Cool Stories from one of the NeXT developers of the Nitro !

Started by Rob Blessin Black Hole, March 30, 2018, 06:33:40 am

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Rob Blessin Black Hole

Hello NeXT Community: I thought you all would enjoy inside scoop from questions I'm asking one the NeXT guys that worked on the Nitro and many other projects . He gave permission to share , I'm hoping to have podcasts as I have a lot of neat customers and forum members and I know it will be entertaining for us!


   When did you start coding at NeXT?   I think I've seen your name on some early early version pop up windows, I'll have to launch an optical drive to to take a look...

I joined NeXT in 1990 and spent a little over 4 and a half years there.   My name is unlikely to be in any pop up windows (and certainly not any early ones).   One of the downsides of being in the OS group doing low level work was that there were few to no pop up windows for us to put our names on.

   do you have any ballpark estimates of how much NeXT hardware was produced ....  Cubes, Slabs and Turbo's ?

For released hardware, no.  Sales and shipment numbers weren't widely shared.  What was shared with most of the company was both infrequent and generally vague.

I did get frequent updates on the numbers of the unreleased Nitros though.  Since I was the sw person on the core Nitro engineering dev team, the hw guys copied me on pretty much everything.  I recall getting spreadsheets that had stuff like how many bare PC boards were made, how many of those were populated with everything but CPUs, which boards got reworked or needed rework, which boards got one of the engineering sample 40 Mhz CPUs, where each of these few boards were, status, etc.

   Is it OK to share some of your stories with the NeXT forums , I'll keep it anonymous source.

Sure, I suppose.

Some basic info as for the Nitro I have:

   -- It hasn't been powered up for 25 years.

   -- The last person to have powered this Nitro up wasn't me; it was one of the hw guys.  This isn't the Nitro board I had in my office and used pretty regularly for several years after NeXT got out of the hardware business.  I left that Nitro board at NeXT.  (I had hoped that someone would take over care of that system, but learned it soon just ended up unplugged and shoved in a cabinet)

   -- Very few Nitro boards got 40 Mhz parts on them at NeXT and all that did got Motorola engineering samples.  Motorola didn't release the 40 Mhz CPU until almost a half year after NeXT laid off the hardware folks.  (iirc one of the first using it, the Quadra 840AV, didn't come out until later summer / early fall of 1993)

   -- I have no idea what mask/version of engineering sample CPU this board has on it.  This CPU, like all the ones NeXT got, has a massive heat sink glued to the top of it, covering up any identifying markings on it.

   -- The 40 Mhz sample parts ran very, very hot.  My desktop Nitro system was a NeXTstation Turbo with a Nitro card installed that always operated open, with the cover off.  I had the system fan basically pointed at the Nitro.   I never used a Nitro card in a cube.

   -- While heat was a big problem with Motorola's 40 Mhz engineering sample CPUs, they had other errata as well.


***** (Me giddy about the Nitro )

He actually has a copy of NeXTSTEP 2.2 how cool is that...

I'm going to extract this out to a separate thread for ease of reading ...

   >Cool info on Version 2.2 , so it may have had the adb support . I have often wondered if the early non adb systems would have been able to support non adb peripherals with a modification to the board.

ADB support in the NeXT 68K HW product family was implemented/enabled by one of the chips done for the Turbo project. The NeXTstation Turbo (33 Mhz), NeXTstation Turbo Color (33 Mhz), NeXTcube Turbo (33 Mhz) and their 25 Mhz versions had the necessary HW on their motherboards.

Use of the ADB functionality on the motherboard required the chip, a version of the ROM to configure things at power-up and an appropriate kernel version.

People have wondered why NeXT made and shipped 25 Mhz Turbo Systems.  The answer is simple: they were cheaper to manufacture than the previous corresponding (non-Turbo motherboard) NeXTstations and NeXTcubes.

The goals of the Turbo project were to enable both higher performance (faster CPU, faster memory system, more memory, etc) and lower cost (fewer parts, less expensive parts, more manufacturable boards, etc).  The performance part was pretty straightforward for the Turbo hw team.  The lower cost part required much more work.  ADB support was also seen as an additional way to get costs down.

