Microsoft Excel is not known for being the most exciting software out there. Often seen as a dependable but rather dull workhorse of productivity apps, it is typically associated with endless spreadsheets and budgetary calculations that can easily put one to sleep. However, when someone manages to create a fully-functional 16-bit CPU within Excel, it’s hard not to take notice. In a recent YouTube video by Inkbox, they demonstrate how they built a CPU capable of operating at 3Hz, complete with its own custom assembly language and a 16-color output display—all within the much-maligned office app.

At its core, a spreadsheet is nothing more than an advanced calculator that takes input data and produces calculated results. Leveraging this concept, Inkbox stacked linked cells to create increasingly complex outputs, effectively mimicking the input/output functions of a CPU. The result is a fully-functional CPU that can be replicated in any Excel instance, without the need for Visual Basic scripts or plugins.

To accomplish this feat, Inkbox developed a custom assembly language named Excel-ASM15. This language provides the necessary functionality to load, transfer, and perform arithmetic operations, enabling instructions to be executed like traditional programs. The video tutorial created by Inkbox offers an in-depth yet accessible breakdown of the process, shedding light on the inner workings of CPUs and how they can be replicated within Excel.

While building CPUs within other programs is not entirely new (who could forget Chungus 2’s fully functional 3D PC model with its own 1Hz CPU in Minecraft?), this achievement in Excel deserves recognition. Unlike building in Minecraft, which can be seen as a fun and creative endeavor, working within Excel requires a different level of discipline and perseverance. The complexity of constructing a CPU in a seemingly mundane spreadsheet application is a testament to the skill and dedication of the creators.

The results of Inkbox’s work are available on Github, allowing anyone with Excel installed to explore the inner workings of a functional CPU. The provided spreadsheet not only demonstrates the CPU’s capabilities but also includes basic programs to experiment with. By observing the spreadsheet in action, users gain valuable insights into the internal processes of a functioning CPU, all within a program traditionally associated with productivity.

This remarkable achievement highlights the untapped potential of Excel when used creatively. While I personally have had my fair share of frustrations with the software, including swearing, cursing my lack of extensive math education, and dealing with broken spreadsheets that cause immense headaches, I cannot help but admire the work and dedication showcased by Inkbox. The ability to construct a fully-functional CPU using Excel is truly Excel-ent, pardon the pun. It demonstrates that beneath the surface of a seemingly ordinary productivity tool lies an extraordinary engine capable of powering innovative and impressive projects.

In the world of software, Microsoft Excel may not be the most glamorous contender, but this remarkable achievement proves that it has hidden depths waiting to be explored. By building a functional 16-bit CPU within Excel, Inkbox has revealed the software’s potential for facilitating complex calculations and processes. This feat serves as a reminder that with creativity, dedication, and a fresh perspective, seemingly mundane tools can be transformed into powerful platforms for innovation. So, the next time you open Excel, remember the tale of the CPU built within its cells and consider the possibilities that lie beneath the seemingly monotonous spreadsheets.


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