Jarred Capellman
Putting 1s and 0s to work since 1995
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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Deep dive with a NeXTstation Turbo

Posted By Jarred Capellman

Intro

NeXTstation Turbo Rom
A while back in Summer 2011, I had this strange desire to obtain "classic" computers from every manufacturer that I had grown up hearing things about, obviously couldn't afford. Anyone following my blogs knows I have amassed quite a collection of Silicon Graphics machines along with a few DEC, Sun and late PowerPC-era Apple machines (G4 and G5). One manufacturer that had previously alluded me was NeXT. While still living at my parent's house back in 2004 I had an opportunity to purchase a NeXTcube, the pinacle of NeXT computers. Unfortunately, as an undergrad college student, I just couldn't justify the $300 at the time for a 33mhz computer that I might turn on every now and then. Fast forward a few years to 2011 shortly after Steve Jobs passed away, the prices on eBay for NeXT computers skyrocketed. It could have just been a coincidence, coupled with the fact that there were supposedly only 50,000 NeXT computers built between 1989 and 1993. Fast forward another couple years, prices seemed to have almost hit rock bottom for the NeXTstation Turbo, so I finally broke down and got one in near mint condition.

Inside Look

For those looking into purchasing a NeXTstation computer, a couple things to know before diving in:

-There are 4 models of the NeXTstation: regular (mono), Color, Turbo and Color Turbo. The main differences outside of supporting color in the Color models (4096 colors btw), is the speed of the Motorola 68040 (33mhz for Turbo models, 25mhz for non) and the maximum amount of ram the motherboard can take. For the Turbo models 128mb of ram is supported (72pin SIMMS, also compatible with the later year 68040 Macintosh models). For the non-Turbo models you're limited to 32mb of ram.

-The power supply is extremely picky amount how much draw your hard drive can utilize. I thankfully read a ton of posts regarding the maximum power draw which is extremely low (no Maxtor Atlas 15k II Ultra 320 drives unfortunately). By default, any drive with the older SCSI I 50pin internal connector should be fine. Another element is the heat output of a 15k drive for instance. There is only a single fan in the NeXTstation. Also the partitions have a 4gb limit, so if you have a larger drive, just remember to partition it in 4gb blocks

-By default there is no "VGA" connector, thankfully I was able to procure a Y-VGA Cable (one end to the NeXTstation, one to my monitor and one to the Soundbox) so I could use an Acer LED I had laying around.

Onto my NeXTstation Turbo machine specifically:

-Motorola 68040 33mhz CPU
-128MB of RAM
-2gb Quantum Fireball SCSI I Hard Drive
-2.88MB 3.5" Floppy Drive

NeXTstation Turbo - Inside
NeXTstation Turbo Rom
NeXTstation Turbo - RAM
Specifically for the Turbo models you'll need 72pin 70ns SIMMs (on a historical side note in December 1992 an 8MB SIMM went for $225). On eBay right now you can get 4x32mb SIMMs for $40 shipped, so keep an eye out. On a side note, a quick way to know if it's a Turbo board or not is if there are only 4 ram sockets instead of the 8 on non- turbo boards.

NeXTstation Turbo - Back
Note the 8P8C 10baseT ethernet connector - very handy to have it built-in compared to other machines of this era that still only had AUI or BNC connectors.
NeXTstation Turbo - Hard Drive
50pin SCSI I drives are used, which aren't anywhere close to the speed I'm used to in my SGI or Sun machines with a Maxtor Atlas 15k II Ultra 320 drive
NeXTstation Turbo - Power Supply

NeXTstep

Having never used NeXTstep, I was unprepared for what to expect. The only operating systems from that era I've used are Windows 3.x, MS-DOS and IRIX 5.3. I know 3.3 came out in February 1995, but it seems as though that really only updated the CPU Architecture support rather than a feature release, so I'll be comparing it to operating systems released around October 1993 (when 3.2 was released).

Turning on the NeXTstation via the power button on the keyboard (shown below), you're presented with a few startup screens before the login prompt:

NeXTstation Turbo - Power Button

NeXTstation Turbo - Boot Sequence

NeXTstation Turbo - NeXTstep Boot Sequence

NeXTstation Turbo - NeXTstep Login Prompt

Immediately I came to the realization I hadn't used a monochrome computer ever as the first computer I ever used (a Tandy 1000) had 16 color support, though games like Falcon and Test Drive I remember playing in black and white. Upon logging in, I noticed the computer as Jobs had wanted, was silent outside of the hard drive spinning. The interface, similar to IRIX, offered something similar to IRIX's Toolchest, but different functionality mapping to keyboard shortcuts. Something I didn't really didn't note at first was the command button below the space bar on the keyboard. By holding down the command button and s for instance in the text editor would save. Similar to the Control+S we're used to today, but easier to execute in my opinion with your left thumb.

One of the first things I did was try NFS Mounting. I created a mount on my Windows Server 2012 R2 NAS with semi-recent ports of GCC, BASH and other "standard" software. Sure enough it was picked up by NeXTstep and I was copying files between the machines. Kind of interesting that machines of different architectures (x86- 64 vs m68k) and 20 years apart, communicating over the same protocol have 0 issues.

For those curious, I've made local copies of the latest versions of GCC and Bash available here:
Bash
CC Tools for GCC
GCC 3.4.6
Updated Headers for GCC

Installing packages is a bit more modern than I was used to with IRIX. Each "package" has a modern installer, as opposed to tardists in IRIX.

NeXTstation Turbo - Installing BASH

One thing to note when installing Bash (or any other shell), update the /etc/shells file with the path to the new shell like so:
NeXTstation Turbo - Adjusting Shells

Without updating that file, you won't be able to utilize the new shell when adding/modifying users in the GUI.

What's NeXT?

Yesterday I started working on the jcBENCH port for NeXTstep/m68k, I should have that wrapped up within a week. I am very interested in seeing how it compares to a 33mhz MIPS R3000 Silicon Graphics Indigo that came out a year before the NeXTstation (July 1991), albiet at a little bit higher price ($7,995 vs $6,500), but offered color and additional video options.