Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 7 / JULY 1984 / PAGE 27

Hewlett Packard HP 110. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.

The kinds of tasks to which men and women have assigned computers have always been related more directly to the size of the computer than to the size of the task. Sure, you can't solve differential equations in 1.5K (spare me the letters, I may be wrong). But I am speaking of size here as proportion as opposed to power.

On the one extreme: the mainframe the size of a nuclear submarine. Impressive, but hard to love. On the other, the credit card calculator. Cutest thing you ever saw, but rather limited.

I play from time to time with a Sharp PC-1250 handheld computer, and it is fun to see just how much code I can cram into 1.5K. But the machine doesn't have a whole lot of utility in the real world. Its tangible contribution was to help set the stage for more powerful and more refined miniaturization.

Despite the current limitations of most portable machines (and I mean by this term internally powered "notebook computers," not the Hernia-1065, which OEMs sewing machine cases from Singer), the category has managed to catch on. Perhaps we should pause to reflect for a moment on why this is so. The Mind Appliance

What can computers do, anyway? What good can they do for actual human beings on a day-to-day basis? That is the question that portable designers are attempting to answer, and the better the answers they give, the more portable computers they can sell. People have begun to realize that having a computer tag along with them is quite a helpful concept. There is no certainly no threat in a plastic computer the size of a dictionary sitting on your airline tray table. It zips into a carrying case just like your toiletry kit, and you are much more likely to hurt yourself with your razor.

Since May of 1983, I have been raving about a portable computer called the TRS-80 Model 100. In brief, its answers to the question posed above are as follows. It can:

* Provide bare-bones word processing with a tolerable screen size.

* Maintain a database.

* Dial the phone from a list of stored numbers.

* Keep time and maintain an automatic calendar.

* Keep track of appointments.

* Act as a terminal for communication with mainframes and other micros.

* Provide Basic so you can program your own applications.

This was a good set of starting criteria, and the market agreed. Other manufacturers straightened up with a snap. The portable market had been born.

My Model 100 has 32K, which seemed like quite a lot for a portable--until the subject at hand arrived. Sure, I ran out of memory every time I roughdrafted an article such as this one, but you have to live with that kind of thing, right?

Okay; this is not a Model 100 review. I am using the Model 100 as a unit of measure. Its capabilities have become the standard by which to measure new competitors.

When I first reviewed the Radio Shack Model 100 in August of 1983, I heralded the success of the machine as a direct result of its increased screen size. As opposed to its predecessor, the Epson HX-20, the Model 100 gave you 40 columns by 8 rows--the kind of screen size you needed to actually get some work done.

At the time, I gleefully anticipated the advent of larger LCD screen sizes. I predicted that portables' screens would come to reside in the flip-up lids that protected their keyboards and that with each increase in screen size, the machines would become more desirable.

That was not a difficult prediction to make, and by the time Dave Ahl put together the notebook computer issue of Creative Computing in January 1984, fully four flip-up models had been announced (see sidebar). Dream Machine

Also appearing in that January issue was a piece by Dave called "The Ultimate Notebook Computer." Described in some detail and depicted as an artist's conception was a dream machine of major, albeit diminutive, proportion. It was an imaginative aggregate of all one might want from a notebook portable. Large display, large memory, built-in software of great capability, modems, adjustable screen angle; the list went on.

When the Hewlett-Packard HP 110 showed up at the lab a few days ago, I was agog. I had heard that HP was going to do a notebook portable, but was totally unprepared for what I saw.

My thoughts ran again and again to the "ultimate portable." We have seen a heck of a lot of notebook machines around here, and some of them have been rather impressive. We really use notebook machines here (the first draft of this piece was composed on one), and we know how they stack up.

So I'll quit the long winded buildup and move straight to the central theme: the HP 110 is quite simply the finest notebook computer available on the market today.

It doesn't attempt to impress with $5000 plasma displays or touch screens or mice or icons or even the sexiest designer styling you will ever see. If offers instead sheer power--more power than nine out of ten current desk-top systems by my thumbnail accounting--and the sexiest ROM software you have ever imagined.

