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Thread: Overlooked?

  1. Default Overlooked?

    The question of the first commercially available personal computer has had several answers: Kenbak, Altair, Apple. One machine, offered in 1974 for $795, with 200 bytes of RAM, 4K bytes of ROM, a high level language with intuitive UI and floating point math library, including keyboard, display, and magnetic storage. Did Kenbak offer those? Altair did, but only with the addition of expensive terminals, interface boards and third party software.

    This amazing machine was also pocket-sized and battery powered. Yes, it's the HP-65 programmable calculator. Don't stop reading because you think it isn't a real computer. It is fully programmable with conditional branching and subroutines and powerful instructions. Floating point multiply in a single instruction? Try that on your 8008. Its built in display is numeric, not as intuitive as text but much moreso than blinking lights. It gained a huge following and grew software libraries and user groups. So why is its place in computing history not larger?

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    Quote Originally Posted by ClausB View Post
    The question of the first commercially available personal computer has had several answers: Kenbak, Altair, Apple. One machine, offered in 1974 for $795, with 200 bytes of RAM, 4K bytes of ROM, a high level language with intuitive UI and floating point math library, including keyboard, display, and magnetic storage. Did Kenbak offer those? Altair did, but only with the addition of expensive terminals, interface boards and third party software.

    This amazing machine was also pocket-sized and battery powered. Yes, it's the HP-65 programmable calculator. Don't stop reading because you think it isn't a real computer. It is fully programmable with conditional branching and subroutines and powerful instructions. Floating point multiply in a single instruction? Try that on your 8008. Its built in display is numeric, not as intuitive as text but much moreso than blinking lights. It gained a huge following and grew software libraries and user groups. So why is its place in computing history not larger?
    I'd go with Sharp 1210 aka Tandy TRS-80 PC1, circa 1980. Why? - QWERTY keyboard. Still have mine, which is just about 40 years old.
    Surely not everyone was Kung-fu fighting

  3. Default

    I'm not writing this as an HP fanboy. I was in high school when I discovered computers in 1976 and could not afford an HP-65, nor an Altair system. Not even TI's SR-52 at $395. I settled for the TI SR-56 and enjoyed programming my very own little computer. But credit is due HP and TI for bringing out these amazing machines during the infancy of the microcomputer revolution.

    Even this forum ignores that genre. It doesn't seem to fit into the Handheld and Portable section, nor in the TI section. I demo'd my SR-52 at VCFMW during its 40th anniversary and it stood alone, aside from a collection of unpowered calculators. Sure, there is an active HP calculator forum elsewhere but they are dismissive of TIs. This genre is underappreciated and overlooked!

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    The HP-65 was used on the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz hookup https://www.hpmuseum.org/adverts/sa65spc.htm), so no argument over its ability and reliability there.
    I don't think it was overlooked during the era it was used in. Old computing magazines from the 70s and 80s such as Kilobaud, BYTE, Creative Computing etc. used to have articles and listings for programmable calculators every so often, usually simple games and home budget balancing sort of stuff.

  5. Default

    Yes, exactly right. So where are they now? The machines are still pretty reliable, except for the NiCads and card drive rubbers, but those can be replaced. Why aren't there more retro enthusiasts now? Was the original market too high end? Mostly professionals and academics? I suppose they thrived during a narrow window of time and were quickly overshadowed by ever better micros.


  6. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by ClausB View Post
    Yes, exactly right. So where are they now? The machines are still pretty reliable, except for the NiCads and card drive rubbers, but those can be replaced. Why aren't there more retro enthusiasts now? Was the original market too high end? Mostly professionals and academics? I suppose they thrived during a narrow window of time and were quickly overshadowed by ever better micros.
    I think that last is the key point. The window in which A. programmable calculators were an affordable means of personal computation, but B. microcomputers weren't was pretty narrow. Going from being able to buy a TI SR-52 for $395 to being able to buy a VIC-20 for $300 took a mere five years, and multiple higher thresholds of personal-computer affordability were crossed in that time.

    Which isn't to say that programmable calculators aren't cool in their own way. But they were always pretty niche, and their heyday as anything other than, um, programmable calculators was pretty brief.
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    IIRC the HP-65 had no alpha capability. I think that came with the very popular HP-41C.

    Funny story--a friend at the time worked at LMSC on some classified projects. Part of going into the "screen room" involved having security confiscating any notes you may have made while you were working. They weren't aware that the 41C could store data on magnetic cards, so they overlooked his smuggling work out of the area on his calculator. This was about 1979-80. There was quite a following for the 41C. I didn't fall into the programmable calculator trend until 1982, when I bought the very new HP-16C. Still sits on my desk for doing bit twiddling.

    But if you're talking about "overlooked', how about the HP9100 or Wang 700? Or the Wang LOCI-2?
    Last edited by Chuck(G); March 27th, 2020 at 08:12 PM.

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    I tend to think of the HP 9830 as one of the more important Personal Computer precursors, something that could be pointed at to indicate to investors that there was a market for a similar but cheaper computer with a better display.

    There is a sizable fan base for the TI programmables.

  9. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by krebizfan
    There is a sizable fan base for the TI programmables.
    Where do they hang out?

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