Big Hex Machine
Written by Harry Fairhead   
Saturday, 26 November 2016

Staff and students at the University of Bristol, England have built a giant, fully operational 16-bit computer as "an ultimate teaching tool" for an undergraduate course on computer architecture.



The Big Hex Machine is a wall-mounted computer, based in the Merchant Venturers School of Engineering, measures over eight square metres. It has been built out of over 100 specially designed four-bit circuit boards and will enable students to be taught about the fundamental principles of computer architecture from just a few basic components. 

Along with the processor, it has input and output devices, a custom built LED matrix, a web-based application to control its operation, and a complete toolchain for students to write, build and execute their own software.measures over eight square meters,  specifically designed to explain how a computer works.

This video shows it in action:



Professor of Computer Science, David May, who designed the architecture and its accompanying language, said:

“You cannot understand how a computer works by taking one apart! In our giant machine, all of the structure is clearly visible - as is the movement of information as it executes programs.  It demonstrates the principle used in all computers - general-purpose hardware controlled by a stored program. ”

According to Senior Creative Teaching Technologist, Richard Grafton:

“Building such a machine was not a trivial task. It’s a result of a great collaboration between students and staff and a real testament to persistence, commitment and teamwork. Most importantly, it’s an achievement of thinking a bit differently.”

Sam Russell, a third year computer science student, who worked on building both the prototype and final machine, added:

“It was exciting for me to almost cast myself back to the problems encountered by the original computer building engineers.  I literally put my blood, sweat and tears into something that is an art work, an educational tool, a gigantic toy, a spark to reminisce of the old days, but most of all, something that demystifies the magic to something that everyone can understand.”


More Information

Giant machine shows how a computer works

Big Hex Machine

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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 29 November 2016 )