What's my NeXT step here?
April 20, 2006 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I inherited a NeXT machine. How can I start from scratch on it?

A long time ago, a friend gave me his NeXT workstation. It's not the "cube" but the "slab". I don't know much about it, and it's not in front of me at the moment, but if a model number or anything is needed I can check on it tonight.

The machine currently has NeXTSTEP loaded on it, but I don't know what state its in or the user credentials to get in. I'd like to start playing around with it, and would really rather install the machine from scratch and start over.

Is there a way (preferably legal) of getting the installation media for this box? Also, is there another OS (maybe BSD?) that can run on it, either standalone or as a dual-boot?

Other related questions: What type of disk drives/memory/etc. does this machine accept, in case I want to add something? Also, is there an emulator that works well under Linux or Windows?
posted by tkolstee to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If the question really is "what's my next step" I'd suggest "toss it in the trash." There's way more interesting things to be done and played with on non-obsolete hardware, plus you'll have a much deeper resource pool to draw from.

The old NeXT faq is still out there but unchanged from 1998 and there's a small amount of hardware and media on ebay.

But seriously, running another OS on it? That thing's an old motorola 68000 pre-PowerPC chip - and PPC chips came out in 1994, over 10 years ago.. You could pick up 6 year old mac and run OpenBSD on it and get better performance.

Some retro computing is interesting and fun but there's very little unique about the NeXT hardware and OS that's interesting in light of how it's continued to evolve in the time since; OSX is the modern inheritor and playing with it will at least have some contemporary value.
posted by phearlez at 10:25 AM on April 20, 2006

No easy way to get NeXTSTEP media, unfortunately. It's fairly pricey on eBay or through resellers (around $100 through Black Hole Inc). You can run NetBSD on it if it's not a Turbo (it'll say on the front right corner of the top of the slab).

Drive-wise it will take most older SCSI drives, memory depends on whether it's turbo or not. There is no emulator that I know of.

On preview: I have to disagree with phearlez. I personally think that NeXT hardware is awesome and fun to run. But he's correct in saying that there's little of direct utilitarian value to it.
posted by j.edwards at 10:32 AM on April 20, 2006

From a professional point of view, I can't think of any useful experience this would give you in a job-related sense. Think of it as a quixotic pastime if you choose to go down the road. :)

I'd use it as a semi-unique monitor riser for the display attached to a machine made in this century.
posted by kcm at 10:53 AM on April 20, 2006

I bought a NeXT slab a while back for $100 and encountered a similar problem. My solution? I got NEXTSTEP 3.3 and a SCSI-1 CD-ROM drive on eBay and installed fresh. It worked fine. (You probably want to run NEXTSTEP 3.3 for speed considerations if you have a standard monoslab, OPENSTEP if you have a Turbo/Color box, although either OS will run on either box).

Black Hole Inc. claims that they sell NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP licensed media, but I've written them and never heard back. Others on the NeXT groups seem to think that the owner ran into health problems.

The NeXT FAQ, as referenced above, has a section on hard drives that work (ones greater than 420MB require special partitioning, IIRC. Just about any early SCSI-1 CD-ROM drive should work (properly terminated, of course).

phearlez is no fun. The NeXTs are surprisingly usable machines, and they offer interesting insight into why Mac OS X is the way it is today.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 11:17 AM on April 20, 2006

1. Your next will have a 68040 processor. If it is a turbo, then it will run at 33 MHz, otherwise 25 MHz. Some of the older cubes has 68030 processors but I'm fairly sure all of the slabs had '040s. Each NeXT had an Intel i860 DSP onboard that could be custom programmed. The i860 was why the machine was so interesting to finance and engineering types.

2. If you have a color slab, good luck. The NeXT color monitors were known for their short life. On the positive side, they did use a 13W3 plug, which may or may not be compatibel with contemporary Sun and SGI monitors. The B&W monitor was very sharp, lasted forever, and didn't tax the machine's processing power as much as color did.

3. Get NeXTSTEP 3.3, later versions are slower and won't add much.

4. After you play around with your NeXT a bit, you may find that it makes a better decoration than a useful computer. OS X is shockingly similar to NeXTSTEP, down to the AltiVec DSP on the PPC CPUs...

5. Memory is 30pin, IIRC. I don't remember if it was apple style 8-bit or PC style 9-bit RAM. I wouldn't be surprised if you can't put more than 32 or 64MB of RAM in a slab.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:32 AM on April 20, 2006

Someone on the Classic Computing email list might be able to point you to the software; someone from there mailed me CDs with installation media when I was flailing around on my first rescued NeXT a couple years ago (I'd offer to send them to you, but they disappeared several moves back). There's lots of other useful info about NeXTs in their archives as well.
posted by nonane at 12:04 PM on April 20, 2006

Each NeXT had an Intel i860 DSP onboard that could be custom programmed.

It was actually a Motorola 56001, the i860 chip was on the NeXT Dimension color board in the cubes.

The 13w3 just spews out a very standard sync-on-green signal, many modern monitors can take it. I use an older 15" Nanao monitor with BNC inputs for my color NeXTs. The primary issue with the color slabs is that one needs a special breakout cable to seperate the audio/mouse/keyboard signals from the 13w3 plug.

RAM is indeed 30-pin for the non-Turbos, but it's 72-pin for the turbo NeXTs. Non-turbos can go up to 32MB, turbos to 128MB. They're fairly picky about the RAM, hunt around in FAQs for exact info.

Another thing worth noting is that you'll need an external SCSI CD-ROM drive to install NeXTSTEP/OpenSTEP on there, and that the NeXTs don't like all external drives. I use an old Apple caddy-loading SCSI CD-ROM with my NeXT and it works fine.
posted by j.edwards at 12:28 PM on April 20, 2006

more specs here.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:46 PM on April 20, 2006

Thanks for all the information. I'm definitely not looking to do anything useful on this computer as I know it's ancient. I've worked/played on quite a variety of hardware, both emulated and real, and just wanted to take this strange new platform for a spin out of curiosity.

That being said, I'd rather not spend money on getting it up and running if at all possible. Last time I saw the machine running, just before it was given to me in 2000, it worked and was connected to the network just fine. Maybe I'll just play around with the existing installation instead of bothering. I'll probably get bored with it soon anyway, and sell it on eBay to some vintage computing collector, or just gift it to someone as a conversation piece.

This is definitely a monoslab, btw. I think I still have some 30-pin SIMMs around - I had a SB AWE32 that used them, and then one of them became a keychain for a while.
posted by tkolstee at 5:44 PM on April 20, 2006

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