The Epson HX-20 began a new trend of powerful, A4-sized personal computers and is widely regarded as the world’s first laptop. It certainly wasn’t a looker, but still revolutionary for the time. It promised owners to enjoy an unprecedented 50 hours of battery life, however some users reported problems recharging.
How it worked
The HX-20 was extremely portable for its era, but still managed to pack in two Hitachi 6301 CPUs, a 16KB RAM expandable to 32KB (considered a major asset at the time), printer and microcassette deck. From a pre- Windows era, you still had to type out computer codes and commands in Epson’s BASIC language to use it.
- Portable printer
The laptop had a built-in dot-matrix printer for on-the-go printing on reciept-sized reels of paper
- Simple display
The LCD screen displayed just four lines of 20 characters, but could still be used for word processing
- Tape deck
This early laptop had a built-in microcassette drive, though you could also attach an external floppy drive
- Modular design
An expansion port on the right-hand side of the device allowed users to physically add more ROM and RAM
- Recharging woes
One of the problems faced by early adopters of the HX-20 is a malfunctioning battery pack that refused to charge properly
Buy one today
Price: £100 | $130
If you manage to snag a mint, working and complete HX-20 (with the carrying case) for less than £100/$130 you can count yourself very lucky indeed. If the nickel-cadium (Ni-Cd) battery pack lets you down, you can replace the battery with an NiMH battery pack or four AA cells in a holder that can be soldered in place. This is not generally considered to reduce the collectible value of the computer, as doing so doesn’t damage any internals. For more information, visit oldcomputers.net or epson.com.
“The [Epson] HX-20 is about the size of a three-ring binder and, at three-and-a-half pounds, [it’s] not much heavier.” – David H. Ahl review, Creative Computing (March 1983)
“It is generally considered both the first notebook and handheld computer, and it is for this reason that it is highly prized among collectors.” – The Centre for Computing History