When we marvel at advances in computing, we compare the mechanical calculators that filled rooms with the smartphones in our pockets. While our palm-sized miracles are magnitudes more powerful than the processors that put men on the moon, their internals are so complex that they're extremely difficult to conceptualize. One man wanted to see for himself how a modern computer works, so he started building one in 2012 that expanded its digital guts across the room, laying out its systems for the layman to understand. Last week, he finally finished his macro machine: Behold, the Megaprocessor.
To be clear, digital electronics engineer James Newman constructed it out of hobbyist curiosity, not to build a homebrew Cray competitor. His project has about 40,000 transistors, 10,000 LEDs to visualize data movement and weighs about 500kg but does the computing job of a standard chip-sized microprocessor. It's more of an educational tool than an efficient setup, but in a demonstration video, Newman shows off its computational heft by using it to play Tetris.
If this sounds like a great use of your time and money, be forewarned: the creator estimates that the Megaprocessor cost him about £40,000 to make. It also took him almost four years to finally complete, and the result is a marvel of custom soldering and wiring. But if you don't want to sink that much of your life into repeating Newman's Herculean endeavor, you can watch him walk through how his creation functions in a video series up on YouTube.