If you had to explain to someone how a computer works you’d probably mention something about motherboards, transistors, and programing languages. But how all of these components actually come together and create the words you’re reading right now can be a bit of mystery given today’s miniaturized and embedded technology. Enter the “Megaprocessor”, a half-ton, room-sized processor with 42,000 transistors, each soldered by hand.
The so-called Megaprocessor, is currently on display at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, England. James Newman, its creator, explained that the entire project started with him wanting to learn about transistors. Then “things got out of hand”.
The scaled-up microprocessor, is separated into several basic functional parts, like the Arithmetic and Logic Unit (ALU), Control & I/O, Memory and so on. Each of these is big enough that humans can walk around and see data flow and individual processes as they take place, thanks to the over 10,000 LEDs installed on the machine.
Of course, pretty lights aren’t everything and the Megaprocessor is all about speed. It can run at a whopping 8kHz, with RAM and ROM coming in at 256 bytes each. Newman says a big number of the transistors are simply used to drive the demonstration LEDs, and that he generally keeps the CPU at around 1Hz, just so the public can follow along as the unit computes.
To top it all off the Megaprocessor proves it mettle by running a game of Tetris at the end of the video above, with Newman saying those interested will be able to program for the machine in the near future.
Update: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that he keeps it clocked at 1kHz, when it should have said 1Hz.