'486 Portables Will Take NeXTSTEP on the Road

An important side benefit of NeXT's move to '486 hardware is the immediate availability of portable systems, something that has been sorely lacking from NeXT's product line. To old-timers who used to haul around NeXTcubes, the Slab may have seemed like a portable, but in reality NeXT has been completely shut out of the market for laptop and notebook computers.

No longer. The requirements for a NeXTSTEP portable are the same as for any other Intel-based machine, though most portables use the low-powered SL version of the '486 processor. Processor-speed and memory-configuration requirements are comparable to desktop machines. With today's hardware, however, the best available color or grayscale screen is good enough to run NeXTSTEP only in 2-bit grayscale at 640-by-480 resolution. Any type of portable screen will work, though an active-matrix display is suggested for acceptable cursor-response times.

Many '486 portables will meet the requirements. At press time, NeXT planned to support AC-powered portables in Compaq's 486M and C lines, several of Toshiba's 6400 line, and a NEC Prospeed. Among battery-powered units, NeXT expected to provide support for the Altima 433D, Compaq LTE Lite, several of the Toshiba 4400 machines, and a future NEC product line. Several of these are so small and light that they qualify as notebooks rather than laptops.

We were able to play with an early version of NeXT-STEP for Intel running on a Toshiba 4400C notebook loaded to the gills with 20MB of memory (thanks to an add-in kit by Apricorn) and an active-matrix display. It weighed just eight pounds, including the battery, and was also equipped with a docking station to hold the Ethernet card when we returned to our desk.

NeXTSTEP ran fast and was stable, though we had to get used to a few facts of life about portables. First, the 640-by-480 resolution provides just one-quarter the pixels of a MegaPixel Display. Even with hiding the Dock and menus and making other screen elements as small as possible, it seems likely that some apps will simply not run effectively at this resolution. Hopefully, developers will redesign their apps in low-resolution versions for portable users.

The second difference is that, unlike fully networked desktop NeXTs, portables do not live on a network. Users will need to adjust to dialing in at reg-ular intervals and managing their files and e-mail accordingly.

by Dan Lavin