The Amazing Power of Microsoft Excel: Building a 16-Bit CPU Inside

Microsoft Excel has never been known as an exciting piece of software. It is often regarded as a dependable, albeit slightly dull, workhorse of productivity applications. The thought of endless spreadsheets and budgetary calculations can induce a sense of boredom that makes you want to fall asleep. However, when someone manages to create a fully-functional 16-bit Central Processing Unit (CPU) within Excel, it’s hard not to be intrigued. YouTuber Inkbox has recently posted a 16-minute video detailing their incredible achievement, and it’s definitely worth waking up for.

The remarkable aspect of this CPU built inside Excel is that it was accomplished without the use of any Visual Basic scripts or plugins. This means that the process could be duplicated on any Excel instance. Inkbox explains that a spreadsheet is essentially a fancy calculator, taking input data and producing an outputted result. By interconnecting cells to create more complex outputs, they were able to emulate the input/output functions of a CPU, albeit a relatively basic one.

To achieve this feat, Inkbox had to create a customized assembly language named Excel-ASM15. This assembly language provided enough capability to load, transfer, and execute arithmetic operations similar to traditional programs. The video demonstrates the step-by-step process involved in building the CPU, making it accessible and comprehensible to viewers. It is a rare opportunity to gain insight into the inner workings and calculations performed by a CPU, all recreated within Excel.

This is not the first time that CPUs have been built inside other programs. Minecraft enthusiasts may recall the incredibly named “Chungus 2,” a fully functional 3D model of a PC constructed within the game itself. Chungus 2 even boasted its own 1Hz CPU created using inventive applications of redstone. However, building things in Minecraft can be fun, while Excel requires a level of discipline and dedication of its own.

Inkbox has generously shared the results of their work on GitHub, allowing anyone with an installed copy of Excel to explore the inner workings of a functional CPU. Basic programs are included, giving users the opportunity to witness the internal processes of a CPU in action. It is a remarkable juxtaposition to see such complex computational activities within a program typically associated with productivity.

Excel CPU

Figure 1: Excel’s hidden potential: a functional CPU

As someone who has spent countless hours struggling with Excel, I cannot help but admire the work and dedication put into this project. It goes beyond merely utilizing the software for its intended purposes and showcases the creative power of Excel. While my personal experiences with the program have often led to frustration and broken spreadsheets, this achievement reveals that Excel has so much more to offer.

All in all, the creation of a 16-bit CPU within Microsoft Excel demonstrates the hidden potential and versatility of this commonly overlooked software. By unlocking the creative possibilities within Excel, Inkbox has provided a unique insight into the inner workings of a CPU. It is an awe-inspiring reminder that even the most mundane tools can be used to accomplish extraordinary feats. So the next time you open Excel, remember that the possibilities are limitless if you approach it with the right mindset and imagination.


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