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Walt Johnson
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
Walt Johnson   2/8/2012 3:07:33 PM
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I was hired by HP as a Production Engineer in 1965 in Loveland CO. One of the products I was responsible for was the 200CD. In those days it wass literally raw material to finished product. It seems to me that we made everything in Loveland except the basic electronic components.

John.McVey
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
John.McVey   2/8/2012 10:04:45 PM
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I enjoyed many years working as a design engineer at HP. One of best projects was working on a new full-custom CMOS chipset at the calculator division in Corvallis, Oregon. We could do it all in those days because the standard-cell approach wasn't around yet or suitable. We created our schematics and simulated them with HP Spice and proprietary logic simulators. We could walk over to the CMOS process engineer's desk and discuss spice parameters nuances, or discuss bus contention detection with the guy that wrote the logic simulator. We could even do our own CMOS layout and netlist extraction and verification. We could wear a "bunny suit" and enter the CMOS fab to watch our wafers be processed, and manually probe them at a probe station to verify internal circuit operation. HP created as many as 7 full-custom ASICs for a new architecture in those days and the teamwork was amazing. I learned so much from the high caliber people I worked shoulder-to-shoulder with. I also witnessed some of the most amazing assembly language code reviews. In those days of 1MHz CPU clocks and 4KB SRAM chips every cycle and byte mattered. During a code review you could hear one engineer tell another: "if you move instruction XXX before instruction YYY you can eliminate instruction ZZZ saving two bytes and three clocks"! We also frequently heard from customers whose calculators had survived amazing destruction, including one from a bombing in Ireland. It was grand engineering on this scale that is the legacy for things like the HP-35, HP-41 and HP-48. I am sure hundreds of lucky engineers like me participated in a similarly fulfilling engineering environment at other HP Divisions around the country. It was truly the best of days!

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/9/2012 7:39:42 AM
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Sounds great, thanks for that. You should think about expanding this into a "How it was: Working at HP" article for Max's series -I'm sure it would be fascinating reading.

Bert22306
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
Bert22306   2/8/2012 10:07:17 PM
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I have to admit, once you've used the original built-like-tanks HP test equipment, nothing else seems to measure up. But hey, leaving that aside, I'm intrigued by your bio. I'm curious about accents. To my admittedly not hyper-trained ear, English spoken in Zimbabwe/Rhodesia and South Africa especially, sounds quite similar. And not too different from English spoken in Australia and New Zealand. So here's my question. If I may ask, when you moved to Oz, did everyone notice your accent and ask about it, or not? (Or perhaps you fooled them all, and me, by sounding like a yank?)

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/9/2012 7:05:38 AM
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Hi Bert. Accents...right... My Aussie friends say I'll never sound like an Aussie, but my mom says I do sound like one. The Zimbabwean and South African accents are similar, but if you've lived in either you'll know the difference...like USA and Canada, or Australia and NZ. I could never pick the difference between Aussie and NZ till I came here, now I can do it straight away. The South African accent sounds a bit like NZ in some respects. I can still probably put on a better SA accent than an Aussie one. When I have to introduce myself at functions or training courses, I always say "I'm from Zimbabwe, which is why all you guys talk funny" - Aussies have a good enough sense of humour not to take offence. I once phoned a guy here that I didn't know from a bar of soap, and within 10 seconds I said "You're Zimbabwean, right?" and I was. I guess I learned something in the 43 years I was there.... Was wondering where you'd heard me...but it would have been Max's geiger counter video, right?

antedeluvian
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
antedeluvian   2/10/2012 10:44:38 PM
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Like David I have a Zimbabwean accent. My favourite story was back in 1992 I phoned someone in California to mail me some data (no email, web sites and fax wasn't really clear). I gave my name and address and finished off with "Ontario, Canada". The voice on the other side countered with "well, that explains the accent"!

EDA360 Insider
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
EDA360 Insider   2/8/2012 11:28:09 PM
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Sorry, but the X-ray finger detection doesn't pass the sniff test. IR, sure. X-ray, that's just silly.

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/9/2012 7:34:42 AM
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You're right....does smell bad. A bit of fossicking around on the net leads me to suspect that this is an HP 16500B. I found a user guide and a service manual on Agilent's site (as an aside, Agilent do seem very good about keeping a lot of HP manuals available) but nothing in them confirms how the touch screen works. It's a pretty low res touch screen so I wouldn't think anything more than IR leds and detectors would be needed. However I did note that this equipment does have a colour CRT display and those are know to produce X-rays, maybe this is what the warning was about, but I couldn't find any reference to that in the HP docs either. Sorry, my bad, should have researched this a bit better. (And not believed everything I read in one of Max's posts ;-)

jackOfManyTrades
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
jackOfManyTrades   2/9/2012 8:02:26 AM
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How I wish HP (Agilent) made the test I we use, then we wouldn't have to use other test gear companies.

