Computer History MuseumSemiconductor History

1961 - Dedicated Semiconductor Test Equipment Enters Commercial Market

Semiconductor and independent vendors build dedicated test equipment for high-throughput manufacturing.

For the first two decades of the industry, semiconductor manufacturers custom-built most of their own tools and equipment in-house. In the early 1960s, Fairchild Semiconductor, Signetics, Texas Instruments and others began to sell their specialized semiconductor test equipment to their customers and competitors.

TI engineers developed a Centralized Automatic Tester (CAT) transistor-testing machine in 1958. TI's Transistor and Component Tester (TACT) introduced in 1962 served the company and its customers for many years. One of the first integrated circuit testers offered commercially was the Signetics Model 1420.

Under co-founder Vic Grinich, Fairchild produced a series of in-house transistor testers beginning with the Type 1A in 1959. The Type 4 tester was introduced for public sale at the March 1961 IRE Show. This group grew into an important Instrumentation Division that produced several generations of machines, including the Model 4000M Automatic Test System, a workhorse of the industry in the 1960s, and the Sentry 400, one of the first high pin-count testers for Large Scale Integrated (LSI) circuits.

Nicholas DeWolf, chief engineer at semiconductor manufacturer Transitron, Wakefield, MA, teamed up with Alex d'Arbeloff in 1961 to found Teradyne in Boston to build the D133 diode tester, one of the first commercial test systems to use semiconductors in place of vacuum tubes. In 1966 DeWolff and Milt Collins designed the model J259 based on the Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-8 minicomputer as the industry's first computer-controlled test system. This machine laid the foundation for today's Automatic Test Equipment (ATE) industry and Teradyne as major player.



Contemporary Documents

TACT Transistor and Component Tester equipment specifications, (1962 - TI-PL00003 documentation) The National Museum of American History Chip Collection, Texas Instruments Collection.

Instrumentation Facilities and Capabilities. Fairchild Semiconductor Instrumentation Division brochure (1963).

Oral History transcripts online at the Computer History Museum

Semiconductor Test Equipment Development Oral History Panel (2009-08-14)

Oral Histories

Nicholas DeWolf, Teradyne. SEMI Oral History Interview by Craig Addison (9.24.05), Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International.

More Information

Fairchild Journal of Semiconductor Progress, (July-August 1977).

Healy, James T. Automatic Testing and Evaluation of Digital Integrated Circuits. (Reston VA: Reston Publication Co., Inc., 1981).

Development of the ATE Industry. Report No. 331070AB55, (Santa Clara CA: VLSI Research, Inc., 1990).

Van Veen, Frederick. Teradyne: The First Forty Years (Boston MA: Teradyne, May 2001)