Lunduke
News • Science & Tech
1950s Sci-Fi Style Computers, Powered by a Z80, Built in Holland
Remembering the (very) funky Holborn computers of the early 1980s
May 02, 2024
post photo preview

Between 1980 and 1983, a little company in The Netherlands built the “Holborn” series of computers… which can best be described as “1950s sci-fi… powered by a Z80”.

Note: The “Holborn” name is to signify that these computers were “Born in Holland”.  Hol.  Born.

While the company only lasted for a few years — and they only produced a handful of models — their distinctive designs (for both their cases and their hardware & software choices) are worthy of being remembered.

Just to give you a good example… this is the Holborn 9100 (and connected terminals):

I mean. Wow! Just look at that monitor! That distinctive neck just screams “1950s futurism”… and I absolutely love it.

Ok. Let’s back up a moment.

The company was founded in Hengelo (a town in The Netherlands, near the German border). This is their first office space:

Pictured below are the founders of the company — Dick Gerdzen (left) and Hans Polak (right) — surrounded by a bunch of Holborn computers and terminals.

Now. The computers. Let’s tackle them in chronological order.

The Holborn 9100

The first computer from Holborn was the 9100 (and the accompanying 9120 terminal). Pictured on the left in the picture below.

Photo Courtesy: Hack42 Museum
 

Note that the 9100 computer portion (where the CPU, drives, etc. were contained) is the size of a mini-fridge or a low profile filing cabinet (with the 9120 terminal sitting on top).

Yeah. The big filing cabinet thing on the floor? That’s the primary computer unit.

The specs of this system were as follows:

  • Zilog Z80 CPU @ 3.5 MHz

  • 72 KB of RAM (expandable to 220 KB)

  • 8 inch floppy drives

Which brings us to the Operating System… it was 100% custom and in-house developed. The Holborn OS was a multi-user system, booted entirely from ROM, which allowed multiple Holborn 9120 terminals to connect to a single Holborn 9100 computer (“Server”).

One extra (and optional) feature of the 9100… it had a photosensitive light pen which could be used as a pointing device. Not a mouse, but a light pen.

What did the Holborn Operating System look like in practice? How did it work? How, exactly, did the light pen work with the included software?

Those are questions I’ve had for many years… yet, despite hunting high and low, have never found so much as a single picture showcasing the Holborn OS in any readable way. Due to the Holborn OS only being available in ROM on the 9100 itself… no known digital archival copy exists.

In the end, only roughly 200 Holborn 9100 units were sold. (Though that number is debated… more on that in a moment.)

The Holborn 7100

This was a simplified (and cheaper) version of the 9100. Instead of supporting a whole office worth of connected terminals (as with the 9100), the 7100 only supported two connected terminals (users) at once.

It looked like the 9100. Acted like the 9100. Just with… less.

It is unknown how well this model sold. It is assumed that it did not sell well.

The Holborn 6100

In 1982, the Holborn Computer company had to make some tough decisions.

Their Holborn OS (booted from ROM), was not proving popular. And the CP/M operating system (from Gary Kildall’s Digital Research in Pacific Grove, California) was rapidly gaining in popularity.

Luckily the architecture already in use by Holborn computers (the Z80) had a native version of CP/M.

Thus the lower priced, and smaller footprint, Holborn 6100 line was born. Same Z80 CPU, and now with a maximum 192 KB of RAM (slightly less than the 9100)… but, this time, booting the CP/M operating system off disk.

No more booting from ROM. No more in-house developed operating system.

This is the Holborn 6140 with the connected 6110 terminal. See? Much smaller than that gigantic 9100 mini-fridge. But still retained that fantastically interesting terminal design.

Here is a shot of the Holborn 6100’s screen, running CP/M.

Image courtesy Technisch museum
 

How many of these machines shipped? Reports put it somewhere in the ballpark of around 100.  Total.

Though the lack of information makes this fact difficult to confirm. Regardless, it was not exactly selling like hotcakes.

The Holborn 6500

The final computer designed by Holborn was the ill-fated 6500.

In the 6500, Holborn removed the keyboard from the terminal body (making it a detached keyboard), and filled the base of the terminal with the computer guts (thus eliminating the need for the separate computer housing used in earlier models). As shown in this advertisement for the “not yet released” 6500:

And here is a shot of the inside of the Holborn 6500, with the top of the case lifted up to show the internals.

Image courtesy: Inexhibit

Unfortunately Holborn Computers declared bankruptcy in April of 1983… before shipping the 6500.

The End of Holborn

And here is where things become increasingly sad for the company.

