The Megaprocessor is an awe-inspiring multi-ton CPU project

John Biggs

What did you do this summer? A few outdoor concerts, maybe some grilling. But did you complete a room-sized 40,000 transistor CPU made entirely by hand? Didn’t think so.

James Newman wanted to create a CPU that students could use to learn about computing. He realized he needed to use transistors, but instead of embedding thousands of them into a chunk of silicon, he hand-wired full-sized transistors onto a series of complex boards and created a life-sized CPU that can play Tetris. He announced completion of the project last month and he’s posted an entire build-record and video for your geekification.

Looking like a cross between Abbey Road Studios and EPCOT Center, the CPU fills a room and displays its output onto a massive LED board. The project took two years to build and it flies at 20kHz. You can try out an emulator here and check out the entire
project here.

“Computers are quite opaque, looking at them it’s impossible to see how they work,” wrote Newman. “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. 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 also put LEDs on everything so we can actually SEE the data moving and the logic happening.”

The resulting project is amazingly complex and surprisingly beautiful. Again, perhaps we should have slowed down with the rose and hot dogs and whipped out our soldering irons. Newman is making us all look bad.