In Brief
  • Microprocessors are at the heart of all computers; have you ever wondered how they work?
  • The Centre for Computing History in Cambridge has a huge Megaprocessor that shows exactly how a microprocessor works, and you can see it in this video.

What Microprocessors Are

Microprocessors are what makes your computer work, they’re even the reason why you’re able to read this article. Microprocessors work by executing sets of instructions. These instructions allow them to do three basic things: perform operations with their arithmetic/logic unit, move data from one location to another in the memory, and decide to move on to a new set of instructions.

If this seems a little too complicated, no problem. That’s why James Newman of the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge created “The Megaprocessor.” This cool machine blows up the tiny microprocessor into a working example that weighs half a ton and can show you each step that the computer takes.

The idea is to take each of the tiny details that make up a microprocessor and show them as they happen at a more easily inspected scale. In the video below, Newman walks us through how the Megaprocessor works, ending with a gigantic game of Tetris. Using 10,000 LEDs and around 40,000 transistors, the Megaprocessor is pretty awesome in its own right, even when it’s not showing you how a microprocessor communicates and crunches numbers.

If you ever get to Cambridge, a visit to see the Megaprocessor is worth your time. You can really get a lot more out of the experience in person, seeing how this type of processor works. However, the video itself is enough to give you a great sense of how your computer operates. If you’re eager for more and you’re not on the road to Cambridge just yet, check out the Centre’s website or Twitter feed for more information, funny diversions, and interesting factoids.