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When They Get it Right: the HP-12C

HP-12C.jpgIn 1985 I purchased my first personal computer: a Compaq transportable. It weighed 32lbs, had a screaming fast 8 MHz processor (no 4.88 MHz IBM dog for this power user), a 9 inch green-on-black screen, a 5.25” floppy drive (for disks that were really floppy), 1 Mb of RAM, and best of all, a 20 Mb hard disk — I never thought that I would need the 40 Mb option, and besides, that cost an extra grand. Total cost for a machine that could be toted about via its leather handle and that did not have a battery: $4,500.

Needless to say, that computer is only fit for use as a boat anchor today; even back then it could take two minutes to recalculate a large spreadsheet. My current laptop is literally hundreds of times faster, has thousands of times more storage, weighs in at a tenth of the weight of the Compaq, and in inflation-adjusted dollars it cost less that one fifth the price.

All of which makes Hewlett-Packard’s achievement with the HP-12C financial calculator the more amazing. The one that I bought in 1983 is sitting on my desk right now, and the same model can be found all over the financial world. It is still state of the art, and according to Wikipedia, it is HP’s longest lived product. Of course, its guts have been redesigned and the cost at Amazon is about half what I paid way back then, but you have to tip your hat to folks who could design a high tech product that is still a model of functionality and efficiency as it approaches its 30th birthday.

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