Skip to comments.From 1981: the World's first UMPC
Posted on 05/08/2007 12:28:06 PM PDT by ShadowAce
It's the original UMPC: Epson's HX-20, announced in 1981 - 25 years before Intel and Microsoft formally launched the ultra-mobile PC category, in April 2006.
Epson's machine wasn't the first portable computer - that honour goes to the Osborne 1. But while the Osborne was a beast of a machine, designed more as a desktop you could take from place to place, the HX-20 was a truly a system for computing on the move.
So while the HX-20 combined not only a full QWERTY keyboard, a display, storage and even a printer into its 28.4 x 21.3 x 4.4cm casing, but also a rechargeable Ni-Cad battery. A charged power pack could keep the HX-20 running for an amazing 40 hours away from the mains - a staggering figure by today's standards, where getting four or five hours out of a laptop battery is a major achievement.
It was reasonably portable too: a laptop-like 1.7kg/3lbs.
The HX-20's display was a monochrome LCD panel capable of rendering 20 characters on four lines. The (noisy) dot-matrix printer was situated to the left of the screen, ready to dump out hard copy at 17 characters a second, 24 characters per line, on a 5.6cm-wide roll of paper.
To the right of the display was a covering that could be removed to allow an optional cassette deck that fit flush with the case. An alternative version had the deck built in. The drive took the tiny cassettes used primarily by dictation devices, reading and writing data at 1300 baud (1.3Kbps). A 30-minute tape could hold about 50KB of data.
Need more? Then hook up an external cassette player via the mic, earphones and control ports on the side of the HX-20. The unit also has low- and high-speed RS-232 serial ports - one at 38.4Kbps, the other set to 4.8Kbps - a proprietary "expansion port" and a connector for a barcode reader.
Internally, the HX-20 was fitted with 16KB of memory, upgradeable to 32KB, and connected to the machine's twin processors, one to do the processing and control the display and keyboard, while the other looked after the cassette, the printer and the serial ports. The CPUs were 8-bit Hitachi 6301s, clocked at just over 600kHz.
Like so many machines from the early 1980s, the HX-20 used the Basic language for programming, with a separate option, Monitor, to provide the kind of functions we'd expect from an operating system these days. The HX-20's version was called EBasic and was developed for Epson by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Ski Soft. Apparently, there wasn't much software available for the machine at the time, but as we did in those days, we wrote our own.
Epson continued to sell the HX-20 through to 1987 and possibly later. The company continues to host a support page (http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/support/supDetail.jsp?BV_UseBVCookie=yes&infoType=Overview&oid=14492) for the device. Check it out: you'll find copies of the manual - including details on how to set the unit's language using DIP switches - and an old Basic quick reference guide.
You'll note the Apple II used for comparison in the above ad. Apple itself will still show you how to hook an HX-20 up to a Mac (http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=2499), albeit one with an old-style Apple serial port.
I’ll bet that girl still looks great, 26 yrs later.
The good ole days of the cassette tape load and ‘walkie-talkie’ style modems pushing data at a screaming 300bps.
I am looking for simple flower designs......
No picture of that first Compaq portable (uh, luggable)?
Royal had a UMPC long before that even.
...probably get it for a song.
heh—My MIL has an old Underwood
There’s a lot of ASCII art still kicking around out there, here’s one good repository.
She looks a little like Kim Basinger.
Thank you!! I couldn’t figure out what it was called!!
Before Alec maybe. No scars or black eyes.
I thought the first UMPC was the Banana JR 6000.
I still have both Epsons.
I remember when it was called typewriter art and was distributed via photocopier. Then the age of usenet made it easier to distribute and changed the name.
I had a Kenpro 8088 of my own. It was a step up from the Commodore 64. :)
It seems to me that Radio Shack (Tandy, to be precise) sold a very similar portable computer to this one which, if my memory serves me, was also actually made by Epson but rebadged and subtly modified to Radio Shack’s specs.
Tandy had the Tandy 100/102 by Kyocera. Neat little machine.
The interesting thing about the Model 100 is that it was the last computer that contains code written personally by Bill Gates (according to an interview he gave several years ago).
Not directly related to the Epson machine? Well, anyway they were very similar in concept - I suppose one of them was probably a rip on the other.
32K of memory - hummmmmmm.
WOnder if there is a LINUX distro........
Basically the same, but the Olivetti (below) had a tilt screen that made it easier to work with. My friend had the Radio Shack. It was funny trying to share peripherals at first, thinking they weren't compatible, until we figured out the Olivetti's motherboard, and thus the connectors, were upside down.
The very tough Radio Shack is still in wide use today in harsh environments such as marine research vessels.
Yeah, a lot of people dissed Radio Shack “Trash-80s” back in the day, but they did build a pretty solid machine, or at least spec’ed one.
I still have my Osborne in the bottom of the closet. I also have an Underwood that looks like the Royal pictured in the thread.
I had a friend who was a photojournalist and owned one of these things for filing stories.
Your friend is going to absolutely lose his mind when his trusty hardware finally goes down for the count and he has to buy a laptop and the laptop starts screwing him in all the ways a laptop can screw a guy.
$5 to the first person to correctly diagram this sentence...
Ping list for the discussion of the politics and social (and sometimes nostalgic) aspects that directly effects Generation Reagan / Generation-X (Those born from 1965-1981) including all the spending previous generations are doing that Gen-X and Y will end up paying for.
Freep mail me to be added or dropped. See my home page for details and previous articles.
So while the HX-20 combined not only a full QWERTY keyboard, a display, storage and even a printer into its 28.4 x 21.3 x 4.4cm casing,
but it also ran on a rechargeable Ni-Cad battery.
Huh? What’s a typewriter?
Tom’s Hardware has a current article on the UMPC as well:
The UMPC dies. And no one notices.
We had TRS-80's in our "computer lab" in 9th grade
They had a Star Trek game on the "network" where the object was to hunt down and destroy Klingons (Represented as a "K" on a grid).
Seeing as it had been written in BASIC, it was pretty simple to hack the source code, and modify it to suit my little bastard tastes.
I changed any mention of the word "Klingon" to "MUZZIE", and the K on the grid to an M, representing the Muslim enemy.
(The enemy had just completed construction of the Islamic Center of North America in my hometown of Plainfield, IN)
I had thought that the changes I had made to the program were only running on my machine, but it turned out that my modifications ended up being saved to the master tape drive, and everyone afterwards who tried to play Star Trek ended up playing Muzzie Hunt.
Lucky for me, it was the last week of school, and I did this in the pre-fascist early 1980's.
Had I been born 20 years later, I'd have been arrested and charged with a (insert whiney New York liberal voice) "hate crime for being intolerant of Muslims".
Cool thing was you could run for days off of four AA batteries. Try that these days. Of course it helped that everything happened in RAM, no moving parts.
Born the same year as me.
I have a much more versatile display however.
>>Huh? Whats a typewriter?<<
You know, I’ve come to value the blank looks I get from coworkers my age when I tell them to press the “Return” key.
“Return, return! Carriage return! Like then the carriage goes back to the other ..... you have no idea what I’m talking about do you?”
I learned to type on a monstrosity of a typewriter that very well could have been steam-powered.
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