When Holborn went bankrupt, investigators determined that only 50 units were sold of the 9100 and 7100 combined. And that the company had over 3.5 million guilders in debt. (Guilders were the currency in use in The Netherlands prior to changing to the Euro. Some quick math tells us that 3.5 Million guilders would be roughly equal to $7 Million USD.)

Would the 6500 model have been enough to save the company? Who knows. Considering the poor sales up till then, and the relatively massive debt (when compared to sales), it seems unlikely.

But one thing is for certain… those are some seriously funky (and awesome) looking machines. So I’m sure glad they tried.

If you ever run across a Holborn, count yourself lucky.  These are some of the hardest computers to find nowadays. Considering that only a few hundred were ever sold, you aren’t likely to stumble across them at a flea market or eBay.

With that, I leave you with some pictures of Holborn computers in action.  Because they're just so darned cool looking.

community logo
Join the Lunduke Community
To read more articles like this, sign up and join my community today
8
What else you may like…
Videos
Podcasts
Posts
Articles
End of the Internet? Dead Internet Theory + Disappearing Content = Rut Roh

The Internet is mostly made by AI... but that's ok, it's all being deleted anyway.

00:28:24
The Future of Computing: A.I. and Advocacy. ...Seriously?

Microsoft, Firefox maker Mozilla, & Red Hat envision a future where computers are focused on Artificial Intelligence & Political Advocacy (and Activism). Where do others, like Apple & Ubuntu, stand?

00:28:46
The Open Source Community is Neither "Open" nor a "Community"

Other words that don't describe the Open Source World: Free, Democracy, Welcoming, Inclusive, Honest.

00:32:04
November 22, 2023
The futility of Ad-Blockers

Ads are filling the entirety of the Web -- websites, podcasts, YouTube videos, etc. -- at an increasing rate. Prices for those ad placements are plummeting. Consumers are desperate to use ad-blockers to make the web palatable. Google (and others) are desperate to break and block ad-blockers. All of which results in... more ads and lower pay for creators.

It's a fascinatingly annoying cycle. And there's only one viable way out of it.

Looking for the Podcast RSS feed or other links? Check here:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4619051/lunduke-journal-link-central-tm

Give the gift of The Lunduke Journal:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4898317/give-the-gift-of-the-lunduke-journal

The futility of Ad-Blockers
November 21, 2023
openSUSE says "No Lunduke allowed!"

Those in power with openSUSE make it clear they will not allow me anywhere near anything related to the openSUSE project. Ever. For any reason.

Well, that settles that, then! Guess I won't be contributing to openSUSE! 🤣

Looking for the Podcast RSS feed or other links?
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4619051/lunduke-journal-link-central-tm

Give the gift of The Lunduke Journal:
https://lunduke.locals.com/post/4898317/give-the-gift-of-the-lunduke-journal

openSUSE says "No Lunduke allowed!"
September 13, 2023
"Andreas Kling creator of Serenity OS & Ladybird Web Browser" - Lunduke’s Big Tech Show - September 13th, 2023 - Ep 044

This episode is free for all to enjoy and share.

Be sure to subscribe here at Lunduke.Locals.com to get all shows & articles (including interviews with other amazing nerds).

"Andreas Kling creator of Serenity OS & Ladybird Web Browser" - Lunduke’s Big Tech Show - September 13th, 2023 - Ep 044

Raining in paradise?

In a presentation earlier this month, the venture-capital firm Sequoia estimated that the AI industry spent $50 billion on the Nvidia chips used to train advanced AI models last year, but brought in only $3 billion in revenue.

Unless those chips last for more than 17 years, I can't see how this can have a happy ending. :)

https://www.baldurbjarnason.com/2024/the-unsustainability-of-the-ai-bubble/

You all would be proud of me. I put Debian 12 on my Framework 13 12th gen. And unlike Ubuntu 24.04 which got wrecked 5 times in less than 4 hours, Debian has just worked with everything. If something isn't new enough, I flatpak it or snap it. The system is solid and stable. Using the TLP guide from Matt at Framework I have battery life doing pretty well on here also.

Anyway no picture. Just saying.

Does anyone know how to set the Locals app to default to showing all comments on any given post and showing them in chronological order?

post photo preview
Instantly Become an Elite Movie Hacker
(with 3 simple tools)

Feeling lazy?  Want anyone who happens to walk past your computer screen to think you are incredibly busy writing — or compiling — a mountain of code?

Filming a movie about a squad of elite hackers and need the computer screens to... you know... look the part?

Or, heck, are you just a bit bored and want to make your computer do something funky looking?

Whichever situation you find yourself in, here are three different tools that will make your computer appear like it is hard at work doing some seriously elite hacking and coding.

1 - Genact

Genact is described as a “nonsense activity generator”. And boy does it do its job well.

