NeKo (eKo), the world’s first keyboard production station (2003)

In January 2003, as CEO of Open Labs, we released the eKo (subsequently changed to NeKo) keyboard production station. It was the first musical keyboard to be equipped with a powerful computer processor capable of running Windows, essential for multi-track music production and performing with VSTs (virtual instruments).

It was so advanced it totally eclipsed any other keyboard workstation ever produced before.

NEKO

When we release it at winter NAMM show 2003, the press said “Open Labs, steals day one at NAMM” and “Open Labs just created an entirely new class of Super Instruments”

Here is our initial press release:

eKo, is the ultimate performance and studio instrument because it is simply the most advanced, flexible and cost effective product available today. Because it is based on our OpenSynth,Ñ¢ platform, eKo frees you from all of the frustrating limitations imposed by closed, proprietary systems, while still maintaining the virtues of an all-in-one keyboard instrument.

Open Sounds: eKo can emulate almost any instrument ever invented by hosting industry standard VSTi software synthesizers, samplers and audio processing plug ins. Open System: eKo utilizes industry standard micro-ATX motherboards and processors that allow you to run standard operating systems, such as Microsoft Windows or Linux and use standard PC-compatible hardware.

All in One: eKo’s all in one design eliminates the clutter and confusion of traditional desktop computer systems so you can focus on what really matters… The music.

User Friendly: eKo enables you to change settings and access programs through an easy to use interface that shields you from the complexities of the operating system.

Power to Rock: eKo can accommodate the fastest processors available, and more RAM and storage than any other music workstation.

Low Latency: eKo gives you near-zero latency even under high processor loads.

Instant On: Unlike traditional computers that may take minutes to start up, eKo utilizes a unique process that allows the keyboard to start up in seconds.

Interchangeable Control Modules: eKo’s interchangeable control modules provide a physical interface for easier control of software instruments and are designed to support virtually any future control options.

Non Stop, Music: eKo is the only musical instrument with integrated power management that combats power spikes and operates during power interruptions.

Modern Art: With a sleek, modern design incorporating an aluminum chassis and rubber endbells, eKo is as beautiful as it is powerful.

Surfboard: eKo’s included Ethernet port allows you to directly access the Internet, to quickly and easily download upgrades, sounds and applications.

Complete Portable Studio: eKo is a self-contained recording, editing and mastering system that’s perfect for the studio or stage.

Have it Your Way: With Open Labs’ Build-Your-Own-Keyboard (BYOK) ordering system, you can have the exact eKo that you want, when you want it, with the ability to upgrade at any time.

 

Changing the music world

In 2001 I, along with Craig Negoescu, Lary Cotten and Heinz Grether formed Open Labs. What we created changed the way music was produced and performed forever. We were the first to produce musical instruments equipped with powerful computers, which helped usher in the electronic music revolution whereby music was produced and performed using computer systems. It was through our products and others like it that computer-based music production and performance became the defacto standard today.

The first instrument we created was the OMX music production system. It was first shown to and tested by world-class music producers including Dr. Dre.

omx

 

The original OMX was based on Intel processors with a complete professional interface built-in. Later versions such as the OMX Extreme were designed and produced in conjunction with AMD and utilized Opteron processors, the most powerful processors available at the time.

AMD contributed over $250,000 in financial assistance and products to help create the OMX systems as well as the first generation NeKo keyboard production stations.

MetroShop: One of the first web-enabled ERP systems

In 2000, I co-founded and was the CEO for Ecommercesoft, a company dedicated to providing enterprise-class business software solutions.

MetroShop, essentially an online ERP system with web-based frontend based on WebObject from Apple, was promoted by Apple as an enterprise software solution for its clients. It was also used to power parts of Lucent Technologies online commerce as well as the LBJ Presidential Library.

http://www.macobserver.com/news/00/may/000512/metroshopasp.shtml

PowerTools creates most power MacOS compatible computer in the world (1997)

World's most powerful MacOS computer (1997)

In 1997, I founded PowerTools, one of the few companies authorized by Apple to produce MacOS compatible computers.

Given this fantastic opportunity, we created the world’s most powerful MacOS computer up until that point in time. It was called the X-Force and it was the first computer to offer the then new G3 processor and MacOS 8.

