structures in the processor itself operate on 32 bits at a time. The MACSS team drew heavily on the influence of minicomputer processor design, such as the PDP-11 and VAX systems, which were similarly microcode-based.

In the mid 1970s, the 8-bit microprocessor manufacturers raced to introduce the 16-bit generation. National Semiconductor had been first with its IMP-16 and PACE processors in 1973–1975, but these had issues with speed. Intel had worked on their advanced 16/32-bit Intel iAPX 432 (alias 8800) since 1975 and their Intel 8086 since 1976 (it was introduced in 1978 but became really widespread in the form of the almost identical 8088 in the IBM PC a few years later). Arriving late to the 16-bit arena afforded the new processor more transistors (roughly 40,000[citation needed] active versus 20,000 active in the 8086), 32-bit macroinstructions, and acclaimed general ease of use.

The original MC68000 was fabricated using an HMOS process with a 3.5 µm feature size. Formally introduced in September 1979,[3] initial samples were released in February 1980, with production chips available over the counter in November.[4] Initial speed grades were 4, 6, and 8 MHz. 10 MHz chips became available during 1981[citation needed], and 12.5 MHz chips by June 1982.[4] The 16.67 MHz "12F" version of the MC68000, the fastest version of the original HMOS chip, was not produced until the late 1980s.

The 68k instruction set was particularly well suited to implement Unix,[5] and the 68000 and its successors became the dominant CPUs for Unix-based workstations including Sun workstations and Apollo/Domain workstations. The 68000 also was used for mass-market computers such as the Apple Lisa, Macintosh, Amiga, and Atari ST. The 68000 was used in Microsoft Xenix systems, as well as an early NetWare Unix-based Server. The 68000 was used in the first generation of desktop laser printers, including the original Apple Inc. LaserWriter and the HP LaserJet.

In 1982, the 68000 received a minor update to its ISA to support virtual memory and to conform to the Popek and Goldberg virtualization requirements. The updated chip was called the 68010. It also added a new "loop mode" which sped up small loops, and increased overall performance by about 10% at the same clock speeds. A further extended version, which exposed 31 bits of the address bus, was also produced in small quantities as the 68012.

To support lower-cost systems and control applications with smaller memory sizes, Motorola introduced the 8-bit compatible MC68008, also in 1982. This was a 68000 with an 8-bit data bus and a smaller (20-bit) address bus. After 1982, Motorola devoted more attention to the 68020 and 88000 projects.


Hitachi HD68000
Thomson TS68000

Several other companies were second-source manufacturers of the HMOS 68000. These included Hitachi (HD68000), who shrank the feature size to 2.7 µm for their 12.5 MHz version,[4] Mostek (MK68000), Rockwell (R68000), Signetics (SCN68000), Thomson/SGS-Thomson (originally EF68000 and later TS68000), and Toshiba (TMP68000). Toshiba was also a second-source maker of the CMOS 68HC000 (TMP68HC000).

Encrypted variants of the 68000, being the Hitachi FD1089 and FD1094, store decryption keys for opcodes and opcode data in battery-backed memory and were used in certain Sega arcade systems including System 16 to prevent piracy and illegal bootleg games.[6]

CMOS versions

Motorola MC68HC000LC8

The 68HC000, the first CMOS version of the 68000, was designed by Hitachi and jointly introduced in 1985.[7] Motorola's version was called the MC68HC000, while Hitachi's was the HD68HC000. The 68HC000 was eventually offered at speeds of 8–20 MHz. Except for using CMOS circuitry, it behaved identically to the HMOS MC68000, but the change to CMOS greatly reduced its power consumption. The original HMOS MC68000 consumed around 1.35 watts at an ambient temperature of 25 °C, regardless of clock speed, while the MC68HC000 consumed only 0.13 watts at 8 MHz and 0.38 watts at 20 MHz. (Unlike CMOS circuits, HMOS still draws power when idle, so power consumption varies little with clock rate.) Apple selected the 68HC000 for use in the Macintosh Portable.

Motorola replaced the MC68008 with the MC68HC001 in 1990.[8] This chip resembled the 68HC000 in most respects, but its data bus could operate in either 16-bit or 8-bit mode, depending on the value of an input pin at reset. Thus, like the 68008, it could be used in systems with cheaper 8-bit memories.

The later evolution of the 68000 focused on more modern embedded control applications and on-chip peripherals. The 68EC000 chip and SCM68000 core expanded the address bus to 32 bits, removed the M6800 peripheral bus, and excluded the MOVE from SR instruction from user mode programs.[9] In 1996, Motorola updated the standalone core with fully static circuitry, drawing only 2 µW in low-power mode, calling it the MC68SEC000.[10]

Motorola ceased production of the HMOS MC68000 and MC68008 in 1996,[11] but its spin-off company Freescale Semiconductor was still producing the MC68HC000, MC68HC001, MC68EC000, and MC68SEC000, as well as the MC68302 and MC68306 microcontrollers and later versions of the DragonBall family. The 68000's architectural descendants, the 680x0, CPU32, and Coldfire families, were also still in production. More recently, with the Sendai fab closure, all 68HC000, 68020, 68030, and 68882 parts have been discontinued, leaving only the 68SEC000 in production.[12]

As a microcontroller core

After being succeeded by "true" 32-bit microprocessors, the 68000 was used as the core of many microcontrollers. In 1989, Motorola introduced the MC68302 communications processor.[13]

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