The HP 3000 was never a PC
January 20, 2021
The HP 3000 has been misunderstood and unconsidered for much of its lifetime. The confusion has been deliberate sometimes, and just awkward at others. The latest miscue is a replay of bad information from a reputable news source, USA Today. It might come as a surprise that a vaunted national newspaper would care about a computer first sold in the 1970s. As it turns out, that start of sales was at the heart of the 3000's mention.
This computer was never a PC, as stated in the article Common Myths About Industrial Automation, Debunked. In 1972, hardly anything was for sale as a personal computer. The 3000, of course, is a minicomputer and didn't emerge for sale until 1974.
Common Myths About Industrial Automation, Debunked
It might not be as dramatic to call a $571,000 system a minicomputer or a business server. Just about any useful business computer of the 1970s was a five-figure investment in those early days. Not so for PCs.
The fantasy from USA Today was compounded in IOT for All, a tech advisory website about the Internet of Things. "When technologies first hit the market, people pay a premium. Think of the personal computer. The first small(ish) business PC from Hewlett-Packard, the HP 3000, cost an inflation-adjusted price of $571,791 in 1972."
IOT went on to say, "Luckily, automation has moved on from the super-new, ultra-expensive technology bracket and into the mainstream. It’s much more affordable to install automation equipment in a factory today. Companies will see ROI much faster than in years past through a combination of better, more refined technology and very reasonable price tags. The benefits are cyclical—automation lowers the price of goods while it increases labor productivity.
And from USA Today, here's the source of the mistaken identity of the 3000.
What was the price of a computer sold the year you were born?
• Notable computer: HP 3000
• Price tag: $95,000
• Inflation adjusted price: $571,791
USA Today went on to say, "Hewlett-Packard's 3000 was the company's first foray into smaller business computers. The original 3000 was generally considered a failure, but the company would go on to make 20 different versions of the 3000 through 1993."
And there's where the truth settles in: The 3000 was a failure in its first release, so much so that the vendor offered 2116 servers (the ancestor of the 3000) as a replacement for the few that were shipped into the wild. Of course, HP offered business computers smaller than IBM, but the 3000 was the biggest business computer the company had ever created.