CEO Gil Amelio deemed it so important he had a special stage set up next to the main Apple stage at the MacWorld Japan Expo for the opening keynote speech with spotlights on it to display our products next to the new Apple releases.

This is just one of the reviews for the X-Force. Please note the following are screen shots of the review so it will lack the ad banners. Nevertheless, it will give you some idea as to just how far ahead PowerTools was from everyone else.

 

Review Date: Nov. 1997.
= Review Summary = 


  PROS: Fastest shipping MacOS computer to date (Nov. 1997)
Excellent components and design (disk/controller/motherboard/cpu)
Dual CPU slot motherboard.
9.1 Gigabyte Wide Scsi Hard Drive, 24X Cdrom
Motherboard has 8 Dimm slots, 6 PCI slots and PCI-PCI Bridge chip.
Audio jacks on front of case
No current Mac is more upgradeable or better equipped.
Photoshop tests leave even a 8500 w/G3 CPU card in the dust.

CONS: CDrom noisy at full speed (24x).


MacBench 4.0 scores    Application Test Results
 
Updates:

Introduction:
POWERTools is one of the only manufacturers that currently addresses the needs of the high-end graphics and power user. Although the new Apple G3 models are good values for most business and home/consumer needs, the pale in comparison to the performance and expandability of the X-Force.Whereas Apple provides only a SCSI-1 and crippled IDE (no slaves allowed apparently) interfaces, the X-Force 250 package comes standard with both internal Fast SCSI-2, External SCSI, and PCI based internal and external Ultra/Wide SCSI-3 interfaces (via the ATTO U/W controller). Memory, PCI and Disk expansion capabilities are also impressive in the X-Force, with 6 PCI slots (w/PCI to PCI Bridge Chip, which allows direct data transfers between the two PCI buses, a feature not found in any Apple model), 8 Dimm slots (for up to 1 Gigabyte of Ram. As tested, 6 Dimm slots, 4 PCI slots, and both a 3.5″ and 5.25″ expansion bay free in the supplied configuration. As your needs and demands of your work grow, this system can be expanded to address them without having to purchase another computer, or make compromises.I have not seen a faster or more upgradeable Macintosh System than the X-Force. For those looking for a complete professional MacOS system package without limitations – I suggest you give serious consideration to the X-Force 250 packages. They feature outstanding performance out of the box, and you won’t be limited in upgrade options in the future.
Product Description
The test system supplied by POWERtools was their X-Force 250 system #2, with the following features:X-Force250 #2: List price $5,999

  • Mini-tower (almost a mid-tower actually)
  • 250Mhz (G3 Arthur processor) w/1MB “back-side” L2 cache
  • 250Mhz bus speed (1:1)
  • Selectable CPU, Bus, and Cache ratio speeds
  • 80MB Ram (2 dimms)
  • 9.1GB fast-wide hard drive
  • ATTO fast-wide SCSI-3 card
  • 24x CDrom
  • 4MB IMS Twin Turbo video card
  • 10-Base-T ethernet & AAUI (upgradeable to 100 Base-T)
  • Extended KB, mouse
  • MacOS 8 / FWB hard disk tool kit

A quick check of pricing revealed that attempting to upgrade my 8500 to this level of performance quickly comes close to the price of the X-Force, which includes a far more expandable motherboard and case. ($2000 CPU card, $1000 9.1gig Wide drive, $400 PCI Scsi card, $350 video card, $200 Cdrom, – you get the picture).

The OOBE (Out of Box Experience) was very good, as the X-force was supplied with well illustrated manuals for the System, ATTO scsi card, Twin Turbo and OS8. I especially liked the front mounted audio jacks – no more fumbling in the back of the Mac when making or changing connections. A microphone however was not supplied. The system was up and running within minutes of unpacking.

My only caveat was the noise from the 24X cdrom drive – something I’d seen before and a reason I don’t care for them. Due to the speed of these drives, the spin up only when necessary, and there was a resonance created from this extremely high rpm of the drive. (previously I had not fully secured the side cover, which was the reason for much of the noise. With the cover properly attached CDrom drive noise was drastically reduced). Performance of the 24X cdrom was exceptional, and software installed as fast from the CDrom as from my hard disks.

Cdrom software installs on this system have be thinking twice about getting a similar speed cdrom for my Mac.