The 110 offers unbelievable set of specifications in an off-white box 13" wide by 10" deep by 2-7/8" high, weighing 9 lbs. 2 oz. I dare say you may have trouble suspending disbelief at a description of the features of the HP 110. It sports a CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) 8086 microprocessor. This a true 16-bit microprocessor with a 16-bit data bus. It runs at a clock rate of 5.33 megaHertz. That is fast.

The HP 110 features 272K of non-volatile CMOS RAM. That means that you can turn the machine off and a trickle charge keeps your information intact within RAM memory. Another 8K of RAM is dedicated to the screen display. This is a highly legible LCD screen at 80 characters by 16 rows. With twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of the Model 100, the HP 110 display makes a Model 100 screen seem positively claustrophobic. (In fairness, although the Model 100 makes an excellent yardstick, it is probably unfair to compare it point for point with the HP 110. The 110 beats it cold and also costs four times as much.)

How they crammed all this stuff into such a pretty little case is beyond me. I wanted to take a screwdriver to it, but had second thoughts. Not only is it rude to dismantle a prototype on the first date, but a mishap could end in tragedy. So we'll follow up with a look inside the HP 110 at a later date.

And legible LCD display? Talk to me about legible LCD displays. The front is not only clear but extremely handsome with thick and thin strokes that emulate a printed typeface. The 110 can plot 480 by 128 pixels in the bit-mapped mode, and screen contrast is controllable directly from the keyboard.

It features 384K of CMOS ROM. These are not typos, folks. Another 8K of ROM is devoted to configuration and serial number.

What is nearly 400K of ROM used for? Well, an utterly complete version of Lotus 1-2-3 resides inside the machine, for one thing. That is the number one selling integrated spreadsheet, statistical graphics, and information management package. Also in ROM are MemoMaker, a full-function word processor; Personal Applications Manager (a menu-based MS-DOS shell); and a terminal communications package.

In addition to this built-in software, there is the MS-DOS 2.11 operating system. This makes reams of existing software, including programs from the HP 150 touchscreen desktop computer (reviewed in the April issue of Creative Computing), a distinctly compatible possibility. It also makes the HP 110 compatible with other MS-DOS machines, like uh, the IBM PC, for example.

And because all this software resides in ROM there is more RAM room left to these applications on the HP 110 than most any other machines on which you might imagine running them.

The keyboard is a half-stroke, Selectric-style 75-key matrix, with eight special-function keys. We shall take a closer look at the keyboard up ahead.

Power is supplied by three semi-permanently installed, lead/acid D-cell batteries. Lead/acids charge faster and hold that charge longer than nicads. The light, compact power adapter supplied with the unit provides AC power and/or recharge juice for the D-cells. Battery life is estimated at 16 hours of continuous use on a full charge. Of course, if you use the batteries on a less stringent duty cycle, they can last much longer before requiring a recharge. CMOS memory can be retained for a solid year while the unit is off. The cells themselves are rated at five years of service life.

From the main applications menu, you get an automatic display of battery condition. If power drops to less than 1.5 hours, a low battery indication is displayed every eight minutes. If the power dips below five percent, the machine shuts itself off and can be powered back on only when the AC adapter is attached and functioning.

As you might have extrapolated in your growing awe by now, a modem is indeed built-in to the unit as well. It is a 300 baud direct-connect modem with auto-answer and auto-dial, and it is capable of producing both pulse and tone dial signals. It functions smoothly and simply with the built-in telecommunications software.

The system also sports a built-in clock/calendar, of course, with calendar capability through December 31, 2079. After that you'll require a ROM update. Clock resolution is to a tenth of a second, with an accuracy of two minutes per month under normal conditions. Multiple alarm and appointment keeping functions are provided. Whenever an application ruler is invoked, the time appears near the center of it--a very nice touch.

In addition to all these features, it must be mentioned that the HP 110 is absolutely the sturdiest portable we have seen to date. While we did not drop test it from a height of three feet onto a concrete floor, we were told that the 110 can withstand a 100-g force on all six sides. It will withstand operating temperature extremes of 32 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit (0 to 45 degrees Celsius). If it gets hotter or colder, best to shut it off and shove off.

