Lady Ada Turns NeXT Equipment Into Something Useful

From the late 80s to the early 90s, [Steve Jobs] wasn’t at Apple. He built another company in the meantime, NeXT Computer, a company that introduced jet black workstations to universities and institutions, developed an incredible emphasis on object-oriented programming, and laid the groundwork for the Unix-ey flavor of Apple’s OS X. Coincidently, there is a lot of old NeXT gear at the Adafruit clubhouse – not that there’s anything wrong with that, we all have our own strange affectations and proclivities. Recently, [Lady Ada] turned one of the strangest components of the NeXT computer ecosystem into something useful: a computer speaker.

The item in question for this build is the NeXT ‘sound box’. When not using the very special NeXT monitor, the NeXT computer connects the monitor, keyboard, and speakers through this odd little box. There are two versions of the NeXT sound box, and peripherals from either version are incompatible with each other. ([Jobs] was known for his sense of design and a desire for a simplified user experience, you know.)

In [Lady Ada]’s initial teardown of the sound box, she discovers a few interesting things about this peripheral. There’s an I2S DAC inside there, connected to an unobtanium DB19 connector. Theoretically, that I2S device could be used to drive the speaker with digital audio. The only problem is the DB19 connector – they’re rare, and [Steve] from Big Mess o’ Wires bought the world’s supply.

Without these connectors, and since it’s only an hour-long show, [Lady Ada] went with the most effective hack. She grabbed a USB audio dongle/card, added a small amplifier, and soldered a few wires onto the power and ground pins of an IC. It’s simple, effective, fast, and turns an awesome looking 30-year-old peripheral into a useful device.

NeXT Cubes And LCD Monitors

The NeXT slabs and cubes were interesting computers for their time, with new interesting applications that are commonplace today seen first in this block of black plastic. Web browsers, for example, were first seen on the NeXT.

Running one of these machines today isn’t exactly easy; there are odd video connectors but you can modify some of the parts and stick them in an LCD monitor. It’s a tradeoff between a big, classic, heavy but contemporary CRT and a modern, light, and efficient LCD, but it’s still a great way to get a cube or slab up and running if you don’t have the huge monitor handy.

The NeXT cube doesn’t have a single wire going between the computer and the monitor; that would be far too simple. Instead, a NeXT Sound Box sits between the two, providing the user a place to plug the monitor, keyboard, mouse, and audio connectors into. [Brian] took the board from this Sound Box and put it inside an old NEC LCD monitor he had sitting around. 12V and 5V rails were wired in, the video lines were wired in, and [Brian] created a new NeXT monitor.

There are two versions of the NeXT Sound Box – one for ADB peripherals (Apple IIgs and beige Macs), and another for non-ADB peripherals. [Brian] also put together a tutorial for using non-ADB peripherals with the much more common ADB Sound Board.

Hackaday Links: August 17, 2014


[wjlafrance] recently picked up an old NeXTstation, complete with keyboard, mouse, display… and no display cable. The NeXT boxes had one of the weirder D-sub connectors a still weird DB-19 video connector, meaning [wjla] would have to roll his own. It’s basically just modifying a pair of DB-25 connectors with a dremel, but it works. Here’s the flickr set.

The guys at Flite Test put on a their first annual Flite Fest last month – an RC fly-in in the middle of Ohio – and they’re finally getting around to putting up the recap videos. +1 for using wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men as an obstacle course.

My phone’s battery is dead and my water pressure is too high.

Stripboard drawing paper, written in [; \LaTeX ;].

Remember the Commodore 16? [Dave] stuck a PicoITX mother board in one. He used the Keyrah interface to get the original keyboard working with USB. While we’re not too keen on sacrificing old computers to build a PC, it is a C16 (sorry [Bil]), and the end result is very, very clean.

A Chromecast picture frame. [philenotfound] had a 17″ LCD panel from an old Powerbook, and with a $30 LVDS to HDMI adapter, he made a pretty classy Chromecast picture frame.


USB NeXT Keyboard

USB NeXT Keyboard

[Ladyada] and [pt] had an old keyboard from NeXT, but since it used a custom protocol it wasn’t usable with modern hardware. So they built a custom device to convert the NeXT protocol to USB.

The device uses a Arduino Micro to read data from the keyboard and communicate as a HID device over USB. It connects to the keyboard using the original mini-DIN connector, and is housed in the classic Altoids tin enclosure.

Since the protocol used by NeXT isn’t standard, they had to figure it out and write some code to interpret it. The keyboard communicates bidirectionally with the computer, so they needed to send the correct frames to key data back.

Fortunately, they hit on a Japanese keyboard enthusiast’s site, which had protocol specifications. They implemented this protocol on the Micro, and used the Keyboard library to create a HID device.

The final product is an adapter for NeXT to USB, which allows for the old keyboards to be used on any computer with USB. It’s a good way to bring back life to some otherwise unusable antique hardware.