We look at the grand­fa­ther of the mod­ern desk­top com­puter

Micro Mart - - Remembering... -

Men­tion a HP prod­uct to­day and most users will likely point out one of the com­pany’s range of print­ers. How­ever, if you were to travel back to the early 70s, that re­sponse would have been rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent.

Founded in 1935, Hewlett- Packard al­ready had a rich his­tory with elec­tron­ics en­thu­si­asts and busi­nesses long be­fore it ever took to mak­ing desk­top com­put­ers, print­ers or servers. Back in its youth, the com­pany man­u­fac­tured elec­tronic test equip­ment and sig­nal gen­er­a­tors. But 1968 saw it launch one of the most im­por­tant ad­vances in con­sumer tech­nol­ogy: the HP- 9100A, a desk­top cal­cu­la­tor that was/ wasn’t a desk­top com­puter.

De­spite be­ing able to be pro­grammed and work as a com­puter, the HP- 9100A wasn’t la­belled as a com­puter. As Bill Hewlett once said, “If we had called it a com­puter, it would have been re­jected by our cus­tomers’ com­puter gu­rus be­cause it didn’t look like an IBM. We there­fore de­cided to call it a cal­cu­la­tor and all such non­sense dis­ap­peared.”

The HP- 9100A was hugely suc­cess­ful, so in 1971 the com­pany launched a new model: the HP- 9810A. This new gen­er­a­tion, the HP- 9800 Se­ries, was a quan­tum leap ahead of any­thing else of the time. In­cor­po­rat­ing such tech­nol­ogy as mag­netic cards, an LED dis­play, BA­SIC in­ter­preter, a built- in cas­sette drive and a huge 4KB of mem­ory – up­grade­able to 8KB – the HP- 9800 Se­ries was the ob­vi­ous choice for both pro­fes­sion­als and home users.

In­deed, the mod­ern desk­top com­puter owes a lot to the HP- 9800 Se­ries. In fact, many pun­dits state that the HP- 9800 Se­ries is the an­ces­tor of the mod­ern per­sonal com­puter.

Its His­tory

The HP- 9100A lasted a sur­pris­ingly long time, in terms of emerg­ing tech­nol­ogy. The ex­cel­lent en­gi­neer­ing process and rea­son­ably low price of $ 5,000 meant that this, be­ing the world’s first sci­en­tific cal­cu­la­tor, was the go- to prod­uct for busi­nesses across Amer­ica.

To­ward the end of its life, though, HP was or­dered to pay Olivetti the sub­stan­tial sum of $ 900,000 af­ter the com­pany copied much of the tech­nol­ogy from Olivetti’s Pro­gramma 101. The fine hit HP hard, and work was ac­cel­er­ated to get the next gen­er­a­tion of ‘ cal­cu­la­tors’ into the hands of the users.

The HP- 9810A was launched in 1971 and was an in­stant success. A year later, the HP- 9820A ap­peared, of­fer­ing more

mem­ory and HPL ( High Per­for­mance Lan­guage). Within a few months, the mod­i­fied HP- 9821A was re­leased, which was iden­ti­cal to the pre­vi­ous model, but in­stead of mag­netic cards, HP opted for cas­settes as the stor­age medium.

Fi­nally, early in 1973, HP launched the last model of the 9800 Se­ries. The HP- 9830A was an im­pres­sive ma­chine, boast­ing up to 8KB of mem­ory, four CPU boards that to­talled 8MHz, a 32- char­ac­ter LED, built- in cas­sette drive ( with a five- cas­sette stor­age panel to one side) and an op­tional ther­mal printer.

The HP- 9830A was a break­through ma­chine. With 16 cir­cuit boards within its 20kg chas­sis, this mon­strous ‘ cal­cu­la­tor’ was the poster child of the sci­en­tific and busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties. Later re- re­leased mod­els could even be up­graded to a huge 32KB.

De­spite be­ing de­scribed by the com­mu­nity and HP as cal­cu­la­tors, the HP- 9800 Se­ries even­tu­ally evolved into the HP Se­ries 80 com­put­ers, which were then used as the bench­mark for IBM and Ap­ple- based per­sonal com­put­ers.

The 1971 HP-9810A, look­ing more cal­cu­la­tor than desk­top com­puter

By 1973, the HP-9830A be­came the an­ces­tor of the mod­ern PC

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