back to article Half-ton handbuilt CPU heads to Centre for Computing History

A 42,000-transistor CPU weighing half a ton and built by hand from full-sized components has been installed at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, England. James Newman’s Megaprocessor, a super-sized CPU big enough to walk through, was born as a result of a 2012 work discussion. "There was a conversation at work …

  1. Dave 126 Silver badge

    Go big or go home!

    Oh, it appears this chap has already got the memo! :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Go big or go home!

      Yes, but to be a real computer it has to run Pong at at least 3 f/s!

  2. Norman Nescio

    Back-door?

    Is this one of the few processors that doesn't have a three-letter-agency back-door built in?

    1. Dwarf Silver badge

      Re: Back-door?

      Don't worry, they just have a webcam and will look at all the LED's - as it gives the state of all registers and memory !!.

    2. Dale 3

      Re: Back-door?

      If this really is a CPU you can walk inside, then for fire safety it probably is required to have a back door.

      1. Nifty

        Re: Back-door?

        Doesn't need to, it's got a NAND gate.

        1. TRT Silver badge

          Re: Back-door?

          Oh... Did I see a windows installation in the background?

    3. Linker3000

      Re: Back-door?

      Yes it does have a backdoor - it's a 4-panel, white oak affair with glass top panes and gold fittings.

  3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant!

    I will add this to the list of interesting links for my Introduction to Computing Science course.

    1. Doctor_Wibble
      Pint

      Re: Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant!

      Only space for one icon and I wanted to do a thumbs-up and a pint for his most high lordship Mr Newman, so here's the pint to go with the thumbs-up.

      Outstanding stuff, we are most definitely not worthy, though I see a lot of 'familiar faces' in the build faults villains gallery...

    2. asdf Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant!

      The best is him putting it in a museum. Who knows if it might not inspire the next Alan Turing (hopefully not inspire to make Skynet though)?

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Brilliant! Absolutely Brilliant!

      I think it deserves a few 'clones' stationed strategically around the world, to inspire next generation CPU designers. Or something like that.

      Having one in the Smithsonian would be a good start.

  4. Dr Who

    Megaprocessor

    So the OS must be Megahard Doors then.

    1. Snafu1

      Re: Megaprocessor

      What OS? This is all flip-switches

  5. ZanzibarRastapopulous

    Website...

    I think it might be hosted on the machine...

  6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
    Happy

    Very impressive

    Although I would be sorely tempted to build mine inside an FPGA.

    1. Dwarf Silver badge

      Re: Very impressive

      Which means you missed the whole purpose of his project.

      For homework, go look at the web site :-)

      1. theModge

        ....inside an FPGA

        Actually, that was a very interesting 3rd year undergrad project: make tommy-my-first processor in an FPGA. Possibly my favourite module, despite finding it pretty hard. On reflection I don't think it could do much beyond addition and subtraction.

        Impressed that they managed as little as 500w for this beast actually: wonder weather if all the LEDS came on at once it would add up to rather more.

        1. DJV Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: if all the LEDs came on at once

          The nearest fuse box would probably do a Galaxy Note 7...

      2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Very impressive

        >Which means you missed the whole purpose of his project.

        Unless you also implemented the FPGA with individual transistors.....

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Very impressive

          "Unless you also implemented the FPGA with individual transistors"

          Something which is actually designed to blow its fuses. Also, it would be reprogrammable, if some poor bastard could be persuaded to replace all the blown fuses before going for another try.

          Just don't design it to use 30A car fuses if you want to keep the power consumption under control during programming.

        2. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Very impressive

          No, I completely get it -- it's a work of stunning complexity, admirable dedication and a tremendous learning experience. But, aside from the considerable cost, it helps tremendously to have a willing recipient for the donation. In this particular case, there's also the opportunity for future generations to learn from his work.

          My only point was that after only a few weeks, She Who Must Be Obeyed would be asking about funding, projected completion date, floor space and the Big One: "Why are you doing this?" I suspect that many of us, who might consider doing a project of this scale would be in a similar position.

          Except for the transistors, you get much more bang for the buck (or quid) by doing it in an FPGA. You get the same exposure to architecture options, with fewer burned fingers...and it only takes up a deskop! But I do admire those who do it "large scale"...even if I couldn't get away with it: http://agcreplica.outel.org/

    2. roytrubshaw
      Childcatcher

      Re: Very impressive

      "Although I would be sorely tempted to build mine inside an FPGA."

      Err.. I'm probably misremembering this, but isn't there an FPGA version that runs in parallel for debugging purposes?

  7. NotBob

    What the boss thought

    when we said we needed to do some "heavy computing."

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Kraftwerk

    "I'm the Operator with my Pocket Calculator".

  9. Andy The Hat Silver badge

    Nice ...

    I wrote an 8-bit, semi-graphical processor simulator in Pascal under DOS about n++ years ago to show kids how low level programming really worked below the hood. It worked really well and they ended up using it for a few years but I probably learned more about processor hardware functionality than they did! Like the megaprocessor, it was initially a bit of fun that ballooned into something interesting. Later on someone wrote a much better Windows '6502 emulator' that was ... well actually a naff text emulator in a Windows box ... most disappointing.

    I'm not sure that kids even get taught the basics of how a processor works any more.