Pretend to be busy or waiting for your computer when you should actually be doing real work! Impress people with your insane multitasking skills. Just open a few instances of Genact and watch the show. Genact has multiple scenes that pretend to be doing something exciting or useful when in reality nothing is happening at all.

Runs on Linux, Windows, and Mac… and creates screens like this:

Compiling!

 

Memory Dumping!

 

Download-inating!

Genact has a whole boatload of different modules to help you pretend to do a bunch of different things: Mining crypto, handling docker images, compiling kernels, viewing logs… it’s all here.

2 - Hollywood

Hollywood is a Linux-only option, and it looks oh-so-cool. It runs in a terminal, and opens up a whole bunch of different applications (mostly real performance and network monitoring tools) each of which displays constantly updating bits of information.

The whole point is to make your computer look super busy… and super hacker-y. Just like in a movie.

In fact, Hollywood looks so good that it’s been used in multiple TV shows.

For example, here it is in a segment for NBC Nightly News:

So much elite hacker-y-ness!

Yeah. The news. A fake “make your computer look like it’s hacking something” application. On the news. If that’s not a great representation of the sorry state of TV News, I don’t know what is.

Just for the sake of completeness… here’s a shot of two investigators -- from that news report -- pointing to the random, gibberish output of Hollywood… and pretending like it’s super fascinating, real data that is somehow relevant to the news segment.

"Hmm.  Yes.  My elite hacker brain is thinking about this very real hacker stuff on this computer screen.  Look!  Right there!  Hacker stuff!"

That is, I kid you not, absolutely real.  This was on the news.

And here’s Hollywood in a sketch on Saturday Night Live:

"Don't interrupt me!  Can't you see I'm hacking!"

Seriously.  Hollywood is tons of fun to play with.  Even if you're not filming a news report.

3 - HackerTyper.net

HackerTyper.net is a bit different than the other ones.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Open up HackerTyper.net.

  2. Start hitting keys on the keyboard. Any keys at all. Doesn’t matter.

  3. Perfectly formatted C code appears on the screen!

Alloc's and Struct's and Int's!  Huzzah!

Now you can write code just like actors in the movies! Just sit back and pound away at your keyboard -- like a deranged, drunken monkey -- with complete disregard for what keys you’re actually pressing!

Whichever of these three options you choose -- HackerTyper, Hollywood, or Genact -- you are now fully equiped to become the most elitest of elite movie hackers.  (You're even ready to be on the evening news.)

Read full Article
post photo preview
Funny Programming Pictures Part XLI
That's, like, 41 in normal, non-fancy numbers.

Behold!  Pictures... from... the Internet!

 

Dangit, Bilbo!  Knock it off!

 

I would... still apply the .gitignore rules.  ... right?  I think?

 

HTTP jokes are all the rage these days.

 

According to every PM and Scrum Master I've ever worked with, this is true.

 

False.  Five months.

 

The Amazon Shareholders would like to thank you for your contribution.

 

It's totally normal for the value of a currency to fluxuate by 10% every day.  At random.  Wink wink.

 

You think a measly garage door is going to stop Flanders from asking you about LLM's?

 

Ok.  This one's not about programming or computers.  But.  You know.  Think about it.

 

This comic is highly misleading.  In real life, the "issues" bag is roughly twice the size.  Also the corporation stole the tree.

 

Can't argue with that.

 

He he.  Still one of my favorites.

 

I should make a rule about this within The Lunduke Journal.  Anyone who mentions "AI" has to drop a quarter in the tip jar.  I'd be rich!  Rich, I say!

 

Dagnabbit.

 

I'm not saying Infrastructure guys are pansies nowadays.  But they're pansies nowadays.

 

Yup.

 

It takes screenshots of your mouth.

 

You see... because they have small brains.
Read full Article
post photo preview
Last week at The Lunduke Journal (May 12 - May 18, 2024)
Bytes! Apple II Z-80 CP/M! And... Alex Jones? You know. A totally normal week.

Behold!  A full week of nerdy goodness at The Lunduke Journal!

Fun, nerdy history!  Goofiness!  But also... serious discussions about serious topics!  Seriously!

As always: A massive "Thank You" to all of The Lunduke Journal subscribers who make all of this possible!  No ads.  No Big Tech.  All thanks to you.

Here's links to everything.  Free to enjoy and share with the world.

The Videos:

The Articles:

Truly, it was a delightful week!  Well, buckle up, Buttercup!  Because a new week is about to begin!

Read full Article
See More
Available on mobile and TV devices
google store google store app store app store
google store google store app tv store app tv store amazon store amazon store roku store roku store
Powered by Locals