New Item: HP Integral Personal Computer

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I am trying to avoid buying any old computer, but a friend of mine and I made an exception in this case and bought this together. Somebody in Prague offered a non-working HP Integral Personal Computer (1985) for $420. It was just 15 minutes of traveling from my friend’s home, so he visited the seller and told him that he would buy it if he could look into it, measure voltages and check for corrosion (either from caps or a leaked battery). The seller agreed. They briefly started the computer, but only horizontal bars were flashing on the screen. Then he disassembled the system, and everything was in pristine condition and all voltages were ok. After reassembling, he just paid and took it home.

When I visited the friend, he showed the computer. I asked him to start it so I could record a video of the error. To our surprise, the machine started directly into its HP-UX 5.0 UNIX system stored in ROM. Maybe the reseating of the internal boards helped it. Who knows. Anyway, we haven’t played with it more. I will first clean it and it is necessary to check capacitors in the power supply, repair the power button and check why the machine does the high-pitch sound when operating – it sounds like a hard drive which is not there.

I love how the machine looks like and it is even smaller than I expected. When carried, it is just as tall as my 1989 Toshiba T3200SX with a 386SX CPU, 3MB of RAM and a VGA gas-plasma display… and it is not much heavier. HP Integral Personal Computer is based on the Motorola 68000 CPU and has at least 512KB of RAM. In addition to the ROM storage containing the operating system, there is just a single internal floppy drive (720KB 3.5”). More storage devices can be connected using HP-IB though. I always wanted this machine. I even have a HP Journal magazine from 1985 with a very in-depth description of each internal component.

Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 batteries still alive

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Last summer, I put new set of alkaline batteries in this portable beauty as I needed it for a photoshoot. A few months later, I used the machine also during a vintage computer event and (both times) I forgot to remove them. The stand-by energy consumption is apparently so low that nine months, the computer still holds the data in its RAM disk.

Kermit Setup and CP/M

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Don’t expect fancy setup utilities in CP/M. This is the process to create a machine compatible version of Kermit (terminal emulator software). MLOAD.COM takes the main program file in HEX and modifies it using the machine specific HEX file. The result is an executable file (COM) of the desired program.

Although there were text-based DOS programs around even in the 90s, their interface was usually far more user friendly with all the setup utilities, pull-down menus and other cool features. CP/M and early DOS programs were a perfect example of how simple and crude the software from the early- and mid- 80s was.

Kermit also reminds me a big advantage of the “PC compatibility”. In theory, the CP/M software was universal. However, different floppy formats, different pinouts on serial/parallel ports and different screen handling commands made life much tougher for both software developers and users.

Trancept Systems TAAC-1 (1987)

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TAAC-1 is an interesting and little-known piece of history. Its creators call it the first board-level GPGPU (a programmable graphics card). This thing was designed to accelerate scientific and medical visualization. It could render 30,000 3D Gouraud-shaded and Z-buffered polygons per second. In addition to that, it could also be programmed to accelerate volumetric rendering and ray tracing. The board could even be programmed in C and allowed to do more than just graphics.

The large double-plane VME board filled three slots and a half of it was covered with memory chips. There were 8MB of frame-buffer memory and the 200bit GPU logic ran at 8MHz, producing up to 1024×1024 pixels in true color. TAAC-1 was used with Sun 3 systems based on Motorola 68020 (16.67MHz).

Trancept Systems Inc. was founded in 1986 by three people. One of them was Tim Van Hook. The same person that later worked for SGI as a Principal Engineer (the architect of Nintendo 64) and started a company called ArtX (Nintendo GameCube graphics hardware), which was acquired by ATI in 2000.

Demo video: part1, part2
More info: virhistory.com, obsolyte.com

Video Like From the 1980s

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My employer obliged me to make a video as a part of a sales training totally unrelated to my technical job role. I decided to make it like from the 1980s (including intro music generated by a Yamaha TX81Z FM synthesizer) so I took two Sony Handycams, a VHS recorder, some musical equipment and an old laptop with Firewire. The result was recorded to a VHS tape and back three times before I was satisfied with the picture and sound quality degradation.