Long Life Products

The computer industry has been notorious for rapid product obsolescence. Unlike a car or lawnmower, it is unusual for a computer to have a useful life of more than four years (much to the delight of computer manufacturers). Every now and then, a product comes along that is so unique or so much better than the competition that it outlives its peers by a generation or more. Please contact us if you have any additional nominations for our “Long Life” hall of fame.



Introduced in 1981, the 12C quickly became the standard for financial calculators. Interestingly, the 12C used the Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) keystroke system of HP's scientific calculators, rather than being a straight algebraic calculator. The key sequence for adding 2 plus 2 was: 2 Enter 2 +, rather than 2 + 2 =. Although HP's competitors introduced comparable and less expensive financial calculators in the 1980s, the 12C maintained its dominance of the market. This was probably because it had become a pseudo-standard. HP hoped to discontinue the 12C on a few occasions and subsequently introduced more powerful and cheaper machines. But, the 12C maintained such end user demand that it has survived through 2013, and is still going.

12C Calculator    


HP introduced its first computer (the 2116A) in 1966. The new-generation 2100 computers were introduced in 1971. The 2100 computers used a backplane that was compatible with the 2116; so, interface cards from the 2116 could be used in the 2100. HP introduced the 21MX computers in 1974. These computers also used the same interface cards that the 2116 and 2100 used. Part of the 21MX range, the 2113E was introduced in 1976. This computer was not obsoleted by HP until 1989. Customers could still order the machines from HP's Advanced Manufacturing Systems Operation through 1995, giving the product an amazing 19 year life. Through the 2113E, HP provided backward compatibility with it’s original computer for an even more amazing 29 years.

2113 HP E-Series    


The 7475A was the most popular pen plotter ever made. It became an instant success when introduced in 1983. It also had the fortune of being one of last small-format pen plotters introduced by HP (followed by the 7550 and ColorPro). Since no product was made to replace it, the 7475 remained on the price list effectively until customers stopped buying small-format pen plotters in 1994.

7475A Pen Plotter    

It is common for operating divisions to give birth to new products. It is less common for products to give birth to divisions. But that is what happened when the 2640A was introduced in 1974. The immediate success of this new terminal prompted HP to split its Data Systems Division and form the Data Terminals Division. HP went on the be very successful in the terminals market for the rest of the 1970s and all through the 1980s. The 264X terminals lived long lives, with the last being retired in 1985.

2645A Terminal    


The 2748A was introduced in 1969 to replace the 2737. At that time, the most common way of loading information in to digital computers was via punched paper tapes. It wasn't until the 1970s that HP started distributing software on other media (like magnetic tapes and disc packs). By then, there was a lot of punched paper tapes out in the customer base, and customers still needed paper tape readers. Unlike the other products on this page, the 2748 was not exactly a blockbuster for HP. But, thanks to the ongoing need for older systems to be able to read paper tapes, the 2748 was not retired until the ripe old age of fourteen in 1983.

2748 Paper Tape Reader    


The ThinkJet printer was not a high-volume seller relative to printers that followed it. It did, however, have a long life of almost ten years (introduced in 1984). What has had an even longer life is the printhead for the ThinkJet. In 2009, the printhead for the ThinkJet celebrated its 25th birthday, and still counting. This product is particularly significant because it represents a class of products for HP (printer consumables) that some speculate has contributed more gross profit dollars to HP than all other products combined.

ThinkJet Printhead    
The 7970 was introduced in 1970. It was the primary form of system back up for HP 2000, 1000 and 3000 computers thoughout the 1970s. The 7970 was obsoleted in November of 1986, but was used extensively into the early 1990s on the older systems. The OEM version of the 7970E was made until November of 1988. The 7970 was introduced by HP's Mountain View Division.
7970 Tape Drive    
  The 9816 was introduced in 1982. It was the low end of HP's new 68000-based technical desktop computers. This little gem had a very small footprint and was very light in weight. It could also be used as a terminal for connection to larger computers. HP removed the 9816 from the corporate price list in 1989. But the machine remained in demand due to its small size, low price and large installed base of software. If HP had to continue producing one computer in the 200 Series line, the 9816 was the logical choice. HP finally stopped producing this classic machine in 1994/1995 (ref Bob Zenner). The 9816 was introduced by HP's Desktop Computer Division.
9816 Desktop Computer    


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