When you see NeoSystems Inc’s revolutionary Modular Digital Architecture enabling absolute beginners to upgrade a personal computer and add on peripherals such as CD-ROM, you wonder why no-one has done it before now. The New York headquartered company was officially launched in September, but has been working on the Modular Digital Architecture technology for some three years. The idea behind it is to address the problems of obsolescence and upgradability in personal computers, although the technology goes beyond the computer to almost any digital device. Founder and chief executive Hany Neoman, who previously worked for Intel Corp, says most consumers are now aware that the personal computer they buy today may be obsolete by next year. Also, most people are still afraid to open up a personal computer to add in upgrades or extra peripherals such as a CD-ROM, modem or facsimile. NeoSystems’ patented modular architecture enables users to buy an entry level base system, which could contain little more than a Web server, with no hard drive and minimal processing power, and then simply buy extra modules as their requirements grow. These literally click in place on top of the base module, rather like a stackable hi-fi system, only with no external wiring at all. The boxes link via standard connectors housed in the base of each module. The backbone of the Modular Digital Architecture is the Modular Bus. This supports inter- module communication via industry standard data buses such as PCI, ISA, E-IDE, USB and 1394. The company says its design takes into account the migration from current ISA and PCI technologies to the future bus technologies such as USB Universal Server Bus, 1394 and AGP. The system’s Universal Base Module will be configured to the user’s entry level requirements, and will contain a power supply, graphics interface, audio system and basic input devices such as a keyboard and mouse. Optional features would be a low-cost processor, floppy drive, hard disk, modem or a network interface, although any of these could also be added as modules at a later stage.
Functional Upgrade Modules can then be added as required to create a fully equipped multi-media personal computer, a Network Computer, an audio/video system or a games console. Neoman says the systems could incorporate an office PBX phone system, a burglar alarm or any digital device. The company intends to license its Modular Digital Architecture to the various tiers of original equipment manufacturers. It says it has talked to more than 16 of the major OEM’s, including the likes of Compaq Computer Corp and IBM Corp, and expects to have signed at least one major deal within the next five weeks. The company will also support the smaller, tier 2 manufacturers, particularly with upgrades and add-on peripherals. Research & development director Len Barber says the architecture is not tied to Intel Corp processors. As it stands it will support Cyrix Inc or AMD Corp chips, and could be designed to work with for example a PowerPC processor if there were demand. For the home consumer market, the system is based on Windows 95 as an operating system, because of its plug and play capabilities, but Barber says companies with in-house technical expertise would be able to run any operating system and simply software configure the systems themselves. Also Windows NT version 5.0 is apparently due to be plug and play. As well as the home and small business market, the company is also targetting the emerging markets in places such as China and the Far East. Neoman says he expects to see OEM products at the end of this year or early next. Originally funded by private money, NeoSystems secured an undisclosed sum of venture capital, and intends to go for an Initial Public Offering on Nasdaq by the end of 1998.