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System Description: The Apple-II by Stephen Wozniak

In this BYTE article from May 1977 Stephen Wozniak describes the hardware and system software in the then brand new Apple II. Circuit diagrams and BASIC listing are included.

The Apple-II analog game control paddle circuits are based upon inexpensive timer chips of the 555 type . I've used a quad timer of this type, called the 553, as shown in figure 2. To read the value of resistance on the paddle's potentiometer, the timer is strobed under software control using routines in the system read only memory. The input routine then enters a loop which counts the length of the timer output pulse, which is a function of the paddle potentiometer's setting. To prevent endless loops if a wire breaks, the paddle scan routines exit at the maximum count of 255. The resolution of the loop is 12 μs per count.



Photo 4: Far from being limited to interpretive integer BASIC, the Apple-II includes some powerful debugging and software development aids at the machine language level. Here at (a) is an example of its dissassembler mode of operation, invoked by the L command following an address in hexadecimal. A corresponding nonsymbolic assembler program will perform transformations in the other direction from text sources. Here at (b) is an example of the instruction trace command, which allows a machine language program to be followed mnemonically via dynamic disassembly, with register and condition code contents indicated after each instruction.

One memory address is dedicated to the audio output port which drives a speaker. When this memory location is referenced from a program, with either a read or a write operation, the speaker drive line is toggled. Generating tones requires continuous speaker toggling by this method, at an audible rate. The cassette output port works in a similar (toggle) fashion to generate audio tones for the tape. The annunciator outputs each have two corresponding addresses, with one used to set the output and the second used to clear the outputs. Switch, paddle and cassette inputs place their data on the system bus in the sign bit position when their corresponding addresses are referenced; this choice of wiring enables software to test the state of the bit directly with a conditional branch instruction of the 6502 processor.


Apple-II comes with an Apple BASIC interpreter in the mask programmed read only memories of the system. There is no need to load it off tape, nor to dedicate any programmable memory for it. It's always there and it is impossible to accidentally clobber it. This BASIC is essentially similar to any BASIC with the exceptions that it only implements 16 bit fixed point arithmetic. It also features some unique language extensions to take advantage of the Apple-II hardware features such as color graphics and to provide conveniences in the form of debugging aids. It is intended primarily for games and educational uses.

A monitor command puts you into BASIC mode, which is indicated on the screen by a prompt character, ">". Memory limits for BASIC source programs and data are set automatically at the time of entry, but these limits may be varied by user commands. While in BASIC mode, statements are entered on the current system input device, which is normally the keyboard.

Apple-II BASIC is implemented as a translator-interpreter combination. When a line is read from the input device, the translator analyzes it and generates a more efficient internal language facsimile. Syntax errors are detected at this time. The "nouns" of this internal language are variable names, integer constants (preconverted to binary for execution speed enhancement), and string constants. The "verbs" are 1 byte tokens substituted for keywords, operators and delimiters. Because the translator distinguishes syntax, different verbs are assigned to different usages of the same symbol. For example, three distinct verbs represent the word PRINT, depending on whether it is immediately followed by a string source, an arithmetic expression or nothing. Thus this distinction need not be made at execution time. For each verb there exists a subroutine to perform that specific action. Listing a program actually involves decompiling the internal language back to BASIC source code. Those statements with line numbers are stored as part of the user program, while those without line numbers are executed immediately. If desired, the Apple BASIC interpreter's editing functions can be set to generate line numbers automatically. Although some commands are valid only for immediate execution and others only for programmed execution, most can be employed in both ways . In the BASIC source programs, multiple statements may reside on the same line, separated by colons (':').

Figure 2: How to make a 7 bit measurement of an analog parameter for games (or perhaps we should say "2 bit"). Basically, a 555 style timing element is set up so that it can be triggered by a 7 bit output port. After triggering the oneshot, the processor enters a timing loop continuously testing the 7 bit input port until the end of the oneshot's cycle, which is controlled by the game parameter potentiometer. The result is an integer count developed by the timing loop which gives a measure of how long the oneshot pulse lasted, and hence a measure of the position of the input potentiometer. Apple-II implements four of these resistance measuring ports (which have plenty of accuracy for game contexts with graphics display feedback but are hardly not to be interpreted as having any absolute accuracy independent of hand-eye coordination).

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