posted by Thom Holwerda on Sun 13th Apr 2008 16:29 UTC

"4, 3, 2."

4. NeXTcube

Sometimes, a computer comes along that is far, far ahead of its time. The BeBox, the Amiga, and yes, the NeXTcube. For those that do not know (shame on you!), the NeXTcube was the brainchild of Apple-founder Steve Jobs, who had left Apple after being more or less ousted by the company's leaders. He founded NeXT, and started work on an object-oriented operating system (NEXTSTEP), and the hardware to run it. The NeXTcube was an oddball piece of equipment, built out of magnesium, and lacking a hard drive, opting for a magneto-optical drive instead.

Cube-shaped computers rock, and the NeXTcube set the trend. With its black, ridged design, built out of magnesium, with similarly themed monitor, keyboard, and mouse, it embodied what Apple would become almost two decades later. Again, this is one of those machines whose uniqueness made sure it would get its place in the history books. And it ran the first webserver.

3. Sun SPARCstation 20 "pizza box"

The second Sun machine on this list, and by far the best-looking thing ever to come out of Santa Clara. As I already mentioned, I prefer the desktop form-factor. It is sleeker, less intrusive, and its internals are easier to access than a tower's. The SPARCstation 20 is the epitome of the desktop form-factor; very thin, no ports or slots of whatever kind on its front-bezel. The ultimate incarnation of the pizza box form factor. It could pack a serious punch too: up to four SuperSPARC or HyperSPARC processors (200Mhz max. each), and 512 MB of RAM.

It is too bad the pizza box design has been abandoned in favour of ugly towers and even uglier laptops. The SPARCstation 20 would be my ultimate computer. Thin, clean, angular: it has all the characteristics of computer design that I like. And just look at those cute purple feet!

2. The BeBox

Put your hands in my hands / and come with me, we'll find another end / and my head, and my head on anyone's shoulder / 'cause I can't be with you." I should probably be scared that The Cranberries' "I Can't Be With You" makes me think of the BeBox. The BeBox was supposed to become the platform for the BeOS, but in the end, only around 1800 of them were sold, making them extremely rare today, and whenever one does end up on eBay, prices go into the I-can't-justify-not-eating-for-5-years range quite quickly. In fact, I wonder if there even is a BeBox in The Netherlands at all.

The BeBox' story started in 1990, when Be, Inc. produced the first prototype, which consisted of just a logic board with a single At&T Hobbit processor, which gave the Be engineers a platform to code for. In 1991, the BeBox had already turned into a machine with 5 Hobbit processors, of which 30 prototypes were built. The Hobbit BeBoxen would never actually make it to customers, seeing At&T ceased production of the Hobbit processors in 1994.

Enter the PowerPC BeBox, designed by Joe Palmer, and the object of my affection. It had two PowerPC 603/603e processors, running at either 66 or 133Mhz, and could eat up to 256MB of RAM. It had support for a wide range of PCI graphics cards, audio cards, and all sorts of other standard devices and interfaces. On top of that, it had the infamous GeekPort. "The 'GeekPort' is a new feature connector unique to the BeBox. It provides digital and analogue I/O and D.C. power through a 37-pin connector at the back of the chassis. This port is aimed at experimenters and small entrepreneurs so that they may bring unique functions to the BeBox. The GeekPort is located on the ISA bus and can be accessed by the CPU, a PCI busmaster card, or an ISA busmaster card."

However, this article deals with looks, not character. The PowerPC BeBox' most distinctive feature was its front bezel, designed by Mark Brinkerhoff. Brinkenhoff said in an interview: [Be, Inc.] wanted a bezel designed that had, ah, a look of power, as well as one that displayed both CPUs running." And so it did: the two 'columns' at the sides of the bezel represent the power element Gassee was after. These two columns also house two series of LEDs (the Blinkenlights), one in each column, that indicate processor activity. Each of them was connected to a processor, and the series of LEDs would light up according to actual CPU activity. You cannot seriously say you would not want that on your machine.

The BeBox has a very special place in my heart, not only because of what I described above; the BeBox' best feature was its software, the BeOS, which I still consider the best operating system ever conceived - despite its obvious shortcomings. The BeBox represents my ideal computer in hardware and software, and it almost represents my ideal computer in looks. Almost, because the BeBox is number 2 on this list.

Table of contents
  1. "10, 9, 8."
  2. "7, 6, 5."
  3. "4, 3, 2."
  4. "1."
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