Design Features of the X-Force:
Front View of the X-force:As shown at the right, the exterior of the case is clean and attractive. There is one available 3.5″ and one 5.25″ external access drive bays free (for Syjet, Jaz and/or Zip drive use for instance). Power, reset and interrupt switches were well located and much improved over my 8500. The audio out and microphone jacks are shown at the lower front of the case.POWERtools web site notes that case styles may vary, but this model is similar to what is shown on the web site. (Pay no attention to the little red man at the keyboard, although as his expression shows – he was quite impressed with the X-Force)
Xforce pix
X-Force Front View

X-Force External Interfaces:This image shows the rear view of the X-Force mini-tower (excuse the image quality, these were shot at 3am). The X-Force provides dual ADB, SCSI, Wide SCSI-3, Ethernet (10 Base-T) & AAUI, Apple and PC/VGA monitor interfaces. 4 PCI slots are free for expansion.Note cooling fans and vents – evidence the system is designed to handle a fully populated configuration.
Xforce rear view
X-Force Rear View
Inside the Powerforce:
This is where the real difference is evident in the X-Force. Present but not identified is a 2nd processor card slot, typically used in dual 604E system configurations.The X-Force is based on the UMax S900 series motherboard, with it’s unique DEC PCI-PCI bridge chip (missing from Apple’s 95/9600 line) that allows direct PCI-PCI data transfers without going to system memory.Eight Dimm slots are provided (6 were free) and support up to 1 Gigabyte of Ram. Interleaving is supported as well, by pairing identical size/type Dimms is Ax/Bx slot pairs.
X-Force Interior (sorry about image size!)
Four PCI slots were free in the supplied configuration, two being used by the ATTO Ultra/Wide SCSI-3 card and IXMicro Twin Turbo.This system was supplied with a 250 watt power supply and ample power connectors for the case capacity. The installed disk was a IBM 9.1Gigabyte Wide scsi. Ram was 60ns, 2k refresh.

Initial Test Results
For initial testing I left the PowerForce 250 card speed settings at the POWERtools shipped settings (47.5mhz bus/285mhz cpu/285mhz cache) speeds, since many users may not want to experiment with further acceleration. I installed Speed Doubler 8.01a since I have used it in other tests and also installed the latest 4.02 IXMicro Twin Turbo drivers. Given the target market, I will run future graphics tests at 1152×870, millions color modes, but the initial MacBench 4.0 scores shown below were at my normal test setting of 1024×768, thousands colors.Future updates will show actual application performance tests, which could not be run to meet this initial posting deadline due to having to install them on the X-Force. I will post these results as updates to this page in the next few days.For an impressive demonstration of the X-Force advantages – see the Photoshop/VPC testsand MacBench disk tests pages.
POWERtools X-ForceTM Professional MacOS System
MacBench 4.0 Scores

(Scores with 512k disk cache and default Speed Doubler 8 disk cache)XForce250 MB scores 

 

Final Analysis:
This system is the closest thing to what my “Ultimate Mac” will be that you can buy today in one turn-key package. It already contains the best motherboard and CPU card you can buy (IMHO), and the Ultra/Wide SCSI controller with 9.1 Gigabyte Fast/Wide Hard disk are items unavailable in any of Apple’s offerings regardless of price.ATTO Disk test software revealed disk peak read and write speeds of 9.51 MB/Sec and 10.02 MB/Sec (resp.) and sustained read and write speeds of 8.82 MB/Sec and 8.13 MB/Sec (resp.). This was with the disk “as-shipped”, without any FWB Tools disk optimization (I have had good results with this on my barracuda drive, and many drives ship without write caching enabled).POWERtools is to be commended for their trade-in program as well, with an on-line calculator for determining what your Mac trade-in value will be.I apologize for the brevity of this review at the moment, it will be much expanded with more test results as time allows.With a list price of $5999, this system is not cheap – but considering the quality and performance of the components it contains, as well as its ample growth potential to meet your any future needs, the X-Force is a very good value, and currently the fastest shipping complete MacOS system to date.
Special Thanks to POWERtools for supplying the review system.
Their shipping is as fast as their computers, and I found Victor Wong (CEO) to be very helpful in answering my questions.

 

 

 

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