HP 2640

HP 2647A terminal

The HP 2640A and other HP 264X models were block-mode "smart" and intelligent ASCII standard serial terminals produced by Hewlett-Packard using the Intel 8008 and 8080 microprocessors.


The HP 2640A[1] was introduced in 1975, and used an Intel 8008 CPU, and was priced at US$3500. At introduction, it could have up to 8 KB of RAM (two 4 KB semiconductor RAM cards). Also introduced in 1975 was the HP 2644A, which was an HP 2640A with mass storage (two mini-tape cartridges), for US$5000.

Model Number

The HP catalogs usually refer to the terminal model as simply "2640A", and infrequently as "HP 2640", or "HP 2640A" (both with a blank after the "HP"), or "2640". The incorrect "HP2640" and "HP2640A" are often seen outside of HP.


The functionality defined by the HP 264X series hasn't changed much as the preferred terminal for HP1000 and HP 3000 series computers. They never achieved the notoriety of the VT100 among programmers, but included sophisticated features not found in the VT100, such as offline forms, multipages, and (in some models) local storage.

The styling looked like vaguely like a toaster oven. It was boxy, with a "widescreen" aspect ratio. HP had determined that the combination of a standard 4:3 aspect ratio with the 25 line by 80 character display that was the standard of the time required the characters to have a very high profile. HP's response was to specify a CRT with an aspect ratio designed around the desired character shape instead of the other way around. Of course, this also mandated rather high manufacturing costs as standard parts could not be used.

HP took pains to further improve the rendering of displayed characters via half-pixel positioning of individual lines within each character. Although the character cell was only 7 horizontal by 9 vertical dots, half-pixel positioning effectively doubled the horizontal resolution to 14 dots,[2] giving the characters very smooth outlines. (The initial sales literature referred to it as using a 7×9 matrix generated in a 9×15 dot character cell).

All of this resulted in an extremely easy to read display with the dot-matrix nature, and the scan lines, almost invisible.

The keyboard had flat tops, similar to the HP 9800 series desktop computers rather than the curved contours now considered to be ergonomic. It featured three keypad areas: Alphabetic, numeric, and an array of cursor positioning and editing keys somewhat similar to modern PC keyboard layouts. There were also a number of smaller function and feature control keys arrayed in two rows above the normal keypad areas. The keyboard chassis was separate from the main body, connected via a thick cable. The keyboard used a bit-paired layout (similar to that on a teleprinter machine) rather than the typewriter-paired arrangement on DEC's VT100. Although large, users loved the keyboard because "it had a key for everything".

Similar to the HP desktop computers, it had a number of F-keys (F1 through F8) placed close to the screen. Paper templates were available for some application programs to which placed legends for these keys on the keyboard. Later models arranged these across the top row, and provided for screen labels close to their respective keys. Terminal configuration in the 262X series was done entirely through the screen-labeled function keys rather than dedicated keys and through escape sequences sent from the host computer. The on-screen labeling of the eight function keys, pioneered by the HP 300 ("Amigo") computer, was one of the first applications of a hierarchical menu which allows accessing many functions with a small number of keys. This arrangement is now common on TI graphic calculators, and automated teller and gas pump machines, though no longer used in GUI user interfaces.

Internally, the electronics used a motherboard with plug-in daughter cards. The microprocessor, memory, serial interface card, and various optional functions were each on separate cards. This permitted easy field maintenance, upgrades, and reconfiguration. For example, more memory (providing larger scrollback capability) could be easily added, the serial interface could be changed from RS-232 to current loop, etc. The optional tape drives of the 2645 model were interfaced via another plug-in card. The plug-in card capability strongly resembled the later Apple II expansion architecture. In fact Apple I is derived from a plug-in daughter board inside the 2645 terminal sponsored by Hewlett Packard.

The manufacturing area was across from R&D cubicles in the Data Terminals Division in Cupertino. The testing area was dubbed "beepland" because it had racks of 500 terminals, with the end of the test ending in a beep.

The HP 2640 introduced "block mode", similar to the IBM 3270 (although the IBM 3270 did not work for ASCII standard serial communications). The escape sequences Esc-[ and Esc-] defined unprotected areas, but it didn't have to take up a visible space. It acted much like a web page, disconnected from the host until the SEND key was pressed. The fields could screen for alphabetic or numeric characters, a feature beyond Windows Forms today. This would be supported by programs such as DEL/3000 and VIEW/3000 which would map form data into runtime variables and databases. It also supported teletype character mode like a standard ASCII terminal, and did not need specialized communications like IBM.