For scientists and technicians on-site, the HP 110 is probably the first practical means of bringing a serious and powerful computer to the problem as opposed to the other way around. It is built to withstand tough field conditions that no other portable would survive over term.

Hewlett Packard has always had very exacting quality standards for its hardware, and the Model 110 is in no way an exception. But the story just begins with the Model 110 itself. Perfect Portable Peripherals

A special machine deserves a special mass storage device, and the HP 110 will have one. The HP 9114 disk drive unit is a Sony-format 3-1/2" hard-shell floppy, capable of storing about 630K per double-sided disk. And the unique fact setting the 9114 apart is that it sports an internal battery pack as well, making it the first self-powered and self-contained professional disk drive unit.

One battery charge will see you through six to eight hours of use, depending on the duty cycle. The dimensions of the unit are 11-1/2" X 8" X 3", at a weight of a mere 5 lbs. 9 oz. The transfer rate is 6K per second maximum with an average access time of 497 milliseconds.

The 9114 drive is still very much in prototype, and so we did not get a chance to do more than read about it, as you are doing. There is no doubt, however, that HP will make good on the promise to deliver--probably around the time you read this.

In the meantime, you can connect existing HP floopy drives to the HP 110 using the HP-IL bus, standardized for HP hardware. This makes daisy-chaining of interface loop peripherals trivial. Additionally, the HP 110 contains a standard RS-232C interface for setting up serial devices, and provisions to interface with HP-IB peripherals as well.

Because RAM memory is partitioned into theoretical silicon drives A and B, external drives are referenced beginning with drive C.

As soon as we receive an HP 9114 at the lab for testing, we will provide a follow-up evaluation. At press time we had no pricing information on the unit. The ThinkJet

Another unique peripheral designed especially to reside along an HP 110 HP-IL chain is the HP 2225 "ThinkJet" printer. Even if there were no HP 110, the ThinkJet would deserve a standalone review. It is hardly bigger than the average dictionary and is priced under $500. At the same time, it is a full-function 80-column printer, utilizing state-of-the-art ink jet technology to get the print onto the page.

The ThinkJet weighs less than 7 lbs. and has a footprint of a mere 93.2 sq. inches. It measures 11.5" x 8.1" x 3.5". It accepts pin feed, fanfold, or friction feed single sheets.

The unit is capable of print speeds to 150 cps, with a noise rating of under 50 decibels, which is only attainable at that speed through non-impact inkjet technology.

Four pitches are available, each in regular or boldface mode. International character sets are supported, as are underlining, super-, and subscripts. Text appears in an 11 x 12 dot character matrix. Graphics resolution is to 192 x 96 dots per inch.

Text and graphics print quality is extremely good, as reproduced here (Figures 1 and 2). Print buffer size is 1K, and carriage returns are selectably bidirectional and logic-seeking.

Three versions of the printer will be made available. The HP-IB version is designed to mate with HP desktop and handheld machines, while a Centronics parallel version will service markets outside HP (which could turn out to be sizable). We received the HP-IL version, designed especially to mate with the HP 110. It has a very special bonus--it too sports a rechargeable internal battery pack. The HP-IL ThinkJet therefore qualifies as a truly portable printer. Teamed with the HP 110 and HP 9114 portable drive, the HP 2225 ThinkJet rounds out the first truly portable computer system ever offered.

Remember, no computer is truly portable if you can't take it beyond the reach of the longest extension cord you own. If you are researching polar bears in Hudson's Bay or just spend a lot of time traveling, this could be important. Turning On

Remove the HP 110 from its handsome protective carrying case and snap open the lid just as you would a fine attache. Adjust the physical angle of the screen to the optimal viewing angle (it will counterbalance to stay at any position you set). Press any key to activate the display. Adjust LCD contrast directly from the keyboard.

You will be presented with the Personal Applications Manager menu. This, and all the ROM software on the Model 110, is menu-driven, using either the eight function keys, or directional highlighting, to make a selection from the menu. At any and all points within P.A.M., Memomaker, Lotus, and the terminal communications package, you are presented with or can call menus to delineate all your options.

