[Image Source: James Newman]
Think you love computing? Probably not as much as the man who spent four years building a processor the size of a room for £40,000 (US $51,590).
James Newman, a digital electronic engineer was curious to see how a computer works in action. So, after 4 years of dedicated work and soldering thousands of parts, he successfully completed a working processor the size of a room.
“Computers are quite opaque. Looking at them it’s impossible to see how they work. What I would like to do is get inside and see what’s going on. Trouble is we can’t shrink down small enough to walk inside a silicon chip,”
Describes Newman on his website.
“But we can go the other way; we can build the thing big enough that we can walk inside it. Not only that, we can put LEDs on everything so we can actually see the data moving and the logic happening.”
Newman never intended for the computer to reach such biblical proportions. What started out as a simple project to learn more about transistors, quickly turned into the mega construction it has become to this day. Newman’s first project was merely a simple circuit designed that contained only a handful of transistors. However, the project did not hold his attention very long and so he moved on.
The first processor Newman constructed Individual transistors [Image Source: James Newman]
Months later, when considering how to build a telemetry system capable of operating under extreme conditions (in this case just behind the drill bit of an oil well), Newman and his colleagues found it rather difficult to find a processor that could best the heat. Soon, the team came upon some discrete logic devices that could apparently handle the conditions quite well. In the end, Newman decided the logic devices would be great for simplicity sake. Also, they could be easily wired with LEDs to display the path of the information. From there, Newman derived the inspiration he needed to start the project. After fours years of work, he successfully completed the build.
The computer is a monstrous 33-feet wide and 6-feet high. Essentially, it is a giant microprocessor built large, extremely large. He began the build back in 2012 and recently completed its construction on Jun 22nd, 2016. Just like a regular processor, the unit is comprised of thousands of transistors. However, instead of using ‘teeny-weeny’ ones integrated within silicon chips most commonly used in the 21st century, Newman built his using individual transistors- you can see them below.
Individual transistors [Image Source: James Newman]
All-in-all, the processor contains a minute 256 bytes of RAM- which is rather impressive given he built his own. It also contains around 40,000 transistors, 10,000 LEDs, and requires 500W of electricity to operate. Newman painstakingly soldered nearly 300,000 joints and wired 10 km (about six miles) of cable to bring the project to life.
Panorama of the processor [Image Source: James Newman]
Sadly, the Megaprocessor won’t be able to play your favorite FPS anytime soon- or ever. However, the creator told BBC in an interview, the “machine on your desk may be a million times better than what I have built – but mine is much prettier, mine has 10,000 times more LEDs.”
The educational aspect of the build could become quite useful to many engineers alike. Despite not being able to compute much, the design remains incredibly impressive. It is a truly fascinating machine- for what it lacks in power it makes up in beauty. Besides- it can play Tetris, what else could you ask for?
Newman is currently in the works of turning his massive machine into an educational experience for all to enjoy. In fact, you can inquire to play Tetris on his massive computer on the Megaprocessor’s facebook page. He is also available if you have any further questions regarding the building process or any other inquiry you may have.
If you are interested in learning more about the mechanics behind the Megaprocessor you can check out Newman’s video series uploaded onto YouTube.