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Giant Machine Shows How a Computer Works


Richard Grafton (left) and David May in front of the Big Hex Machine.

The Big Hex Machine is a giant 16-bit computer built by researchers at the University of Bristol to help non-experts visualize how computation works.

Credit: University of Bristol

Researchers from the University of Bristol in the U.K. have built the Big Hex Machine, a giant, fully operational 16-bit computer that aims to help non-experts see how the mechanisms of computation work.

The Big Hex Machine was built out of more than 100 specially designed four-bit circuit boards and will help teach students about the fundamental principles of computer architecture. The system will be used as part of this year's computer architecture unit and will enable students to be creative with what is traditionally seen as a complicated subject.

The Big Hex Machine "demonstrates the principle used in all computers--general-purpose hardware controlled by a stored program," says Bristol professor David May.

The wall-mounted computer measures more than eight square meters, and includes the processor, input and output devices, a custom-built light-emitting diode matrix, a Web-based application to control its operation, and a complete toolchain for students to write, build, and execute their own software.

"Building such a machine was not a trivial task," says Bristol researcher Richard Grafton. "It's a result of a great collaboration between students and staff and a real testament to persistence, commitment, and teamwork."

From University of Bristol News
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