Why There are Always Parts Available
How Ending Support Might Change Things

HP hardware: bargain, but needed now?

It's an interesting time for 3000 hardware these days. Prices have dropped severely for unlicensed HP iron. Meanwhile, there's a no-cost way to use a computer to run MPE/iX, thanks to the Charon HPA/3000 emulator, Model A202, freeware edition. Times are plentiful for ways to run MPE software, if the license is not much of an issue.

The HP-brand hardware is flowing so freely that I had a reseller ask if I wanted to buy an N-Class at an astounding price. Nothing that the rest of the public couldn't get off eBay. However, in that offer anybody would have to come up with their own license for MPE/iX.

Nothing's perfect this year about acquiring an MPE server. On one hand you have the option of real HP iron, power-hungry but the genuine engine. However, the HP-badged boxes need disks and memory and components in reserve for real support, the kind of items that a system manager would scavenge from things like an $1,800 N-Class. A support contract for MPE, as well as the hardware, is part of that equation. If you've got an MPE/iX license, let's just say it's about a $2,000 investment, plus the ultra-important hardware-MPE support contract purchase. 

And you need that MPE/iX software support no matter what you're doing, unless you've got enough experience to be selling those services yourself.

The bottom line on an emulated, virtual HP 3000 is higher, unless you're freewaring it. You can expect there are nominal consultants -- retired but available -- who'd use the A202 to discover bug fixes and workarounds. The better ones will have the real HP iron, running tiny, 9GB LDEV 1 disks. The beefiest drive you can put in a 3000 is 146 GB.

But I have to admit, I thought for awhile about that offer of an N-Class for under $2,000. It was a kind of a "get it while you can, the price won't be better than this" sort of decision. For a production or a development shop, it's likely to be different. A manager could figure that a 5-figure cost to acquire Charon emulator software, plus support for it, could be balanced against the cost to maintain a stable parts depot. Emulation installs mean that hardware support goes way down, to about $100 a year for a typical Intel-Linux box. But adding any kind of 3000, emulated or iron, to our offices would be news. Operating my own MPE system has never been a part of my 28 years of working in our community.

People who know MPE very well might say they're not surprised. I have generous readers who correct the flubs in syntax that show up here. But in those decades of writing and reporting about the HP 3000, I have never worked for a company which owned one, including my own company (since 1995). However, that doesn't mean that there haven't been days when I felt I could make use of one. Just the other day, Vladimir Volokh said "you wouldn't have written that, if you'd had a 3000 to use and test that command."

As close as genuine 3000 iron ownership ever came, I think, was when used 9x7s were everywhere and the Newswire was roaring along in the Y2K era. Our net.digest tech editor John Burke bought one of those 9x7s -- for a song -- and since he was an editor of ours at the time, that was enough for me.

My first 3000 publisher, Wilson Publications, used dial-in timesharing access to a Series 42 in 1984 to produce The Chronicle. The terminal access came via PC 2622, the software later known as Reflection. It ran a typesetting program that generated our printed galleys down at Futura Press in Austin. But within four years we worked on the bleeding edge of desktop publishing, using tiny Macs and a LaserWriter and a 5GB shared disk that crashed as often as MPE/XL 1.0. And so the HP 3000 became a subject, rather than a tool we used ourselves. 

I am a little surprised that nobody has yet picked up that N-Class 220, even unlicensed, that Cypress Technology offered via eBay. It seems quite the bargain for somebody who wants genuine HP iron. But for a tinkering editor, or someone who wanted to check a command or syntax or filesystem processes, the freeware A202 might do.

We're still here if any owner or reseller wants to spread the word about hardware, via a modest ad. I'd love to hear when that N-Class sells. It's the lowest price I've ever seen for one of these models. Only something free, but without the ability to work in production, could be considered less expensive.