The NeXT cube is often found second-hand without any of the CPU boards. Here are a few suggestions for possible uses:

  • Micro beer fridge
  • Put over head. It will block the government mind control rays.
  • speaker cabinet
  • Make it into a toaster. Put the toast in the optical disk slot.
  • Put a solitary red LED on the front and tell your friends to meet HAL 9001
  • Use as a chassis for your BattleBots entry.
The NeXT Cube was a revolutionary computer from Steve Jobs's NeXT company. Unveiled in October of 1988, encased in the 12"x12"x12" magnesium cube was a computer with some of the most advanced hardware and software ever seen. The black cube, with matching black keyboard, mouse, monitor, and printer, was visually striking and was the first major personal computer to break out of the beige box rut.

It had a 25 Mhz Motorola 68040 CPU with integrated MMU and FPU, one of the most powerful CPUs of the time. Apple only started using the 68040 in their computers in 1991, almost two years later. The first model came equiped with 8 MB of RAM; a second model released soon after came equiped with 16 MB. Perhaps most interestingly, the computer had a second microprocessor on board -- a Motorola 56001 DSP. The DSP was capable of processing speech, music, acting as a modem (much like the WinModems of today) and other signal processing tasks. Unfortunately, most developers of the time were slow to recognize the potential and take advantage of the DSP.

The MegaPixel display came standard and a 400dpi laser printer was optional. The MegaPixel was a 17" grayscale monitor that had a resolution of 1120x832 at 92 dpi. The NeXT Cube used 2 bits per pixel, giving a palette of black, white, and two shades of gray. The original model, much like the iMac, was floppy-less, instead having a 256 MB rewritable optical drive, long before CD-R drives were even available. The second model added a 2.88 MB floppy, backwards compatible with standard 1.44 MB drives. All models contained a standard SCSI hard drive.

Other notable features were built-in ethernet, sound, serial and printer ports, plus an I/O port connected directly to the DSP. Three NeXTbus slots allowed for expansion cards such as the NeXTdimension board, giving 32-bit-per-pixel color/video.

The machine ran the NEXTSTEP operating system, built on the Mach microkernel and BSD 4.3, with lots of innovations like Display Postscript and an Objective C based development environment.

NeXT released their NeXTStation and NeXTStation Color computers in 1990, to provide a low(er) cost alternative to the cube.

Allow me to point out some of the shortcomings of the NeXT Cube, as well as give you an idea of why we're not all using one these days. First, let me just say that I am a happy owner of a NeXTstation and I'd like to get a Cube. With that in mind...

The Cube was a failure. It didn't fit into the workstation market because it was underpowered and it didn't fit into the PC market because it was overpriced. Not having a market is a bad, bad thing. Compared to the machines Sun and Digital were cranking out at this time, the Cube was a dog. It came with little memory, had a slow processor, and only came in grayscale.

The machine originally couldn't even talk to other brands of computers on the same network. That means your lab of NeXT cubes couldn't mount filesystems off the Sun server your company bought last year. What to do? Buy another NeXT, of course! The magneto-optical drive was slow as well. It overheated. It malfunctioned. Disks for it were expensive. But most importantly, it's just not what people wanted. Sure, it may be cool to store everything on a MO disk. But then, no other computers out there came with a MO drive so there was no interoperability. People like to move files from one machine to another, and the Cube didn't really have a way to do this.

There was almost no software. Steve Jobs insisted that programs be written from scratch for NeXTSTEP. No porting applications from your Mac. Very few companies were willing to do this since the user base was so tiny. Even the operating system that shipped with the Cube was broken. It would be years after the introduction of the Cube before NeXTSTEP functioned properly.

So to summarize: very little software, crash-prone operating system, poor interoperability, slow processor, little memory, grayscale only. How much would you pay for such an outstanding machine? Well, back in the day they could very easily run you $15,000 or so. With more memory, a bigger hard drive, and a support contract, you could spend over $20,000. That's pushing twice the price of a Sun machine from the same time period.

For much more information on NeXT, I encourage you to read Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing. I sure do love my NeXT, but reading that gave me an entirely different perspective on NeXT, the company.

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