Nicknamed the "slab", the NeXTstation is a computer workstation released in 1991 as a followup to the famous NeXT Cube. Its appearance is much more modest than the extremely flashy Cube, constructed out of the more common plastic and sheet metal, and taking the more traditional pizza box form factor similar to workstations put out by such competitors as Sun Microsystems. Though much less exotic than the Cube, the NeXTstation is still a fairly powerful system, providing performance which would still be considered somewhat snappy even today.
- NeXT Part Numbers: N1100 (Main system), N4000A (Monitor). This system is very difficult to run headless. For information how to run this system headless, please refer to Interfacing with a NeXT monitor
- System Type: 68k-based Workstation
- Processor: 25 mhz Motorola 68040 for the base NeXTstation. The turbo model has a 33 megahertz 68040 processor in it.
The NeXTstation also contains a Motorola 56001 DSP which handles manipulation of Real World data. The DSP, which features a standard 24 kilobytes of memory, is used in such wide-ranging operations as graphics manipulation and as the controller for an ISDN modem.
- Memory: Up to 8 30 pin, 100ns parity SIMMs, in two banks of four. It can handle either 1 or 4 megabyte SIMMS in both banks, allowing up to 32 megabytes of RAM. Later models provided 4 72 pin SIMM slots for a total of 128 megabytes of RAM. Additionally, there is a slot for providing an additional 512 kilobytes of memory to the DSP.
- Bus: Proprietary. No internal expansion available
- Video: Proprietary Megapixel Display, connected to the monitor using a special DB-19 cable
- Floppy: The original models of the NeXTstation contained a floptical drive, which has become fairly hard to find in recent years. Later models came with a 2.88MB floppy drive which was backwards compatible with standard 1.44MB diskettes
- Hard Drives: 1 internal bay for a standard 50-pin SCSI hard drive.
- Audio capabilities: Audio capabilities were handled by the aformentioned 56001 DSP, providing CD-Quality sound. As this box was designed for media work, it has features that high-end consumer sound cards still don't have. Aside from the integrated phono jacks for both a microphone and headphones, it has dedicated RCA line outs as well, providing better quality sound.
- External ports:
- 1 NeXT keyboard port. Later models of the NeXTstation are said to feature more standardized ADB ports.
- 1 NeXT mouse port. Featured on the back of the keyboard, the NeXT mouse port uses a modified bus mouse in order to communicate with the computer.
- 2 Serial ports. Both are Din-8 ports like those used on older Macintoshes
- Networking: 1 BNC and one RJ-45 Ethernet connector. Only one of these networking connectors can be used at a time.
- 1 68 pin SCSI port
- 1 DSP Port. This is a port for using the DSP for manipulation of external data.It featured a DB-9 connector, and was used in such wide-ranging applications such as realtime collection of scientific data, and the aforementioned ISDN modem.
A quick tour of the NeXTstation
The first thing you notice about the NeXTstation is its sleek appearance. This is an extremely well-designed box, and would look sleek and high-tech even among today's computers. Though not as good looking as the larger and more famous Cube, which is arguably considered the most beautiful computer ever, the slab is still fairly attractive, and is much nicer in appearance, in my opinion, than later attempts at good looking systems, such as the iMac.
Going to turn it on, you notice one of the many unusual, though good looking, features of the NeXTstation. There are no power switches. Indeed, the monitor doesn't even have a power cable, and instead receives all of its power from the cable connected to the PC. To turn it on, one must use either the power button on the keyboard, or go through a somewhat convoluted procedure to boot it headless. Once the system is on, one can either go to the PROM monitor by hitting command-~, or boot into the operating system installed on the box. The slab supports booting from both any scsi devices, or netbooting using its integrated ethernet features.
Opening the cover to the slab, the first thing one notices is how well laid out the unit is. Except for the few places where it would be either difficult or dangerous to do so, the unit is festooned in the same black that the rest of the system is. Even such features are the cables connecting the internal hard drive and disk drive are black. This attention to aesthetic detail is typical of any computer designed by Steve Jobs, and provides that attractiveness without any sacrifices of performance.
Operating systems supported by the NeXTstation
The best supported, and most widely used operating system on the NeXTstation is the aforementioned NeXTstep. This Mach-based 4.3bsd derivative operating system supports all of the hardware on the box, and is extremely snappy. As the unit uses a considerable amount of undocumented and proprietary hardware, projects dedicated to porting Linux and NetBSD are hampered and limited in scope. As even the SCSI controller is not well documented, many of these projects only support booting and using the box as a diskless workstation.
Purchasing a NeXTstation
Due to the rarity and desirability of NeXT workstations, availability of these units is hit and miss. Slabs are often available on auction sites such as eBay, and usually run for anywhere from $25-$40. Monitors run for approximately the same amount of money, as do keyboards. Interestingly enough, obtaining a mouse is usually the most expensive portion of purchasing a NeXT system. Usually, mice run upwards of $50, though prices have been known to go much higher than that as a few dedicated collectors attempt to purchase this item in order to obtain a complete system.
The NeXTstation is an interesting, and near-legendary piece of computer history. It's an amazingly well thought out machine, solving many problems other computer architectures are still struggling to overcome. The box is still considered attractive, and would look great in any office environment. Owing to its high acclaim and great design, it's a machine which is on the must-have list of any computer collector, and aside from the famous Cube, is usually the crown jewel of any computer collection.