RCA Studio II Teardown

RCA Studio II Teardown

In the late 1970s, RCA (the largest TV manufacturer at the time) was seeking ways to increase demand for their TVs. One concept they tried was selling a “Home TV Programmer” — RCA’s marketing phrase for game console — to give people more to do with their TVs. They failed miserably.

The Studio II is regarded by many (including PC World) to be the worst video game system of all time. We know for sure that RCA Studio II didn’t attract much of a fan base during its short two year tenure, and today few people have any idea that it ever existed. Until now.

RCA originally passed on the first game console ever made — the Odyssey — which Magnavox started selling with great success. Consequently, they rushed the Studio II to market, a game console that was already obsolete when introduced in early 1977 (black and white and no controllers in an age where competitors had both). RCA discontinued the system by 1979, and the rest is history.

This console is quite rare given the small production number. In fact, we intercepted this unit on its way to the Computer History Museum! We were kindly allowed to take some photographs of the little guy before we sent it off to its final resting place.

Teardown highlights:

  • A meager five screws are all that hold the two halves of the Studio II together. That’s 500% more screws than in the Odyssey 100, but half the screws required to open the top cover on a PS3 Slim.
  • The on-board mono speaker is the sole source of the Studio II’s sound effects. Want to turn down the sound? Too bad — there’s no volume control.
  • At the heart of the Studio II lies an RCA CDP1802 microprocessor, running at a scorching 1.78 MHz. Coupled with 2K ROM, 512 bytes RAM, and a 64×32 monochrome graphics chip, the Studio II was underwhelming even back in 1977. To put things into perspective, the TI-83 (introduced in 1996) operates at 6 MHz and has 32 KB of RAM.
  • The RCA CDP1802 was a bit of an unusual chip for its day. A version of the 1802 was manufactured by depositing a thin film of silicon on a sapphire wafer. The extremely low electrical conductivity of the sapphire wafer prevented any stray electrical current, caused by radiation bombardment, from spreading to (and possibly damaging) nearby transistors on the chip.
  • Due to their inherent radiation resistance, six silicon-on-sapphire RCA 1802 processors were chosen to control the Galileo spacecraft during its 14 year trek to Jupiter and its moons. They eventually burned up with the rest of Galileo when it was purposely steered into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2003.
  • It is interesting to note that all the components attached to the circuit board are of the through-hole variety. Although surface-mount technology had existed since the ’60s, it was still more expensive than the commonly available through-hole components of the day.
  • The pattern for the traces connecting components across the board is most definitely hand-drawn. This was very common before computer-aided design programs were used to make very straight, organized traces.
  • There was never an RCA Studio I — they went straight to the sequel.
Opening the RCA Studio II for teardown
Opening up the RCA Studio II