The hardware was radically different from most "dumb" terminals in that the characters were not stored in a simple data array. To save memory, which could extend over several pages, characters were allocated as linked lists of blocks which were dynamically allocated. Display enhancements were encoded as embedded bytes in the stream. Software enhancements which did not affect the appearance such as dim or underline, but protected and unprotected fields were also coded with embedded bytes. The display hardware was capable of reading this unusual data structure. When the cost of memory came down by the 262X series, this was changed to a "parallel" structure with one bit for each enhancement code, but the logic required to emulate previous behaviors was complex. Inserting a code for underline would "propagate" to the next display enhancement, while deleting such a code would also have to be propagated to the next display byte or a cursor jump sequence was issued to jump several bytes. You could also completely turn off enhancements as well as provide protected only field enhancements. This data structure would inspire the sparse matrix data structure for the Twin spreadsheet.

The HP 2640 also introduced multiple pages of memory, much like the DOS box in Microsoft Windows today, and the page up and page down key which appears on PC keyboards.

Users learned to use the offline key to take the terminal offline, edit a line in the display buffer, and then retransmit it. This gave the effect of command line recall and editing even if the operating system did not support it. For example, when working at an operating system's command prompt, an erroneous command could quickly be corrected and re-sent without having to retype the entire line. This was possible in many terminals of the day, but the HP 2640 was smart enough to only retransmit the line from the first character typed by the user, omitting, for example, the operating system's command prompt. This was later implemented as "line mode". Another method was to paint a formatted with protected fields within a screen in character mode and place it into local edit mode similar to the above but the user did not know. This meant that the characters entered by the user would not be transmitted to the host until a 'special' key, typically the enter key, but other keys were also deemed special (i.e. immediate interrupt of the host) such as control y and function keys. Only the data within the unprotected areas would be transferred in this way, using a semi block mode mechanism, a sort of half way house between block mode and normal character mode, Formatted fields also meant forms could be stored in memory ( tested for and recalled locally or repainted from the host if not present), just the unprotected data areas need be sent, thereby removing the need to repaint or issue direct cursor placements in order to update the screen (TIM/3000 Air Call Computer Systems). The PCL language was PCL level 3 in an HP645/7, which was later implemented to drive Hewlett Packards' first Laserjet printer.

HP Printer Control Language shares a common non-ANSI escape sequence grammar and common sequences with HP terminals.

In-house developers ported TinyBASIC to the HP 2645A, as well as developing several games in assembler (most notably "Keep On Drivin'", Tennis and Reversi).

Plotters could also be interfaced to using HP/GL 2 with TinyBasic.


The HP 264X[3] series included several models beyond the HP 2640A.

The great over-reach was a color graphics terminal that cost more than the HP 2647 monochrome graphics workstation that sold very few units but cost a huge effort to develop.

Eventually, HP ended up selling essentially a low-cost version[9] of the HP 2640. Today, terminal emulators by companies such as Attachmate still implement the late 1970s feature set of these terminals on common PCs.

See also List of HP 26xx terminals (introduction, price, discontinuation)


  1. Doub, James A. (June 1975). "Cost-Effective CRT Terminal is first of a family" (PDF). Hewlett-Packard Journal. 26 (10): 2–5. ISSN 0018-1153.
  2. Roy, Jean-Claude (June 1975). "A High-Resolution Raster Scan Display" (PDF). Hewlett-Packard Journal. 26 (10): 11–15. ISSN 0018-1153.
  3. "264X documentation". HP Computer Museum. Retrieved 2007-11-21.
  4. Nordman, Robert G.; Richard L. Smith; Louis A. Witkin (May 1976). "New CRT Terminal Has Magnetic Tape Storage for Expanded Capability" (PDF). Hewlett-Packard Journal. 27 (9): 2–8. ISSN 0018-1153.
  5. Dickinson, Peter D. (January 1978). "Versatile Low-Cost Graphics Terminal Is Designed for Ease of Use" (PDF). Hewlett-Packard Journal. 29 (5): 2–6. ISSN 0018-1153.
  6. "262X documentation". HP Computer Museum. Retrieved 2007-11-21.
  7. Staas, Gary C. (March 1981). "New Display Station Offers Multiple Screen Windows and Dual Data Communications Ports" (PDF). Hewlett-Packard Journal. 32 (3): 3–7. ISSN 0018-1153.
  8. "2382A documentation". HP Computer Museum. Retrieved 2007-11-21.
  9. Chapuis, Jean-Louis; Michèle Prieur (April 1985). "Low-Cost, Compact, Block-Mode Computer Terminal" (PDF). Hewlett-Packard Journal. 36 (4): 4–7. ISSN 0018-1153.
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