Even more significantly, I have never seen a portable computer with anything remotely approaching the level of help that the Model 110 offers. Quite a lot of code can be packed into 384K of ROM--more ROM, incidentally, than any microcomputer has used before. And help screens get their share of silicon. At any point within any program, you can all up the specific helps you desire. I was able to get going with all the ROM software without any recourse to accompanying documentation. All the documentation you need is right alongside you, on-line. How very refreshing.

Of course 1-2-3 is a complex program, and to make the best use of it, my recommendation is to turn to the manual. What I am saying about on-line Lotus helps is that even with a display confined to 16 lines, the HP 110 version of 1-2-3 contains a remarkably helpful set. I am told that a 1-2-3 manual from Lotus will ship with the completed documentation.

And as far as the other pieces of software go, the on-line documentation is all you need. I learned how to create and store documents, save telecommunications configuration files, set the clock/calendar as well as set alarms, and set up directories, all within a couple of hours, and without any recourse to the photocopied preliminary documentation that accompanied our prototype unit.

So the ROM software on the 110 is very easy to use. While it does not have the show-and-tell user interface of the Macintosh, its operation is logical, consistent, and easily mastered. The P.A.M. is designed to be user-configurable. You can load and access the program you want to in the way you want to upon power-up.

But, as no programming language is offered in ROM, you will have to transport one from another machine or from retail disk. I am not a real Basic freak, but I missed the presence of Basic on the HP 110. I would have liked to have made a project of transporting it over from its consanguineous pal, the HP 150, but time restrictions precluded such ambitious plans.

As a result, we were unable to run the Ahl Benchmark on the Model 110. Nor, therefore, will you be designing your own P.A.M. applications right off the bat. Perhaps the inclusion of Basic in ROM would have been a smart move.

But, if you're a Pascalian, Forthright, Logotype, or Lispian, you will be glad to hear that no ROM has been wasted on Basic, and you may airlift in your language of choice.

I did not spend a great amount of time with MemoMaker, but it seems a very serviceable word processor. It is scaled down from its HP 150 debut version and works very nicely on the 110 display.

As with the Model 100, you can gain maximum screen space by clicking off the menu ruler once you have an idea what the function keys can do for you.

Not having worked with any very large files on MemoMaker, I cannot speak for its utility in handling the very big jobs. Judging by its format and its name, I would not recommend writing a novel on it, though I am quite sure you could. However, I think that HP is betting that most Model 110 MemoMaker files will be 25 pages or less, and I would agree with them on this judgement. And MemoMaker works very well on this size document.

The terminal package is excellent, and I spent a couple of enjoyable late evening sessions with the Model 110 on Compuserve. As mentioned above, you can save sets of terminal configurations, including phone number, log-on string, and terminal parameters. Then all you have to type is CSERVE, for example, and the Model 110 will autodial your local access number, put you on-line, send your log-on string, and set you down gently into full duplex. Uploading and downloading of files is straightforwardly menu-driven. And if you get into trouble, the ever-present help screens are at hand.

One of the most convenient features of the HP 110, and one I have always missed on my Model 100, is the ability to set multiple alarms from the clock calendar. Simply define a special file from MemoMaker, indicating the times dates, and messages you would like to include with the alarms. Then, whether the machine is on or off, a pleasant electronic alarm will sound at the preset date and time.

If the machine is off when the alarm sounds, the message will automatically be displayed. If you are working with the computer when the alarm sounds, you are offered the option of moving to the alarm message screen. You can turn off the alarm by hitting a key or it will shut down automatically after about 12 seconds. Up to 16 alarm presets can be set simultaneously.

You can also use alarms to invoke special programs at special times. I would assume that the electronic speaker can be made to beep, hum, or chirp under user control as well.

Hewlett Packard has also announced an initial release of optional software available on 3-1/2" disks. These include:

* Microsoft MultiPlan, a multipurpose electronic spreadsheet.

* Microsoft Chart, a presentation graphics package.

* MicroPlan, a financial package from Chang Labs.

* Microsoft Basic.

* Microsoft Compiled Basic.

* Microsoft Pascal.

* Microsoft Fortran.

* Microsoft Cobol.

* MicroPro WordStar, the classic word processing program.

* MicroPro MailMerge, multipurpose file merging program

* MicroPro SpellStar, WordStar spelling checker.

* Microsoft Word, word processing program.