RICARDO.MOTTA
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
RICARDO.MOTTA   2/10/2012 1:12:38 PM
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And nowadays, where is the garage, where is HP, where is the invention? Cheers

antedeluvian
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
antedeluvian   2/10/2012 8:17:01 PM
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I attribute my engineering degree to the HP-35. While everyone else was pushing their slide rules around, I managed to find an extra 20 minutes in the exam. I still have it and some of the books that described the algorithms to resolve complex (not imaginary) calculations. When they released the HP35S about 3 years ago, I just had to buy one. It is much closer to the HP61 because of the programmability and key functionality. Sort of resembles the 35 as much as the new Mini car resembles the old one. I must say though, after my recent acquisitions of HP printers and scanners I don't think the HP quality is still there. See my thoughts here http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1367&doc_id=231153

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/10/2012 10:54:01 PM
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I had a problem once - I got a design for a sine wave generator using an 8-bit shift register that has inverted feedback - ie it fills up with 1's then fills up with 0's. You dimension the resistors off the outputs so that at each point the resistors divide the 1's and 0's to the right voltage at that point on the sine wave. Only problem was, I wanted a 10-bit shift register. So had to redimension all the resistors. I worked out a program to do it on my 33E. It involved quadratic equations but with RPL and the stack they are easy. I was sorting thru some old articles the other day and came across my original hand written notes on this. The program only just fitted into memory (think it was max 50 steps?) but it worked just fine.

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/10/2012 10:56:23 PM
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On the quality issue I'd agree, but you cannot equate the HP computer stuff with the older test gear. Bill and Dave must be turning in their graves at what's been done to the HP name now.

Repairman
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
Repairman   2/15/2012 4:48:30 PM
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Got to agree with this. What I really miss is the schematics and troubleshooting guides that only a few companies now publish. Maybe the resurrection of Heathkit will help.

ThermalHunter
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
ThermalHunter   2/15/2012 3:01:37 PM
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I bought an HP45 in January 1974 during 3rd year EE. It cost $495 CAD and thanks to the polar\rectangular conversion function it quickly paid for itself doing 3-phase and RLC analysis. I still have it and it runs (mostly) The battery pack is long gone (although it will run off the original wall wart) the zero key occasionally bounces and the battery door no longer latches. It got so much use that to this day my muscle memory has me going for the wrong keys on my HP32Sii!

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/16/2012 11:36:43 PM
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I had to replace the NiCds on my 45 before it finally gave up the ghost, they are standard AA NiCds but you have to do a bit of careful work opening up the plastic housing to replace them, and solder wires onto the new cells if you can't get tagged ones.

wayne_nct
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
wayne_nct   2/10/2012 8:24:28 PM
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I have several pieces of late 60's through end of 1970's HP equipment. I call them "infinitely repairable" instruments because they generally used discrete transistors, or at most complex, very basic op amps and TTL chips. I guarantee you this fact alone accounts for their longevity and reliability. Any problem I have ever found in these instruments concerns the silver coloured electrolytic capacitors they used, which short. Sprague was the manufacturer in most cases. And David, there is likely nothing wrong with your 8640B except a blown fuse on the generator output. A picofuse most likely, they fused the output on many instruments to protect the output stage. W.

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/10/2012 10:35:23 PM
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Thanks for that. Let's hope it will save me some time when I get around to opening it up (it's up to about #15 on the list currently.....

Dave-sir
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
Dave-sir   2/10/2012 9:39:00 PM
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Re the calculators: When I was in Jr. High, I wanted an HP-35. In High school, I wanted the 45, and when it came out, the 55. When I was a freshman in college, I actually bought a 29C from an ad in Scientific American. I really loved that calculator, but I had difficulty (several failed attempts) replacing the battery, and eventually sold it to a collector on eBay for about 50% more than I paid for it in the first place. Today I have a 48G on my desk. Unlike the 29C, which I knew backwards and forwards, I can only use about 10% of the capabilities of this amazing machine. I just wish the build quality matched the 29C... Anyone who has an interest in HP calculators might enjoy a trip to www.hpmuseum.org. There's even sections on slide rules and the Curta "pepper grinder".

BobGroh
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
BobGroh   2/10/2012 10:00:52 PM
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Oh, goodness, too many HP test equipment stories to tell but here is just one. I am now retired and I have a number of old'ish HP test equipment around. A couple of months ago, I pulled an HP-120B oscilloscope off the shelf where it had been languishing for 20+ years. I had a two fold objective: get it working so I could use it to fix my Tektronix 465 o'scope and then to be able to sell it. The HP120B is a (mostly) vacuum tube beast dating from the mid-1050s. I put it on the bench and used a variac to bring it up over a 12 hour period. I rotated the controls and spritzed them with suitable cleaner. As the variac reached 90V, the old HP120 started to come to life and, after more than 20 years, it was soon working much it did '..back in the day..' After using it to find my problem, I then sold it to another electronics guy down south. Fantastic but not totally unexpected. They build them good!

