Every vintage equipment curator knows it. Never, ever leave batteries in your devices! At least, you should know it. And this applies to all kinds of batteries. Of course, the infamous AAA, AA, etc., but also the battery packs, and even the often-unsuspected CR2032 and co. We will get to this later on.
A few months ago, I scored a SHARP PC-2500 p* computer. Do you know what does p* stand for? You pick. It could be pocket or portable if you have a trench coat. Whichever you choose, this computer is an oddball. Psss, SHARP calls it portable, although it is a pocket at its core 😉. Joseph Blondel – ok, likely the publisher of the magazine – titled the Science & Vie Micro N 61 (April 1985) paper about the device: a 1350 GTI. GTI as in Grand Touring Injection. Indeed, this A4-sized computer hosts the equivalent of a SHARP PC-1350, with a few significant improvements.
Noticeably, it now has a proper keyboard and an integrated plotter. All this in 287 x 210 x 45.5 mm and 1.3 kg. Although I understand why I would have loved to have a bigger LCD. Instead, we have the same four lines by 24 characters – or a matric of 150 x 32 pixels. Each one can be addressed using the BASIC GPRINT instruction. A classic with SHARP since the PC-1500. At the heart of the computer, there is an SC 61860 8-bit microcontroller. As with the 1350 family, RAM is scarce with only 3KB, and you need to add a RAM card (8-16KB) if you want to do something serious. And you should, as the 19KB of ROM contains a couple of original utilities in addition to the BASIC language. You may be interested in the SHARP pocket computer genealogy published in the first issue of the reference Pockecom Journal.
When you power up the PC-2500, a menu appears with three options: BASIC – which serves as a calculator, phone book, and business software. After the mandatory BASIC, the latter is the most interesting. Indeed, the phone book is a particular instance of tables you can create and manipulate in the business application. It allows creating data tables and formulas to compute some columns as you enter the data rows automatically. For example, you can create a table with two columns, one for the net cost and one for the VAT %, and apply a formula to include the VAT automatically.
When prompted by a ** ENTER FORMULA ** message, type your formula (for example “PRICES”:COST:TAX:TOTAL=COST*(1+TAX). Once the table is created – it may take a few seconds, be patient with the PC-2500 – and you can start entering your values. Formulas are applied automatically. One could call this application a mini spreadsheet. With a solid amount of imagination, I guess you can. I have one very positive comment about this computer: the keyboard quality and the full-screen editor makes it a delight to use! A true enhancement over the classic pocket computers.
After entering the data, you can sort, sum, average, and search your tables. And finally, print bar, line, band, or pie graphics. The information can be saved on tape, exchanged between machines – via the control interface – or saved onto a memory card. Did I mention you will need one? With the default 3KB of memory, you can barely create a data table with seven lines and ten columns (or 80 entries in the phone book table). That’s not very much. With a 16KB card, you should reach 254 entries or 20 columns and 50 lines. Unfortunately, you cannot cross-reference tables. At least, I didn’t find a way to do so.
Pocket computers are nomadic devices by essence. Therefore, the battery life becomes a critical detail. The Ni-Cd battery can power the computer for up to 60 hours. This will, of course, depend on how often you use the four-color plotter. But wait, didn’t we begin talking about batteries? Yes, we did. And after 37 years, the pack leaked like no one. I let you enjoy the pics in the safety of your browser 😊. So, as usual in these situations, I removed the battery, cleaned the system – neutralized the leakage as needed – and went to the Interstate All Battery Center in my neighborhood, where they rebuilt several battery packs for me over the years. Thanks, Nico.
I appreciate you even saved the original sticker! So, my advice: check your batteries before it is too late, especially if you own a PC-2500 – or any other A4-sized machine (TRS-80 Model 100, NEC PC 82xx, Epson, Sord, you name it). Overall, I surprised myself liking the PC-2500 very much. I was not fond at first, but after playing around with the machine, I think I will keep it.
11 thoughts on “An Enjoyable Computer”
Another “Enjoyable”: a SMART Response XEs reprogrammed with BASIC. It’s essentially a modern Sharp PC-1211/Tandy PC-1 equivalent but with more display and available memory (8K Arduino and 12K Tiny version). You can source your own surplus XE and program your own if you want to build the pogo pin adapter using online HEX files, etc. or you can buy them off Tindie ($20 ready to go). The Arduino BASIC version is being sold now (https://www.tindie.com/products/subsystems/smart-response-xe-with-arduino-basic/) but I previously got the earlier version with Tiny Basic Plus, which can also readily be built on Linux (https://www.instructables.com/SMART-Response-XE-Tiny-Basic-Port/). I have no affiliation with the seller other than as a happy customer — recommended!
Hi rcs, thank you for your message and sharing about the SMART. Looks pretty cool at first glance. Did you try it? It seems dirt cheap – costwise. $20, only? I will read the description again 🙂
Yes, I have one, and I love it! These devices were formerly used in schools to take tests, etc. but were retired and can now be purchased in bulk online. So the creator buys used units, fully tests the keyboard, etc. and then reprograms it with a BASIC he modified to include a few of commands like BATT for battery status and MSAVE/MLOAD to store programs internally (important since there are no I/O ports since it was for classroom use via wireless, but the M-commands let you save off what you type in to “slots” 0-9). For $20 USD, and my shipping within the US of $5 USD, I only had to add four AAA batteries, with nothing to build, and there is source code for everything online!
When you called the PC-2500 p* “enjoyable” it clicked in my mind: “hey! I should tell Jamel about the SMART XE with BASIC in it — he’d love it!” especially since the price/performance can’t be beat!
I just ordered one, rcs. Thank you again for sharing this info. I am really curious to try the beast once it is here.
So what did you think? String-wise it lacks CHR$ and ASC, but it’s pretty groovy.
Hi rcs, thank you for following up. I received my device and quickly gave a test drive. On the HW side, it’s all good. A few – obvious – misses (like no per se return/enter key). On the SW side – I really didn’t have the time to give it justice, but it feels wet 😀 I have the feeling that the “product” is not finished, certainly not polished. But, a fantastic starting point. I am wondering if someone tried FORTH 😀. When I spent some serious time, I will share my thoughts with all of us.
The PC-2000 p* looks like a delight — thank you for sharing! Does it accept PC-1350 accessories? The addition of a full-sized keyboard is obviously welcome. If you could score a RAM upgrade it would be even sweeter. I never heard of battery stores rebuilding packs; that is customer service indeed! Do you have them rebuilt NiMH?
Hi rcs. Do you think of a peripheral in particular? Some like a cassette obviously would work. Others may or may not be compatible with the serial I/O terminal of the PC-2500. It has a 15-pin connector, and the pins/signals are documented. I suppose one could create a special cable, assuming the target peripheral talks serial (CMOS level). Note that the user manual has an appendix dedicated to porting code from the PC-12xx, 13xx and 1401. It is only six pages long – with samples.
I most wondered if it would accept a 1350 RAM expansion, although you obviously need a memory storage card too.
Thanks for the SHARP pocket computer genealogy too, I’ve always wondered about that and it is most interesting. Have you every see one for the Casio line?
I would say yes, but don’t have my 1350 here to test. I will do that next time I go to my bay cave (storage :)). Yes, Pockecom did a great illustration, and I am more than happy to share it. I tried to stitch the scans the best I could. And no, I have not seen anything like this for CASIO. Maybe Ledudu knows about one (https://www.ledudu.com/pockets.asp?lg=eng). I would take it for sure 🙂