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Designed in the 1970s by electrical engineer Chuck Peddle and his team for MOS Technology, the 8-bit MOS 6502 ran at 1-2 MHz and contained 3510 transistors. As the most affordable chip of its kind, it initially cost six times less than alternatives offered by Motorola and Intel.

The team behind the MOS 6502 had previously worked at Motorola on the Motorola 6800 design, so the 6502 is considered a simplified, faster, and less expensive version of this design. To put this in a better context, the 6502 sold for about $25 per chip, while the Intel 8080 and Motorola 6800 sold for about $200.

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By the 1980s, variants of the MOS 6502 were in use on several consoles and computers such as the Atari 2600, Apple II, Commodore PET, and of course the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The original NES was equipped with a custom MOS 6502, which was marketed as the Ricoh 2A03 and was manufactured by the Japanese imaging and electronics company Ricoh, which started in optical equipment as early as the 1930s and helped popularize cameras with its Ricohflex III in the 1950s. The Ricoh chip also included a 5-voice programmable sound generator and other I/O interfaces.