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/10/2012 10:41:50 PM
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@"...dating from the mid-1050s" Goodness - I didn't know they'd been going THAT long... ;-) Typos aside, another good story illustrating the quality of the old HP stuff. Sorry, I'm not clear, which one did you sell, the HP or the 465? I have fond memories of the 465...the first scope I ever used...as a radio tech in the Rhodesian police. Our comms were 40 MHz AM, so you could look at the TX output directly on a sniffer port of our dummy load. Damn good scopes, Tektronix is a close second to HP in my opinion, but they only really made scopes in those days, unlike HP who made pretty much everything.

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/10/2012 10:59:00 PM
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And since you're retired now Bob, I'm sure you would have time to give us a couple more stories? Please??

kalpak
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
kalpak   2/13/2012 9:45:44 AM
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I remember vaguely that HP long ago used advertise about one of their Fiber Optic test instrument with a story "one that got away". It was about an instrument that was stolen off a truck and submerged in a North US lake for 3 years and worked fine are it was accidently found. Anybody recollect the details?

sudo
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
sudo   2/14/2012 2:37:11 AM
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I was thinking about the exact same story! HP actually used the story as a full page ad in the 90's. I may still have the old EE magazine with it or at least that one page. It's been a while ago but the sory went something like this. The box was stolen and the equipment was probably too specialized for the thief to easily sell, so the gear ended up dumped in a lake or river. An angler hooked it and snagged his line on it a couple of years later - that's how it was found. The box went back to the HP calibration lab and the guy there dried it out. He was thinking of cleaning it out but then thought, what the heck, let's see first if it works at all. He powered the box up and it not only worked but it was operating fully within specs. I don't much like advertisements but I loved that ad! I was totally dumbfounded when the HP name went to the computer company and T&M became "Agilent". It should've been the other way round.

algoss
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
algoss   3/19/2012 6:01:32 PM
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The decision on HP vs. Agilent was pretty simple. It was determined that it would be much easier to retrain the relatively small number of engineers who used test equipment, rather than the great masses of people who used HP printers and/or computers. I'm a 30+ year employee of HP/Agilent and still love my job.

Rangerdog
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
Rangerdog   2/14/2012 1:53:50 PM
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Hewlett Packard quality was also legendary in the medical equipment they used to make. I started my career as a Biomedical Equipment Tech in 1973. The hospital that hired me had just purchased HP monitors for a newly built ICU/CCU. At one time HP owned over 80% of the medical monitoring business in the US. Then they split the medical and the test equiment divisions into the Agilent era and after a couple of years they sold the medical part to Philips. In our ER we have some monitors that have the Hewlett Packard name, some that have Agilent and some that have Philips. Same model same quality. Two clinical engineers came to work us because we had Hewlett Packard monitors house-wide. They knew they were not going to get a lot of middle of the night call-ins. We never had to get new equipment because the old was failing. HP always tried to make their new models backwards compatible too. A great company that in my opinion made some very unwise decisions.

anatech
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
anatech   2/24/2012 1:14:06 AM
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Well everyone, I'm a young fella who works on his own. I still have my HP 41CX as well as my TI-58C. Still use them. My bench is almost entirely HP except for the scope. I have a 1722A I want to restore, as well as an 3586B (received with destroyed regulator card - what battery did it use?). I treasure each piece, from a 6236A I've had forever to the 34401A I also bought new. The latest prize is a 4195A (with test set, used of course) I'm learning to use fully. What people don't see from the front panels are the entire set of functions available. Even the old 428B DC clamp current meter is an amazing piece of equipment. It's tube based and works more than "fine". This older gear is still fantastic. Too bad most of it hits the scrap or re-sellers, instead of the people who actually need it. Even the "working" equipment" I've bought was no-op, from larger companies that re-sell test gear through Eeek! -bay. I love restoring HP equipment, and the work is always well worth the effort. As for which way the trademarks went ... I agree. Computers and printers need that trusted name I guess. The Agilent name is creating those same trusted followers that HP forged. I hope the computer guys don't mess it up!

David Ashton
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
David Ashton   2/24/2012 1:44:32 AM
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You're a lucky man indeed (and smart, obviously!) I have always been astounded by the range of equipment that HP produces. Tektronix, for example, have always made superb scopes, but HP made superb -everything-. As you've pointed out, you could equip an entire lab with HP equipment and there would be very few requirements you could not fill with their gear. Many thanks for the comment.

Brakeshoe
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re: Nostalgic about HP test equipment
Brakeshoe   3/1/2012 5:09:46 PM
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Most of my AF & RF test equipment is RCA in-house (we had a small division that made test equipment for the various divisions, including TV & appliance field service) & Heathkit, handed down to me by my Uncle Chazz, with my Heath vacuum tube tester -- still working! -- a hand-me-down from *his* father!



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