Released in January of 1980 at a retail price of $3250.00, the HP-85 personal computer was a self-contained system, designed to be portable for the small computer user or the technical professional. The HP-85 resembles the IBM 5100 physically and was based on Hewlett Packard’s 8-bit microprocessor technology. The system contained an alphanumeric keyboard, Onboard CRT screen, thermal printer and a ROM operating system in one portable package. The HP-85 also came from the factory with 32K ROM and 16K RAM, which was quite impressive for a 1981 model computer. One drawback of the HP-85 was that its processor ran at only 625khz which resulted in programs running slowly. By comparison the competing TRS-80 and Z80 ran at 1.77mhz.
The keyboard is divided by function in the following areas: the typewriter for entering alphanumeric data, the number pad for entering numbers, and eight keys located under the video screen that can be user defined. The keyboard featured hinges to aid in servicing the processor board. The keyboard was rather advanced for an early model personal computer system being it was programmable.
Another strong point of the HP-85 was its graphic display capability. Up to 16 lines of text could be displayed at a time on the stock CRT video display. The most impressive feature was its ability to buffer up to 64 lines of text, so the user can scroll through data that has exceeded the screen length. The data was displayed using a cutting edge 5 x 7 dot matrix setup and was unsurpassed for its time.
The HP-85 was issued with a thermal printer that operated in both alphanumeric and graphic modes. Advanced printing features included the full 128 ASCII character set, which included capital letters, as well as underlined text. The printing speed was lightning fast for its day, printing 2 lines per second.
If you were a programmer the Hewlett Packard HP-85 offered an enhanced BASIC interpreter that exceeded ANSI standards of its time. It was also great for the beginner programmer because it was issued with the HP-85 Basic Training Pac. This Pac was designed to help users get acquainted with the BASIC programming language, and contained tutorials and a command reference guide. The experienced programmer would find that the simple step through debugging program was very user friendly.
The HP-85 was marketed towards business professionals and exceeded many standards in its age. Hewlett Packard’s Data Cartridge technology set the bar for data storage and was leading technology in 1981. It is impressive to see where most of our modern day lightning fast machines were spawned from. Interestingly, the HP-85 was said to be a favorite for “computer hackers” because of its lightning fast data access speed.
Though not really considered rare, HP-85’s are highly desired by collectors today and can sell for modest amounts. Auction prices usually reach from $300.00 to $600.00 depending upon condition, functionality and peripherals included.