Some of the more popular peripheral cards with ASICs from Cloners of the Apple II's
With the popularity of the Apple II continuing to grow towards the late 70's, the machine soon attracted the attention of several companies who felt they too should share in the profits of such a popular design. With the brave move by Franklin Computer in 1980 to faithfully copy the Apple II for it's own personal computer, the ACE 100, it wasn't long before Apple Clones of all walks of life began to appear on the market.
Apple's initial response to the Franklin clone was one of disappointment, and yet tolerance. Wozniak himself approached the Franklin reps at one particular trade show to query them on how they could dare do what they had done. Although Franklin did put some effort into reverse engineering Apple's designs so as not to be a blatant copy, Apple did consider their products to be copies. When Unitron arrived on the scene, no effort to reverse engineer was applied to their products at all. They were simply blatant identical copies of Apple products - en masse. After an initial belief that these clones would quickly go out of date, Apple finally felt the damage of the clones and began to take action to shut them down. A task that would last many years and involve a comprehensive re-education of the legal system regarding technology, and more importantly what exactly non-tangible firmware was, and what constituted a copy. With the increasing popularity of Apple systems, and the incredible financial strength it was creating for Apple, law makers and officials began to take Apple seriously on their copyright and counterfeit claims. The American legal system finally understood the severity of the damage being caused to Apple, and took unprecedented steps in helping to protect the company from cloners and other copyright infringers. Lawsuits filed against Franklin in 1983 proceeded and were successful. In 1988, the United States threatened importation bans and penalty taxes on goods from Brazil, if Unitron failed to disassemble their Government-backed cloning industry, who by this stage were producing copies of anything Apple. In 1989, under constant United States pressure, Geraldos Azevedo Antunes's Unitron ceased business in Brazil at the hands of its own government (Secretaria Especial de Informatica).
Lessons for the other cloners:
With the crackdown on cloners now gaining momentum, cloners were now realising a potential fate. However at this stage, cloners in other countries were out of direct reach of the US legal system, therefore buying them some time. With cloners now feeling the dire need to protect themselves, they had to rethink their Apple cloning strategies. Enter the ASIC.
A select few smart cloners now looked to the expensive yet secure ASIC to hide their copied Apple products. A place with high security, and more importantly, high ambiguity regarding how a particular task is done. It was inside ASICs and PROMs that cloners felt they could change and hide their designs enough to make them considered to be "different" to Apple's original designs. Companies such as Vtech invested heavily in ASIC technology to deliver their Apple clones to market without attracting the attention of a law suit. Vtech, one of the few cloners who survived thanks to their ASICs, continued selling Apple clones without a single law suit ever being successful. In 1982 Apple reached the shores of Taiwan, a major stronghold for the Apple cloning industry, engaging the law firm Lee and Li to pursue cloners. Like Brazil, Apple convinced the US Government to ban all imports of computing equipment from Taiwan into the United States. The first of the big hauls was in 1983 which resulted in an entire shipment of Microprofessor II's (MPFII) being confiscated by San Francisco customs. This had a major impact on the Taiwanese company that manufactured them (however they would manage to survive to evolve into the firm ACER). By 1984 the Taiwanese Apple II cloning industry had been slashed, and in Hong Kong, a mass transition to clone the unprotected IBM PC had begun.
Several of the following clone logic boards and peripheral cards have their data included in some of the soft Apple designs, indicated by the "Included" logo next to them. The cards are detailed here to show what they previously consisted of during the Apple II era, before being converted into a few lines of code by the modern FPGA engineer. The reason for using clone products is the fact that they are compatible, and information regarding their build is easily accessable. Other information regarding these boards includes several photographs to illustrate the reckless identical copy approach the clone companies had towards Apple's products.
A Bit about the Cloner's ASICs
Application Specific Integrated Circuits, Programmable Array Logic's and Read Only Memories created by Cloners
NOC Floppy Disk Controller
NOC Model Number: BL-1002B
NOC (Nihon Office Communications) of Japan managed to avoid having to directly copy Apple's Disk II Interface card by adopting a different method for storing the routines and state machine in ROM, rather than use low cost PROMS as Apple did. This did cost them an extra IC, but avoided being eligible for a law suit. The card has two memory devices. The state machine tables, located in PROM IC6 and labelled NOC6000 and a firmware ROM, at IC9 labelled IF-525 V2.2.
NOC BL1002B Manual
NOC BL1002B Schematics
State Machine PROM
Bringing the Apple IIe's IOU (Input/Output Unit) into the FPGA design space. Here the IOU ASIC is incorporated into the design using the ASIC Adaptor to aid developing a clone of the IOU's functionality in VHDL.
Cloned: The Apple's IIe IOU (Input/Output Unit) ASIC IC and its clone counter part, the STK65301. The other IC, the STK50371 is a copy of the IIe's MMU (Memory Management Unit).
Oranges or Apples?: These Apple IIe clones sport a STK3037L MMU clone. The STK prefix is normally associated with Sanyo, however the numbering scheme, 3037 is a number typical of their Analog Audio Devices. It may be that the cloners wanted to direct any unwanted attention towards Sanyo, by using their prefix.
Custom Built: A CEC IIe Clone Mainboard, specifiying a STK6530 cloned IOU (Input/Output Unit) and a STK50371 MMU (Memory Management Unit) clone. Notice the convenient EEPROM slot, designed in a similar way to Unitron's 2200, allowing the EPROM board to be shipped separately.