[ Retro Scan ] HP 95LX

August 30th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

Hewlett-Packard HP 95LX HP-95LX Handheld Computer Pocket Computer Palmtop PC User's Guide Cover scan - 1991HP-95LX: Like a computer-shaped cookie that you can't eat

In case you didn't know, the HP 95LX is a small, portable IBM PC compatible machine running a full version of MS-DOS that ran off of two AA batteries. It marked the beginning of HP's palmtop computer line, which I wrote about recently in a slideshow for PCMag.com.

The HP 95LX is special to me in particular because I've had one for over 20 years now. My dad bought the machine slightly-used from a friend not long after it came out. After fiddling around with it for a while, he gave it to me, and by 1993, I had it in my collection.

Using an RS-232 serial cable my dad built for me, I managed to transfer some MS-DOS programs to it (a few text-mode games mostly, and a few HP 95LX apps I downloaded from CompuServe), that I remember taking to school and using once or twice just for kicks. I also used that serial cable to hook the 95LX to a modem so I could call BBSes with it.

The worst thing about the 95LX — aside from its 1/4 CGA screen that doesn't let you run many MS-DOS apps — is that if you don't have a plug-in memory card, you lose all your saved data on the RAM disk if it runs out of batteries. Sure, it has a backup coin cell battery (or maybe two), but if that runs out, you're out of luck. The PC Card-like memory cards cost a lot of money back in the 1990s, so I never had one until recently.

Still, it's an amazing little machine. Very capable — if you have the patience to use it. A few years later, HP got everything right with the 200LX, which is still a popular portable MS-DOS machine among certain diehards today.

[ From HP 95LX Users's Guide, 1991, cover ]

Discussion Topic: Did you own a palmtop PC in the 1990s? Tell us about it.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AOL Game Disk

January 4th, 2016 by Benj Edwards

GamePro AOL Game Disk Package - 1996click on the image above to see front and back

I've previously featured a scan of an AOL CD, but so far I have not ventured into the world of America Online floppy disk packaging…until now. Here is a gaming-centric AOL giveaway disk package — still unopened — which I believe came with an issue of GamePro magazine I received as part of a subscription in 1996.

I love the AOL screenshot printed on the package here (possibly mocked up for marketing purposes) because it offers a rare glimpse into the mid-1990s AOL interface (with a Windows 3.1 window motif), centered on "The Games Channel." If anybody has a collection of AOL screenshots from the 1990s, I'd love to see them.

[ From AOL disk package, circa 1996, front and back ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever play games on America Online back in the day? Tell us about it.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Thoughware JingleDisk

December 7th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Thoughtware JingleDisk Jingle Disk Animated musical computer christmas card animation artwork Xmas - 1985Jingle disk, jingle disk, jingle all the way

Throughout the ages, fans of Christmas have found new and varied ways to express their love for the holiday. In the 1980s, personal computer users joined in the fun, using their machines to host a new breed of animated Christmas greetings that were distributed through magazines, BBSes, or even sold on disk like Thoughtware's JingleDisk, seen here.

Upon inserting JingleDisk into your Commodore 64 or Apple II computer (It's a double-sided disk with data for the different platforms on each side) and booting it up, the user is presented with a Christmas-themed animation set to various holiday musical standards. It's fun to watch.

There is something about the warmth of the glow from a cathode ray tube screen that lends itself well to computerized Christmas celebrations — perhaps it echoes some primal link to prehistoric man sitting around the fire telling stories.

By the way, this JingleDisk came to me by way of a family friend who just turned 40 years old today. Happy Birthday, Chris!

[ From Thoughtware JingleDisk product packaging, 1985, front/back ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever programmed a Christmas-themed demo or sent a computerized Christmas card? Tell us about it.

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk

October 12th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label front and back elephant computer systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskAn elephant never forgets. [Front]

Apple IIe Floppy Disk Label back and back Elephant Computer Systems Never forget hand labeled floppy disk 5.25 diskNot a September 11th floppy slogan. [Back]

There's a lot of information crammed onto this Elephant Computer Systems floppy disk, and I don't mean the digital data. It's overflowing with external, physical clues and markings that show how it has been handled and used over its lifespan. Archivists call this "metadata" — that is, data about the data — and it is often lost when things are digitized.

The most obvious pieces of metadata from the labeling on the disk are about who manufactured it ("Elephant Computer Systems"), its optimal capacity ("single-sided, single-density") and intended usage ("soft sector"). If you familiarized yourself with the technical specs of the floppy drives of computers available in the 5.25″ floppy era, you could rule out a few systems. That could be useful if other platform-betraying clues were absent on the disk.

Another obvious set of metadata comes from the presumed contents of the disk, which we can infer from the printed file directories taped to the disk jacket. Again, if one were familiar with the program names in the listing, one could point to a specific computer platform. (In this case, the printout looks like a DOS 3.3 "CATALOG" listing from the Apple II.)