* Ashton-Tate dBase II, a relational database management tool.

* Ashton-Tate Friday, an information management tool.

* Link Systems Datafax, an electronic notebook program.

* Link Systems Datalink PC, a telecommunications software package.

* Dow Jones Market Analyzer, a financial portfolio management package.

* Dow Jones Investment Evaluator, an investment analysis package.

Among the entertainment packages that will be available on disk for the HP 110 is the Zork series of adventures from Infocom.

I would have liked to comment on the documentation that will accompany the release system package, but all material we received was extremely preliminary. I cannot comment at all on the final documentation based on what was supplied with the protoype unit. Nitpicking is My Life, Man

Here is an utterly phenomenal machine with capabilities that leave many of the desktop micros currently available looking rather pale. And yet, there are a few things about the HP 110 that are slightly disappointing. Oh, the joys of being a critic. One thing is for sure, if I am going to pick nits, I prefer to pick state-of-the-art nits. And certainly the 110 fits that category.

Some accompanying PR copy refers to the HP 110 as weighing 8-1/2 lbs. The prototype we tested weighed 9 lbs. 2 oz. Still, that's light, right?

After it has been sitting on your lap for a while, 9 lbs. 2 oz. is enough to cut off most of the circulation to your legs. After it has been sitting in your shoulder bag for a while, you begin to feel a little numb. After you have carried it for a while, the carrying arm begins to feel noticeably longer than the other.

It would be insane to call the HP 110 "too heavy," and I am not doing that here. It is light as a feather for a machine with 272K of RAM. And I certainly would not trade it for 128K at 4 lbs., or even 64K at 2 lbs.

Still, the HP 110 is not "light." Find a table when using it for protracted sessions. Switch arms and shoulders when porting it about. And jettison the antiquated pads, appointment books, and portfolios you may consider carrying along with the unit. The 110 is all that you will ever need and all that you will ever want to carry.

The keyboard feel of the unit is not optimal. You may have noticed that I called it a "half-stroke" keyboard above, as opposed to a full-stroke. I said that because the "travel," or distance that a key moves from the unpressed to the fully depressed position, is rather scant. The result is a rather flat feeling that detracts slightly from speed.

The keyboard choice obviously optimized the use of space inside the unit. The more you want a key to travel, the deeper the keyboard "well" you need. Don't misunderstand: the HP keyboard is far superior--in no way comparable--to membrane and Chiclet keyboards. Touch typing is quite possible on it, though an experienced typist might be slightly disappointed with the feel.

The Model 100 keyboard has just a little bit more travel, (a couple of millimeters or so), yet this translates into a much better feel. Perhaps HP might think about a fuller-travel keyboard for its own machine.

I was also disappointed at the linear placement of the cursor keys. It makes them tough to use.

There is no cartridge slot to be found anywhere on the machine. With 384K ROM and 272K RAM, this is not a major consideration. Or is it? If a cartridge slot were available, ROM software changes could be made without requiring a trip to the service department. If a RAM slot were available, there would never be a point at which you were truly out of CMOS RAM. (See the August 1983 and January 1984 issues of Creative Computing for more information on the RAM cartridge.)

There is no apparent video bus. It is possible that HP might make Model 110 video output a reality anyway, but I saw no hardware hint or manual reference to any type of bus other than the ones described above. That might preclude video capability with the HP 110.

The unit we received would not self-test. Self-testing is an important capability for a machine as powerful and complex as the HP 110, and such a feature is referenced by the preliminary documentation we received. Yet we could not get our evaluation unit to self-test. As we received one of the very first units, we assume this is a ROM problem of our machine alone, and will not be a problem on machines that come off the line.

The ThinkJet cartridge requires frequent replacement. Each Thinkjet ink cartridge contains about 3 ccs of usable ink, which is good for about 500 pages of text, before requiring replacement. If you use the printer frequently, it will be important to keep extra cartridges on hand. The Bottom Line

We don't think these criticisms detract in the slightest from the technological marvel that is the HP 110. If you have $2995 to spend on a portable, there is no other machine to consider. The highest compliment: I was utterly crushed to send it back.

Products: Hewlett-Packard HP 110 (computer)