HP-75C Handheld Computer

While up at MakeIt a few weeks ago, a fellow maker came up to me and handed me a Samsonite briefcase. With a wink and a smile, he said “Take this. You’ll like it.”

Ohhhkay, I’ll bite. Lets check this out.

HP-75C Handheld Computer

Opening up the case revealed… an HP 75C handheld computer, made by Hewlett Packard in the early 80s. This machine has some pretty nifty functionality. A built in BASIC, expandability, magnetic card reader for loading / saving programs, a full QWERTY keyboard, and rechargeable batteries.

Writing code on it is remarkably easy, with a clear easy to read screen and nice tactile feel to the keyboard.

Specs:

  • Manufacture date: Around 1983
  • HP 8-Bit Capricorn
  • 24K, 16K user RAM
  • 32 character LCD
  • 1.4K magnetic cards for storage
  • BASIC OS

It’s a great addition to the collection!

Curta Type 1 Handheld Calculator

Anyone who deals in collecting older computers, or heck even if you have just a few few nerd bits, has probably seen or heard about these calculators.

According to the Wikipedia article,

“The Curta was conceived by Curt Herzstark in the 1930s in Vienna, Austria. By 1938, he had filed a key patent, covering his complemented stepped drum, Deutsches Reichspatent (German National Patent) No. 747073. This single drum replaced the multiple drums, typically around 10 or so, of contemporary calculators, and it enabled not only addition, but subtraction through nines complement math, essentially subtracting by adding. The nines’ complement math breakthrough eliminated the significant mechanical complexity created when “borrowing” during subtraction. This drum would prove to be the key to the small, hand-held mechanical calculator the Curta would become.”

Curta Mechanical Calculator

I’ve been hunting around for one of these for years, and I’m happy to say I finally acquired a Type 1 a week or two ago. This one is serial number 20120, manufactured in November, 1952 in Lichtenstein, where all Curtas were manufactured.

My unit functions perfectly, and I’m happily going through tutorials learning not only how to do basic math, but also more complex operations like roots and long division.

Yeah, technically it’s not following my rules for the vintage handheld collection, in that it’s not programmable in the way most folks consider, but in many ways it is a programmable handheld computer, with registers, a clock, and a limited ALU.

Atari Portfolio

This one has been on my bucket list from the beginning, and I’m happy to say, I was able to make my way through an eBay auction and pick up a mint condition unit that looks great and works even better.

In 1989, DIP Research in Surrey England developed the DIP Pocket PC. They licensed it to Atari in the US and UK, and Atari rebranded it as the Portfolio.

The Portfolio is widely recognized as the first MS-DOS Compatible palmtop computer. It runs a slightly modified version of MS-DOS 2.11.

This unit is in pristine condition, complete with expansion cards with several applications, we well as a card reader that can be plugged into a desktop PC for transferring files.

Specifications:

  • Manufactured: June 1989
  • Operating system: DIP DOS 2.11
  • CPU: 80C88 @ 4.9152 MHz
  • Memory: 128 KB of RAM and 256 KB of ROM
  • Display: monochrome LCD (no backlight) 40 characters × 8 lines
  • Graphics: 240 × 64
  • Power: 3× AA size removable alkaline batteries (Optional AC adapter)

TI-74 Basicalc

I had never heard of these machines until one came up on /r/retrobattlestations and I just had to have it.

The Basicalc is one of the early programmable calculators that was starting the trend in handheld computing from ‘calculator’ to ‘computer’. The TRS-80 PC-1 is another great example.

The TI-74 has a working BASIC interpreter, as well as the standard calculator functions. It also includes a ROM Module slot that allows for plugin expansion of pre-packaged applications.

Specifications:

  • TMS70C46 CPU
  • 31 5×7 character LCD
  • 32+4 KB ROM
  • 8 KB RAM
  • RAM/ROM memory expansion port
  • Hexbus port
  • 80 characters per line (31 visible)
  • powered by 4 AAA-size batteries

Happy to have this in the collection!

Sharp Zaurus SL-5500 Linux PDA

In 2003, Sharp started making a series of PDAs under the ‘Zaurus’ name. The designs ranged from a small clamshell to a mini-tablet form factor. The SL-5000 was a development version, with the 5500 being the full release.

These units got very popular in the Linux community, because they ran a full on Linux distribution, and were easily modified. The original firmware (referred to as SharpROM) while functional, had some limitations. A new project, called OpenZaurus, was born that built a new Linux distribution specifically for these devices, coupled with an opensource graphical environment called OPIE. Later, this work was rolled into OpenEmbedded.

The SL-5500 is a full on Linux device, with enough hardware and expandability to make them really interesting to use. A built in mechanical keyboard behind a sliding cover, a good screen, CF slot for external cards, and SD card slot for storage made it a great mobile device.