    1. sisk Silver badge

      Re: Nice ...

      but I probably learned more about processor hardware functionality than they did!

      That's generally how it goes when teaching. You'd be shocked at what you learn trying to teach kids the basics.

      I'm not sure that kids even get taught the basics of how a processor works any more.

      Depends on what you mean by "the basics". Here they get taught that processors use millions of microscopic switches to do what they do in middle school, but it's really on an abstract level. They don't really get taught how all those 'ons' and 'offs' translate into what they see on the screen or about registers and whatnot until they start taking college level comp sci classes.

    2. Borg.King
      Facepalm

      Re: Nice ...

      Re: I'm not sure that kids even get taught the basics of how a processor works any more.

      Some of the graduates I've interviewed don't even know what hexadecimal is. (Note I said interviewed, not employed).

      1. swm Bronze badge

        Re: Nice ...

        When I taught computer science I once substituted for a professor. I discovered that the class was composed of computer engineering students and that the normal professor never taught the bit operations (& | ^ << >>) so I taught them. The class suddenly came alive.

        The computer science department used to have a hardware class using vector boards etc. but this was phased out to use a simulator. Now there are no hardware classes taught in the computer science department.

        You learn a lot more by actually building hardware and programming it than playing with simulators or other high-level tools.

    3. DJV Silver badge

      Re: Nice ...

      Did a DLX simulator for my 3rd year degree course back in the 90s at UEA - had the works including a pipelined version and a working microcode table. Great fun! They wanted to use it as a tool in part of their teaching - don't think they ever did though...

  10. &rew

    Reminds me of...

    Does anyone recall the Minecraft world someone built that recreated a processor using redstone? I was gobsmacked by that - being able to virtually move around a virtual computer, and watch the individual signals working their way through. This is at least twice as impressive.

    To think he managed this without a Kickstarter or anything! In all seriousness, I couldn't find a PayPal donation link or anything. Would gladly hand this man a fiver for his efforts.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ambition

    I bow to this guy in awe. He's actually realised what I thought was an unachievable idea I had when I was about 15 and was tinkering with Z-80 processors and breadboards.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Ambition

      Somewhere in the lower reaches of the list of Things I'm Going To Do With My Copious Free Time Once I Win The Lottery is building an Intel 4004 in discrete components (probably SMD).

      I applaud this guy.

  12. PassiveSmoking

    But does it run Overwatch?

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We build a basic RAM registry out of a FESTO pneumatic kit...

    but we took 4 didactic kits on the lab to get it going.

    A couple more missing valves, and we'd have both input and output made of pistons as well.

    Better yet, the thing had resilient memory states, as in, if we lost power, it would resume from the last position.

    We then did a napkin math to find out how many kits would we need to emulate 1GB of RAM... and I don't think FESTO produced enough didactic kits to do that.

    Learning about that was very useful after all, we could build some memory registers embedded in our projects later to store variables, if we didn't have the electric equivalent.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Go

      Re: We build a basic RAM registry out of a FESTO pneumatic kit...

      We then did a napkin math to find out how many kits would we need to emulate 1GB of RAM... and I don't think FESTO produced enough didactic kits to do that.

      Did you calculate the floor area required as well?

      1. The Indomitable Gall

        Re: We build a basic RAM registry out of a FESTO pneumatic kit...

        "We then did a napkin math to find out how many kits would we need to emulate 1GB of RAM... and I don't think FESTO produced enough didactic kits to do that.

        Did you calculate the floor area required as well?"

        How about the effect on local air pressure in changing between all 0s and all 1s?

        "As the night continues, rapid fluctuations in air pressure will bring in a series of warm and cold fronts, as some geek tries to unzip a ISO CD image.

  14. jms222

    Rheostat

    My favourite bit of that machine is the rheostat that controls the clock oscillator.

  15. EJ

    Should be the basis for Dom Joly's mobile device when he next films an episode of Trigger Happy TV.

  16. Mike 16 Silver badge

    On a slightly more compact scale

    There's the Monster6502 ( http://monster6502.com/ ). In keeping with the "smaller runs faster" rule for computing, it manages a blistering 60kHz.

  17. Mike Cresswell
    Mushroom

    Awesome, asolutely awesome!

    Can we look forward to Megaprocessor II built with thermionic valves?

    Icon to reflect the likely power requirement!

    Anyone else old enough to have seen a working National Elliot 405?

    The real Nellie the Elephant!

  18. CatW

    Great story - where are the pictures?

  19. JohnLH

    Centre for Computing History is, according to its website, in Coldhams Lane, Cambridge.

  20. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    I'm sure it's all fake with a Raspberry Pi in there somewhere! ;-)

    BTW, maybe I missed it, but what about RAM?

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

  22. firebits

    I think this is what I learned AutoCAD v9 on

  23. FuzzyWuzzys
    Happy

    Real engineers...

    ...build their own CPU cores and don't buy them, ready made off the shelf!

  24. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Too many transistors

    I took a look at some of the module schematics, and even figuring in the fact that they require LED drivers, there's some hefty overkill in the use of silicon, especially as it's all single ended logic (open drain + pullup) rather than totem-pole. For example his RAM uses 11 transistors for each bit (88 transistors per byte).

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