As for ADB, I actually found it annoying and much preferred non-ADB keyboard systems.  With the non-ADB keyboards you could do the magic key salute to generate an NMI (non-maskable interrupt) and drop the system into the ROM monitor code.  ADB keyboards don't have dedicated lines and are polled instead making things trickier.



    > Was the NeXT phase for hardware after the nitro going to be NRW?

The NRW project actually started way before Nitro.  And before even Turbo.  The main NeXT hardware system development efforts were split primarily between the M68K products group and the RISC project with both working in parallel.  (There were also the hw folks who did development on monitors, printers, ADB devices, etc, etc)

It was pretty clear back in 90-92 that Motorola was really struggling to eek more out of its 68K family CISC processor development efforts and that RISC processors seemed to be a way forward for the future.  Sun's transition from 68K to SPARC was a competitive example of that.  

So NRW was NeXT's launch into RISC and it originally was a M88K (88110) project.  Which eventually, for many reasons, turned into a PowerPC based project.   Sadly, it turned out Motorola didn't just have problem producing more powerful 68K CISC CPU versions but also had issues producing RISC chips.




The NEXTSTEP & NEXTSTEP DEVELOPER photo is a shot of (most of) the folks who worked on the 3.1 release:  SW, QA, product marketing, admin, SJ.  The photo was taken between Building 1 and Building 2 at 900 Chesapeake.  If you look at the woman in the front row near the center, you'll see she is holding a box of NS3.1  This photo and a commemorative shrink-wrapped box of NEXTSTEP 3.1 was given to everyone who worked on the 3.1 release.  The box I was given is shown in another of the photos in the album.  The box is still unopened -- I don't believe the copies of 3.1 given out to us differed from what customers could buy.  I never heard any of my NeXT colleagues mention they found a golden ticket or the like in theirs  :)

Not surprising you haven't seen a CD copy of Release 2.2 -- they weren't terribly common even back in 1991.  NeXTStep 2.2 (iirc all caps for STEP didn't appear until 3.0) was the first (shipped) release that supported Turbo.  As I was the main person doing OS/ROM/driver work for Turbo, I ended up with some of the 2.2 CDs.  I remember there was a great amount of push-back from PM, SJ and others about making Release 2.2 available at all to non-Turbo system owners.  They didn't want to do it.   And so they also didn't want to put out a Release 2.2 CD so people could get it.

Their stance / spin was that the only changes in 2.2 were to support Turbo and that if you had a Turbo, you had 2.2 because it was shipped with it.  I.e. so if you had a Turbo, you already had 2.2 and if you didn't have a Turbo, you didn't need 2.2 so there was no need for a CD version.

The backstory was that what became 2.2 and what became 3.0 forked / branched many months before.  Most everyone in SW was working on the 3.0 branch.  Only two of us were primarily working on the 2.2 branch for Turbo.  Since 3.0 was seen as the next great thing (and it was already behind schedule), the senior team didn't want to make 3.0 even later by having people spend time putting any non-Turbo features or bugfixes in 2.2.  The reality was while PM didn't want non-Turbo changes to go in to 2.2, they also had to calm some customers down and had directed that some important bug fixes get put into 2.2.  I bellieve there also was some ND related updates dragged along.

There were certain customers who, despite not having Turbos, definitely needed some of what was on the 2.2 CD, and who couldn't do updates or rebuilds over the net.  So the result was, grudgingly, a CD of 2.2 was produced, but at the same time there was an effort to convince most folks they really didn't want or need it.

The packaging for the 2.2 CD release also shows how the CD was somewhat under the radar.  First, unlike most NeXT CD releases, the back of the packaging doesn't list a part number.  And the front of the CD packaging is "SOFTWARE RELEASE 2.2" under a NeXT logo with no mention of NeXTStep.  Or NeXTSTEP.   We thought back then, probably correctly, that the likely reason they left off the word NeXTStep or NeXTSTEP is that it would takes them weeks to decide which capitalization to choose.



Rob Blessin President computerpowwow ebay
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