Enthusiast Builds Computer Without The Micro

Credit: James Newman

Credit: James Newman

A British man who is building a 16-bit computer by hand fears it may not fit into his house. James Newman’s machine is so big because he’s using individual transistors rather than an integrated chip.

According to Newman, the idea of the project is to build a computer he can literally see working. That means using an old-school approach by fitting together around 14,000 transistors of the type you’d find in an electronic store, along with 3,500 LED lights to display information.

If and when it’s completed, the computer will have a mere 256 bytes of RAM and a clock speed of 20 kilohertz. That puts it considerably behind the Intel 8080 chip launched in 1974 that arguably made it possible to have personal computers that fit easily in the home.

Newman has broken down the individual components of the computer into separate wall-mounted frames and has now finished three frames: the Arithmetic & Logic Unit, a State and Status section, and the General Purpose Registers.

The problem is that based on the work so far, the finished computer will be 14 meters long and weigh around 1,100 pounds. That could make it difficult both to store in his single-storey home and to transport, jeopardising his idea of using it as an education exhibit.

Newman told The Register that to date he has spent around £20,000 (approx $US32,000) on the project. When it’s complete, he intends to start running games such as Tetris and, ominously for 80s sci-fi fans, tic-tac-toe.