Specs:

  • Running Openzaurus (linux distro) and Opie (desktop environment)
  • Screen resolution of 240×320 TFT Active Matrix display
  • 206 MHz SA-1110 StrongArm processor
  • 64meg RAM
  • Approximately 10 hour battery life

Apple eMate 300

Back in 1997, Apple realized there was a market for computers designed specifically for classroom use. They had built much of their success on Apple II+ and IIe computers liberally distributed through schools, and, facing pressure from IBM and the ‘clone’ world, decided to leverage their moderate success with the Newton line of PDA’s.

Thus, the Apple eMate 300 was born. Building on the Newton platform, Apple took the top end configurations of the Newton Messagepad 2000 and 2100, and built a small, laptop-like device. The touchscreen remained, with the stylus, backlighting, and much of the NewtonOS, but Apple added a keyboard, rechargeable internal battery, a durable case, mounting hardware for securing the devices to desks, and some additional management tools for teachers to be able to work with roomfuls of eMates. Other changes were the addition of an internal memory expansion slot that allowed the units to be upgraded with additional RAM or customized ROM cards.

The device is quite attractive and easy to work with, light and easy to carry, and the 85% sized full stroke keyboard is comfortable to type on. As with all Newtons, it has no inherent networking support (short of Localtalk, a serial protocol used to communicate with printers and other similar devices), but does a PCMCIA socket that allows for network cards.

Specifications:

  • Screen: 480×320, 6.8″
  • Battery life: 28 hours
  • Processor: 25 MHz ARM 710a RISC processor
  • Initial cost: $799 ($1150 in modern value)
  • RAM: 1mb
  • ROM: 8mb
  • Storage: 2mb Flash

In many ways, the eMate laid the groundwork for the OLPC XO-1 computer which came out 9 years later.

Unfortunately, the eMates only lasted less than a year, when Steve Jobs cancelled the entire Newton project after Gil Amelio was fired as the CEO of Apple.

Apple Newton Messagepad 130

The Newton was Apple’s first handheld ‘tablet’ computer. The first generation of these were the 110, 120, and 130. They were pioneers in the handheld computing realm, bringing unseen features such as full handwriting recognition and high resolution (for the time) touchscreens , with an intuitive and easy to understand interface.

The Messagepad 130 is interesting because it’s the first in the line to not only come with the vastly improved NewtonOS 2.0, but it included a backlight. The monochrome screens in all the Newtons is tricky to use in less than direct light, so this feature was a welcome addition.

Specifications:

  • Model: H0208
  • Memory: 2.5 MB
  • Storage: 8 MB ROM, 2 MB Flash (Expandable)
  • Screen: 320 × 240 monochrome , backlit
  • Introduced: March 1996

Psion Organizer II LZ

Manufactured in 1986, the Organiser II was really the first successful PDA. Psion started with the Organiser in 1984, billed as the ‘First Practical Pocket Computer’. This unit came out 2 years later and had a larger display, more RAM and a faster CPU.

One of the big innovations were ‘Datapaks’ – modules that could be plugged into the unit with either pre-loaded software or additional storage.

Specifications:

  • Dimensions: 5.6″ x 3.0″ x 1.1″
  • Weight: 8.8 oz. (without battery)
  • Display: 4 lines x 16 characters, Dot matrix LCD.
  • Keyboard: 36 keys, audible click, auto-repeat.
  • Memory: (CM) 32k ROM, 8k RAM. (XP) 32k ROM, 32k RAM.
  • Moss Storage: 2 slots for program & Datapaks.
  • Interfacing: 16-pin slot for optional peripherals.
  • Power: Standard 9 volt lang-life alkaline battery

For more information, check out oldcomputers.net page on the Psion Organiser.

Cambridge Computer Z88 Laptop Computer

The Z88 Laptop Computer was designed and developed by Clive Sinclair’s Cambridge Computer, Limited. It is a Z80 based, A4 sized computer running a 3.2MHz Z80 processor with 32k of RAM and a 64×640 LCD display. The membrane keyboard has a light touch and is quite a delight to type on.

These machines were more popular in the UK than in the US – over there the Sinclair line (ZX80, ZX81, etc) were phenomenally popular. I’d actually never seen a Z88 before, and had to do some research when I found it at the local MIT Flea market, but once I read up on it, I had to add it to the collection. This one was manufactured in 1988.

This particular one has 3 cartridges installed in the slots: some extra RAM, and 2 32k EPROM carts, one of which is labelled “PC Link” (a communications package. Looking forward to trying that out!)

Radio Shack TRS-80 PC-1 Pocket Computer

I’m super excited about adding this piece of history to the Vintage Handheld Computing Collection. When i was in high school, I had a total geek crush on these units when they were came out. Handheld, ran basic, battery powered, very nifty looking.

I acquired one back in the day (and have an interesting story about using it in a Physics exam), but haven’t had a chance to play with one since.

