The Original Macintosh:    14 of 127 
He's Only in Field Service
Author: steve blank
Date: March 1981
Characters: Burrell Smith, steve blank
Topics: Hardware, Hardware Design
Summary: The SCC gets designed into the Mac

In the early eighties, I was at Zilog as the (very junior) product marketing manager for the Z8000 peripheral chips which included the new SCC chip, short for "Serial Communications Controller". I remember getting a call from our local salesman that someone at Apple wanted more technical information than just the spec sheets about our new (not yet shipping) chip. I vividly remember the sales guy saying, "its only some kid in field service, I'm too busy, why don't you drive over there and talk to him."

Zilog was also in Cupertino, near Apple on Bubb drive, and I remember driving to a small non-descript Apple building at the intersection of Stevens Creek and Sunnyvale/Saratoga (most of Apple's buildings at that time were on Bandley Drive.) I had a pleasant meeting and was as convincing as a marketing type could be to a very earnest engineer, mostly promising the moon for a versatile but then very buggy piece of silicon. I remember him thanking me for coming, saying we were the only chip company who cared enough to call on him (little did he know.)

I thought nothing about the meeting until years later. Long gone from Zilog I saw the picture of the Mac team. The field service guy I had pitched the chip to was Burrell Smith. The SCC had been designed into the Mac, and some sales guy who was too busy to take the meeting was probably retired in Maui on the commissions.

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I think that Burrell first heard about Zilog's SCC chip from Harley Licht, a legendary Silicon Valley sales representative who sold Woz his first 6502s in 1976. The SCC was a fairly complicated chip for its day, with a relatively high price tag. When Burrell told Steve that he wanted to use the SCC in the Mac in April 1981, Steve responded "Over my dead body!" after he heard the price Zilog was proposing. But Burrell was adamant and Steve eventually relented, after he was able to negotiate down the price a fair bit and extract the promise of a second source. The SCC chip was used for the serial ports of the Mac, as well as miscellaneous other device interfaces like the mouse interrupts. It was also the basis of the AppleTalk network, which allowed Macs to share printers and files with no additional hardware.
I worked at Mostek in those days, and had first met Burrell when he called about some ROM chip we made. We eventually did some work with DRAMs as well, and then Burrell asked to talk to us about a serial comm chip we had that I had told him about. I brought the Mostek factory guy in, and Burrell asked him to sign an NDA. He refused, so the conversation didn't go much further. Dunno if it would have mattered; Mostek had a cool(er) serial chip, but Mostek was busy going out of business in those days, so who knows if it would have made production.
Some old MSX ROM's I got here advertise their use of an SCC chip. The games using them had some extra capabilities which were not normally available on an MSX1 computer. Same chip or just an homonym?
Any chance of adding a "share" function to this wonderful site (Delicious, Facebook, etc)...?
I recall seeing AMD, Zilog and NCR 8530's in just about every Apple product of the era. The number of those device sold to Apple must have come close to be a record for Zilog. Amazing story.