Eight Bit Wonder

The first thing you notice about the Model 712 is how easy it is to set up. There are no cards to install and nothing to configure. It's a real workstation with integrated networking, sound, and graphics capabilities that work the minute you take it out of the box. A single power button on the front of the machine is used for both powering on and shutting down the system.

To test Hewlett-Packard's speed claims, we launched the Mandelbrot demo that ships with NEXTSTEP. As soon as we let up on the Run button, the image finished drawing. Graphics are sharp and flicker free. At first glance, the Model 712 appears to be running NEXTSTEP in 24-bit color at a resolution of 1280-by-1024 pixels. But in fact, it uses an HP technology called Color Recovery that uses a lossy algorithm to display 24-bit color in 8 bits. This feature allows the 712 to display true-color images using one-third of the VRAM, keeping the overall cost of the system low.

Designers and others who must have true color can purchase a higher-end machine (such as the 715) with a 24-bit color card, but such systems cost considerably more. We tried out a 715 and were impressed to discover that dragging windows around on the screen seemed much faster than on a monochrome NeXTstation.

Support for the 712's sound hardware hadn't been enabled in the prerelease version of NEXTSTEP for HP PA-RISC that we saw, but a driver should be ready by the time of release.

The 712's video capabilities, however, are another matter. Many users are looking to the 712 as a possible replacement for the NeXTdimension system, but until NeXT releases its NEXTIME video technology , NEXTSTEP can't take advantage of the 712's built-in MPEG decompression. Even then, support is far from certain. NeXT could develop a plug-in for NEXTIME that supports the video hardware, but, at press time, NeXT had no current plans to do so. Under HP-UX, the 712 can play back real-time video at 30 fps in a window that is 320-by-240 pixels in size. Surprisingly, the machine lacks any kind of video I/O.

NEXTSTEP for Intel includes a dual boot capability that allows you to keep both DOS/Windows and NEXTSTEP on a single hard disk. NeXT may enable this capability under NEXTSTEP for HP PA-RISC, but given the size of both HP-UX and NEXTSTEP, users may prefer to keep each OS on a separate drive.

The 712 can support multiple monitors simultaneously, but since this capability is missing from NEXTSTEP 3.2, the version on which NEXTSTEP for HP PA-RISC is based, it is unlikely to be supported in the initial release. NeXT also has no plans to support HP's TeleShare, an expansion card that offers integrated telephony capabilities. A driver could be written using DriverKit by an enterprising third party.

by Lee Sherman