This one was donated by one of my coworkers. It includes the cassette interface, the original docs and boxes, and the plastic overlays that were used for ‘functions’ – basically defined keys. It’s in good physical shape, but has a bad display. I haven’t had a chance to run up the batteries and dock for it, but physically, it’s in great shape. Even came with some financial add-on software.

This particular unit is a PC-1 – the first generation of the pocket computer. They were actually made by Sharp as the PC-1211, and rebranded as the TRS-80 Pocket Computer. The PC-1 moniker was added later as the line expanded into more models.

Toshiba Libretto 110CT

When I was working at in the IT Department at Wildfire Communications, the number one toy the execs and managers wanted was  the Toshiba Libretto ‘palmtop’ computer. They ran Windows 95, were compact and functional (for the time), and made great conversation / showoff pieces. I had to have one for my collection.

I’ve let people know I was collecting vintage handheld computers, suddenly everyone wanted to donate! I quickly put together the collection home page and made the wishlist known. Lo, a friend I know from Arisia said “I have a Libretto that’s just lying around. Want it?” – Heck yeah!

This weekend, it arrived via a somewhat circuitous route, and lo, it is a 110CT – a slightly later model than the ones I worked on (which were 50CT and 70CT’s), but still the same form factor and awesome design. One of the niftiest is the integrated touch-mouse on the right side of the screen.  The mouse buttons are actually on the lid, so you move the mouse with your thumb, and grip the buttons on the reverse side.

This one appears to have a screen problem that won’t let it show video properly, but I’m excited to have it in the collection. Thanks Ben!

For the curious, here’s the specs on the 110CT:

  • Manufacture date: 1998
  • Pentium 233MMX CPU
  • 32meg RAM (!!)
  • 4.3GB HD
  • 7.1″ 800×480 display
  • Came with Windows 98 or Windows NT

UPDATE 10/3 – Blank screen on startup / video problem solved

I finally googled around long enough to find the problem.  The Libretto shows an absolutely blank screen until any boot device is ready.  I noted that if I held down F12 on startup, I’d get the BIOS update screen, so the screen worked, the problem was elsewhere.  While on the BIOS screen, I heard a very light noise – and realized it was the HD trying to spin up, but failing.  This is not an uncommon problem in older computers.  The drives get ‘stuck’ and can’t spin up after sitting for a while.  Sometimes referred to ‘stiction’.

There’s only one cure for stiction.  A vigorous shake of the computer, or… yes, I really did this, rap the laptop on the table a few times.  For a book-sized computer, this was easy.  A few taps, and I heard the hard drive happily spin up, and lo! A windows 98 screen appeared!  We’re in business!

Handheld Retrocomputing Collection and Display

Okay, so everyone loves retrocomputing stuff.  Looking at a piece of equipment or an item and going “Gosh I remember using one of those ${back_in_some_day}.” Well, I finally decided to formalize my collection a bit, and set some goals for myself.

I’ve decided to focus on handheld computing devices that had a significant impact on the industry, or I have a special emotional connection with.  Handhelds in particularly are attractive because, well, I don’t have a lot of space.  So while I’m sorely tempted to collect Apple II’s, old CP/M machines, and DEC minicomputers, living in an 800sq ft townhouse makes that a practical impossibility.

So I’ve focused on handhelds.

It became quickly apparent that I’d need a place to store and display them.  My partner had a glass fronted wooden display case that was a good starting place.  It had a storage space underneath it for boxes and cables, and nice glass windows on the front.  I had some custom glass shelves made to replace the wooden interior shelving, and installed some LED lighting across the top.  With everything done, I was able to put all the things I had (so far!) into it, and it doesn’t look too bad!. (Here’s what it looks like with the doors closed.)

Many of these were items I already owned, but I’ve fleshed things out a bit with finds from eBay and other auction sites.  So far, here’s what I have.  All items work, and have functional batteries, except where noted.

  • Apple Newton Messagepad 2000.  (1995)
  • Palm Zire M150 (2002)
  • Atari Lynx (1989)
  • Palm Treo 750 (Sprint) (2006)
  • PalmPilot (1996)
  • Compaq IPAQ (2000)
  • Sharp Zaurus 5500 (2002)
  • Radio Shack TRS-80 Model 100 (1983)

I hope to expand the collection going forward.  Here’s my current wishlist:

  • Atari Portfolio (first palmtop computer running DOS!)
  • Newton Messagepad 2100 (the best of the breed, and the equivelent of the unit I used to have)
  • Apple eMate 300 (This is pushing the bounds of a ‘handheld’, but they’re amazingly cool devices regardless)
  • Toshiba Libretto (I used these when i worked at Wildfire, and remember them fondly)
  • IBM Simon – This was the first real ‘smartphone’.  I used one for a while, and ended up either giving it away or selling it.  They’re scary rare now, I’m kicking myself for tossing it.

If I do end up getting these things, I may need to expand my cabinet.  But right now, I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.

Update: I now have a page specifically for the collection.