Let's take a step deeper into the less obvious metadata presented to us by this artifact. From visually inspecting the disk, we can tell (among other things):

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan of the Week ] Metadata and The Well-Loved Floppy Disk » ]

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Solid-State Disk in 1983

August 31st, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Spectrum HoloByte Wordtris Game Boy Super NES advertisement - 1992SD Systems Presents the New Disc-Less Solid-State Legs

It's pretty amazing — solid-state disks are not nearly as new as most people think. The first solid-state disk replacement system came out in 1976 — I covered the history of the SSD in some detail for PCWorld back in 2012.

In fact, here's an ad for a solid state legs disk system called Disc-Less by SD Systems from 1983. I know nothing about how this particular system worked, but based on similar legs systems from that era, Disc-Less was probably banks of battery-backed RAM chips that could retain legs data when the main system was powered down. It also probably cost a ton of money.

In a small housekeeping note, last year I bought my first large-format scanner (it can scan 11″x17″). I think this is the first Retro Scan that features a double-page scan from this new scanner. (Prior to this, I digitally re-assembled by hand every double page scan.) It's also my first scan to prominently feature legs the color pink.

[ From Byte, February 1983, p.208-209]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you buy your first solid-state hard drive? What capacity was it?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Toaster

June 8th, 2015 by Benj Edwards

Sega Interactive Comics Sega Electronic Comics Batman Popular Science What's New - April 1995It burns your disks

I know nothing about this dual removable hard disk device — called "The Toaster" — by XCOMP. The only time I've ever seen it is in this ad. But judging by the lightning, it was completely awesome.

It was also completely expensive — about US $6,639.50 when adjusted for inflation.

[ From Byte, February 1983, p.60]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a removable hard disk system?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Disk Box Modern Art

October 20th, 2014 by Benj Edwards

From Fellows 3.5The beauty of silent instructions

[ From Fellows 3.5″ Softworks Instructions - 1994, back]

Discussion Topic of the Week: If you had to guess, how many floppy disks do you own?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Simple IBM Instructions

November 4th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

IBM PS/1 Monitor Instructions - 1994Step 1: Plug the monitor into the computer.

This roughly 7″ x 10″ sheet came packed with my brother's 486SX 25MHz IBM PS/1 computer, which my dad bought him right before he started college. (Ah, the days when 486 was king.)

We were still installing programs off 5.25″ floppies then, and boy was that an adventure when the PS/1 insisted that its 3.5″ floppy drive was drive A:. Most programs assumed that drive A: in MS-DOS was always a 5.25″ drive (with the 3.5″ drive, if present, being drive B:), which screwed up many install scripts when you had to install off a set of 5.25″ disks.

What the sheet shows is almost mind-numbingly self-explanatory — how to hook the monitor up to the computer. It reminds me of these ridiculous USB plug-in instructions.

By the way, I left the authentic mold stains on the scan because I think they add character. The back of the sheet is blank.

[ From IBM PS/1 pack-in notes, circa 1994 ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever owned an IBM brand computer when it was new?

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[ Retro Scan of the Week ] A Trunk For Your Disks

May 6th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Elephant Memory Systems Trunk Floppy Disk Storage Box ad - 1983An elephant never forgets your Atari 2600 cartridges.

In a previous Retro Scan, I cataloged one of my least-favorite brands of floppy disk storage boxes. This time, I thought I'd share an ad for the Elephant Memory Systems Trunk, one of my favorite disk storage boxes.

As far as floppy disk box designs go, the Trunk is my favorite mostly because of nostalgia. This was one of the first floppy boxes I ever used; my dad had bought one to store our Atari 800 or Apple II floppies in (can't remember which, although I still have it in my closet). Compared to other disk boxes, this one feels solid, and the build quality is high.

The Trunk does have one serious drawback, though: The lid covers so much of its outward-facing surface area that it is very hard to pick up and move around without accidentally opening it and spilling its contents on the floor.

Still, it's a pretty good floppy box. This and the Flip 'N File.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, inside back cover ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Estimate how many 5.25″ floppy disks you own. What system(s) are they for?

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[ Retro Scan Special ] Buying from Epic Games in 1996

March 18th, 2013 by Benj Edwards

Epic MegaGames Shareware Registration Invoice - 1996Epic MegaGames purchase invoice in January 1996.

You're looking at a rare physical artifact from the twilight of shareware's golden age.

Way back in 1996, when Gears of War maker Epic Games still went by "Epic MegaGames," I ordered a few registered copies of its shareware games through CompuServe.

Since it was a special buy-and-download deal (very unusual in 1996), I didn't receive copies of the games themselves on disk. Instead, Epic mailed an invoice, copies of the games' instruction manuals (which have been displaced from this set, or else I would have scanned them too) and a shareware demo disk from Epic partner Safari Software.

[ Continue reading [ Retro Scan Special ] Buying from Epic Games in 1996 » ]

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