James Newman spent four years building an enormous computer. Now he uses it to play Tetris.
A digital electronics engineer from Cambridge, England, Newman started work on his Megaprocessor in 2012 as a side project. "Computers are quite opaque; looking at them it's impossible to see how they work," he wrote on the project website. "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," he continued. "But we can go the other way; we can build the thing big enough that we can walk inside it. Not only that [but] we can also put LEDs on everything so we can actually SEE the data moving and the logic happening."
Instead of using miniature transistors installed on a silicon chip, Newman employed thousands of larger, individual components. And "loads of LEDs."
The final product spans Newman's Cambridge living room: 32-feet long and 6.5-feet tall, it weighs half a ton (1,100 lbs), and is reminiscent of the 1940s ENIAC computer, which occupied about 1,800 square feet, used 18,000 vacuum tubes, and weighed nearly 30 tons.
"The main feelings were of relief and exhaustion," Newman told PCMag about finishing the project. "It was getting to be a slog at the end, and there was always a real possibility that it might not work. I'm starting to enjoy the project again."
For now, the creator is producing and sharing videos in which he explains how a processor works—starting from a single transistor. But in the long term, he said he'd like to find the megaprocessor "a good home," where it can be used to educate and inspire.
For now, anyone in Cambridge can visit the Megaprocessor this weekend during Newman's Open Day—Saturday, July 9, from 1 to 7 p.m.
"See some flashing lights, trace through the logic, play some games (choice of [two]), the Facebook event page said. "Feel free to bring a program of your own."
And for those rainy afternoons when there's nothing good to watch on TV, Newman has outlined his construction process and provided programming tools for DIYers to build their own computer.
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Worldwide nerd credit and a pixelated game of Tetris doesn't come cheap, though: Newman spent more than £40,000 ($51,500) on the project, for which he initially budgeted £5,000 to £10,000.
"[The] next project is to get the house and garden back into some semblance of order," he told PCMag. "Everything's been pretty neglected as I worked on the megaprocessor."
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 12:40 p.m. ET with comments from Newman.