Meet Magic-1, the homemade CPU

A home-built CPU creator takes building a computer to the next level with low-level logic chips and handwrapped wires

Have you ever wanted to build your own minicomputer, but felt restricted by the available selection of microprocessors? You may remember Magic-1, the awesome homebrew CPU from the 2007 Maker Faire Bay Area, but were perhaps a little disappointed at the amount of available documentation at the time. Magic-1 creator (and Google engineer) Bill Buzbee has recently updated his Web site to include detailed information on schematics, architecture, as well as his build diaries if you're interested in constructing a similar machine on your own.

Magic-1 is composed of 74 Series TTL (transistor-transistor logic) integrated circuits, the chips that were used to build early minicomputers and mainframes. By wrapping thousands of wires by hand, Buzbee connected hundreds of these low-level logic chips to make a functioning minicomputer running at a blistering speed of 4.09 MHz with 4 MB of memory.

How about an operating system and software? Would any OS run on this custom architecture? Buzbee's CPU runs the Minix 2 operating system; Minix didn't work on Magic-1 out-of-the-box, so Buzbee dedicated several years to porting Minix to his homebrew CPU. In addition, Buzbee also had to write an assembler and linker from scratch, and port C libraries to Magic-1.

This proved to be quite the programming challenge: as Buzbee put it, "when the bug you're trying to track down could involve one or more of: hardware design flaw, loose or broken wire, loose or bad TTL chip, assembler bug, linker bug, compiler bug, C runtime library bug, or finally a bug in the program in question there's lot of opportunity for fun."

What do you do with a Minix-running microprocessor made out of logic gates and handwrapped wire? Serve webpages and play games on it, of course! Magic-1 acts as a webserver as well as a host for a variety of games. Telnet into Magic-1 via telnet://magic-1.org with the username "guest" and the password "magic", then bask in the retro glory of The Colossal Cave Adventure, Eliza, Conway's Life, or Hunt the Wumpus.

(Homebrew CPU via Make)

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Alessondra Springmann

PC World (US online)
Topics: microprocessors
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