A month ago, I’ve posted on the Heathkit my wife offered me for my birthday. The attentive reader likely noticed that I wrote that I’ve received two fantastic gifts. Well, in today’s three posts, I will present my second gift: an HP 207.
This machine is really remarkable and is better known as the IPC (or Integral PC). It is also the first member of the HP-9000 family. As such, it happens that it is also the only luggable computer running the UNIX operating system. More remarkably, the flavor the UNIX is the HP-UX. But wait, there is more! This HP-UX is entirely run from ROM. The cherry on the cake, the preproduction prototype I received is running version 188.8.131.52 Rev A. How could it be better? You will find out in the third part. For now, let me talk of the HP 207 first. Launched in 1985 (you should download the HP Journal October 1985 issue), the IPC is powered by a Motorola 68000 (@8MHz), had 256 KB of RAM, a beautiful yellow ELD (512 x 255 pixels) – similar to what you could find in the first GRiD Compass, a 3.5” floppy (simple density, 710 KB formatted – which is the only mobile component apart the Think Jet printer integrated into the top), and of course the HP-UX OS. That’s for the quick specs. But after playing with it for several weeks, there are many remarkable facts that I must share. First. it is light! At least for a luggable (25 lb.).
One way HP made this possible is by dropping the frame. Indeed, the entire computer is held together by dovetailing each piece of the case and modules (display, PSU, floppy block, printer block, fan duct, etc.). Rally nice! And this doesn’t mean fewer features. For example, the keyboard is a full model that provides protection to the display during transportation. The top of the case thanks to two ingenious rockers, is a lid and a handle. Once open, you can forget it and have full access to the printer. The display even has a multi-position viewing feature! And of course, this beast is solid as a rock and built as an HP, which means with extreme attention to details. For example, to protect from ESD that you could trigger when operating the printer’s control buttons, a flexible conductive film is used as a link to the ground. beautiful. The fan duct is another example of great use of the space. Note that the IPC is the only HP computer built-in Corvallis – yeah, go Oregon! Now let’s talk about the white elephant in the middle of the room: HP-UX. Yes, the ICP runs the HP flavor of UNIX (System III), and it does it from a ROM cartridge (this beast boots into a full-fledged graphical environment in less than 5 seconds!!).
This ROM cartridge can be removed – well, you need to unbolt it first – and replaced. Unfortunately – you always need a sea serpent to chase – I do not have the developer ROM. Nonetheless, it is THE first version of HP-UX ever! This version of UNIX was adapted for the embedded environment so it doesn’t require a hard drive to operate (only a floppy is used, and it is automatically mounted/unmounted for you – like a USB key). Besides these changes, you have a UNIX system ready for use. Sure, adding optional RAM can help, but the 256KB makes the system very practical. HP also added a graphic version of the Personal Applications Manager (or PAM – in fact, HP Windows + PAM running as an application). I’ve first used PAM with the HP-150 and its revolutionary infrared touch-screen (in 1983). Think about this graphical environment as a windows manager! In 1985, being able to run in parallel your programs in different windows with an integrated look & feel is simply mind bobbling! We take all this for granted today, but HP had to be creative to make UNIX applications integrate and play it nice together (Alpha window, fast mode, HP-GL, etc.). Note that the mouse is optional and that everything has been designed so you can drive your computer only using the keyboard (I’ve bought the mouse separately – and no, it is not plug in play ;-)). This first part – out of three – is already too long, so I have to conclude. But I must briefly talk about the GPU. Indeed, HP has designed a custom GPU for the IPC (in 1985!!). This chip is a pipelined processor with next-address calculation hardware running in parallel of the execution units. Simply remarkable. I tried to illustrate all these features in the pictures/videos attached to this post, so I hope that you will enjoy this machine as much as I am happy to own one. What a great B-Day gift!