1997 BeBox – 66MHz dual PowerPC

In the 1990s, there was everything to play for in terms of computer/workstation dominance. Of the many routes explored, the CHRP (Common Hardware Reference Platform) had a great deal of promise; PowerPC was still developing and improving and a bunch of Mac clones emerged.

In the meantime, former Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassée founded Be Inc. and an Apple/NeXT rival was born – but the first hardware to real the public was the BeBox. In the UK, Mac clone reseller and distributor Computer Warehouse introduced the BeBox, and as our photographic magazines looked at all platforms for imaging, I was sent one of (allegedly) 37 BeBoxes to reach the UK.

Being an idiot, I didn’t keep it – I sold it a couple of years after it was clear Be was gone, packing it in a box with a load of pillows and shipping it to America via Oklahoma. And I have yet to find my proper pictures. In the meantime, though, I have recovered a handful of pictures I took at home of it, probably when discussing it on Usenet.

A BeBox in 1997 or 1998

Mine was a 66MHz Rev. 6, with blinkenlights (the dual stacks of LED lights to show processor load). I went to the trouble of finding a modem that matched the blue, and it was used alongside many machines – a homebuilt PC, Acorn RiscPC, Apple 5400 (probably a 180), Elonex PC and others.

I will have networked it, but can’t remember how! I never did make use of the GeekPort, but I did use the MIDI.

When Be moved BeOS to Mac platform compatibility, the 66MHz BeBox became almost unbearably slow.

BeOS now exists – sort of – as Haiku. But you’ll have to make your own GeekPort and blinkenlights. To my mind, the modern successor of the BeBox is the Raspberry Pi – they both set out to bring multiprocessor computers to the masses at a cheap price, to be very versatile and suited to people playing with I/O and devices, and have a sense of humour about how they’re marketed and evolved. See also: MGT Sam Coupe.

Inside a BeBox

Inside, the BeBox felt very familiar to anyone who built PCs at the time – the usual sharp-edged metal chassis, a custom (and massive) board for the front panel LEDs and switches. For comparison, you can see my Dell Precision 410? workstation in the background which had leapfrogged the dual-processor innovation of the BeBox and had, IIRC, dual PIIs. That had hinged panels and screw-free drive bays, IIRC.

The ports on the BeBox. Awful picture

BeBox IO was pretty impressive. Most of it was on a big card that had its own connector on the motherboard.

It was quite well-documented, as most machines were intended for developers.

A bad picture of a BeBox

How many computers tried to look like Greek or Roman monuments with massive columns on the front. With LEDs in? Not enough, that’s how many.

BeOS running on the BeBox. R4 5.2. IIRC I didn’t like that update much.