• Please review our updated Terms and Rules here
  • Exhibitor application for VCF West 2022 is now open! If you are interested in exhibiting, please fill out the form here.
  • Here are the results of the VCF East 2022 Post Event Survey: Survey Results

Overlooked?

ClausB

Experienced Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
156
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?
 

Agent Orange

Veteran Member
Joined
Sep 24, 2008
Messages
6,071
Location
SE MI
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.
 

ClausB

Experienced Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
156
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!
 

1944GPW

Veteran Member
Joined
Apr 26, 2011
Messages
631
Location
Brisbane, Australia
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.
 

ClausB

Experienced Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
156
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.
 

commodorejohn

Veteran Member
Joined
Jul 6, 2010
Messages
3,133
Location
California, USA
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.
 

Chuck(G)

25k Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2007
Messages
38,868
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
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:

krebizfan

Veteran Member
Joined
May 23, 2009
Messages
5,332
Location
Connecticut
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.
 

ClausB

Experienced Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
156
Those Wangs and HP-9ks were pretty impressive, but at $5k+ in 1970, were they really "personal"?
 

Chuck(G)

25k Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2007
Messages
38,868
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
Dunno--it depends on what you mean by "personal". A PDP-8/E could be had for under $5000 back in the day and I was seriously getting one. Of course, there was also the MCM/70 if you wanted a fully-programmable, with printer and display unit back in 1973.

Did the Altair MITS 8800 ever support APL?
 

commodorejohn

Veteran Member
Joined
Jul 6, 2010
Messages
3,133
Location
California, USA
Yeah, it really depends on what you think the threshold for "personal" affordability is/was. If we're talking "seventh-grader with a paper route," well, yeah, they probably wouldn't have been able to afford the early "scientific desktops" or a used PDP-8 or what have you. But a working adult with a hobbyist's interest in the field certainly could have, if they'd saved for it. And yes, they could definitely have gotten a programmable calculator cheaper, but that came with its own tradeoffs in terms of capability and accessibility.
 

Chuck(G)

25k Member
Joined
Jan 11, 2007
Messages
38,868
Location
Pacific Northwest, USA
A young one with a paper route wouldn't have been able to afford a 5150 setup. My recollection is that, after you paid for the needed options (e.g. extra memory, floppy drives, controller, display adapter, display), you were in to the $3K+ area. Paper routes didn't pay that kind of money.
 

krebizfan

Veteran Member
Joined
May 23, 2009
Messages
5,332
Location
Connecticut
Where do they hang out?

The TI59 mailing list seems to have slowed a lot. Was very active up to a few years ago.

HPMuseum.org has frequent discussions of the TIs in the " Not remotely HP Calculators" section of the forum. Not what I would have expected 40+ years ago.
 

commodorejohn

Veteran Member
Joined
Jul 6, 2010
Messages
3,133
Location
California, USA
A young one with a paper route wouldn't have been able to afford a 5150 setup. My recollection is that, after you paid for the needed options (e.g. extra memory, floppy drives, controller, display adapter, display), you were in to the $3K+ area. Paper routes didn't pay that kind of money.
Definitely - but by the time the 5150 came out, there were other, much more affordable options available (the Apple II+ was still solidly in the upper range, but the TRS-80 and the VIC-20 could both be had for a few hundred bucks, plus a bit more for a cassette recorder - and over across the pond, the ZX81 went for a paltry ~$100, though you'd pretty much have to drop extra on a RAM pack in order to get anything much done with it.) Hardly a power-user's systems of choice, but for an enterprising hobbyist on a budget, entirely usable.
 

krebizfan

Veteran Member
Joined
May 23, 2009
Messages
5,332
Location
Connecticut
Definitely - but by the time the 5150 came out, there were other, much more affordable options available (the Apple II+ was still solidly in the upper range, but the TRS-80 and the VIC-20 could both be had for a few hundred bucks, plus a bit more for a cassette recorder - and over across the pond, the ZX81 went for a paltry ~$100, though you'd pretty much have to drop extra on a RAM pack in order to get anything much done with it.) Hardly a power-user's systems of choice, but for an enterprising hobbyist on a budget, entirely usable.

It wasn't long before the cost reductions to disk drives and controllers brought the PC clones down to the under $1,000 range which competed nicely against disk drive equipped offerings from Commodore and Apple and undercut the TRS-80.

Earlier on, the products introduced in 1977 seemed perfectly placed to appeal to those who wanted an IBM 5100 but preferred to save 90% on the purchase price.
 

Agent Orange

Veteran Member
Joined
Sep 24, 2008
Messages
6,071
Location
SE MI
Definitely - but by the time the 5150 came out, there were other, much more affordable options available (the Apple II+ was still solidly in the upper range, but the TRS-80 and the VIC-20 could both be had for a few hundred bucks, plus a bit more for a cassette recorder - and over across the pond, the ZX81 went for a paltry ~$100, though you'd pretty much have to drop extra on a RAM pack in order to get anything much done with it.) Hardly a power-user's systems of choice, but for an enterprising hobbyist on a budget, entirely usable.

Back in the 80's if you didn't live in a metro area you were pretty much got you computer shopping done at the Radio Shack in the mall. If Sears was handy, you might be able to score a Commodore. Just like the big dish satellite thing around the same time, everyone wanted a piece of the action. Small computer outlets were springing up all over the place, and then there was the entrepreneur who worked for one of the big 3 auto companies, who was able to back door software and kludge together 5160 clones complete with a hard drive for around $1700, software included. I'd say the average kid could get his hands on a TRS-80 or definately a Commodore 64 with breaking the bank. My youngest boy at the time had a 64 and worked it off of a 5 inch tv-clock-radio. (BTW that was something to behold).
 

ClausB

Experienced Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2012
Messages
156
The TI machines of the 70s had 4-bit serial or even single-bit serial CPUs but their working registers and memories were 64 bits wide. A single CPU instruction would operate on a whole register or parts of one. Does that qualify as a 64-bit architecture?
 

mwillegal

Experienced Member
Joined
May 27, 2008
Messages
233
Although the Mark-8, SCELBI and Altair didn't come with much in the way of memory and I/O, it wasn't long before you could get or build memory, video cards, keyboards and a great variety of add on devices for them. The general purpose nature and expandability of these machines created lots of options. The most desirable add-ons were built into the follow on generation of home computers. That is what made these early bare bones machines so significant. For those early machines, it wasn't really about the toggle switches and blinking lights at all as if that is all they offered, they would have become a forgotten footnote to history.

Just my opinion,
Mike Willegal



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?
 
Top