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This Guy Built His Very Own Artisanal Computer Processor

The 'Megaprocessor' let's you take a walking tour of a modern computer processor.
Image: James Newman

Computer processors are nowadays constructed at nanoscales. A single commercial transistor might be 14 nanometers across, and already experimental processes are producing them at 5 nm. Meanwhile, a transistor you're likely to buy at RadioShack or from SparkFun will still be about the size of a healthy grasshopper.

There are so many transistors crammed onto a single chip in a commercial computer that it's nearly impossible to imagine where these worlds could possibly meet, but James Newman's Megaprocessor is just that. At 20kHz, its clock speed isn't going to be challenging any computer you'd ever find commercially produced, but it is built from, well, actual parts, at least in the sense that you could go out and buy them. Hell, I have a small handful of transisors on-hand myself, albeit for building circuits, not so much entire computer processors. The Megaprocessor took 40,000 transistors.

In a Q&A, Newman explains: "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. 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. It's going to be great."