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HP's greatest hits: These PCs were good

Hewlett-Packard has sold some remarkable PCs over the years. Lest we forget, it sold today's Ultrabook equivalent back in 2000.

Hewlett-Packard has been in the PC business for more than 25 years. And, needless to say, it had some good designs. It's worth a quick look at select models that stood the test of time in the wake of the disclosure today that the company is trying to unload its PC business.

The 3.5-pound HP EliteBook 2530p/2540p is a road warrior used at many Fortune 500 companies.
The 3.5-pound HP EliteBook 2530p/2540p is a road warrior used at many Fortune 500 companies. Hewlett-Packard

Let me preface this with a caveat that was buried in the various HP statements today about its PC business: "There can be no assurance that any transaction regarding PSG (Personal Systems Group) will be pursued or completed." So, it's not a done deal. And there is a possibility, however remote, that HP holds on to the PC business. My hope is that it survives as an independent U.S.-based company, if only because the U.S. has almost no PC companies left.

HP Vectra: This used to be the gold standard for corporate desktops. A fully-equipped HP Vectra ES/12 (released 1987), for example, commanded a price of about $4,000. But it was well built and almost invariably got good reviews--though reviewers would complain about its price tag, like they do today with Apple. The Vectra ES/12 had a 12MHz Intel 80286 CPU, 640KB RAM, 5.25 inch floppy, 20 (or 40) MB hard disk drive, and VGA card.

HP OmniBook 300: The original Omnibook 300 (1993) came with an Intel 386SXLV CPU, 2MB RAM, two PCMCIA slots, and a nine-inch monochrome VGA display with 16 shades of gray. The rechargeable battery offered nine hours of use with the flash memory model. It could also run on 4 AA batteries, according to the HP Computer Museum Web site. It weighed less than four pounds. A version with a 40MB hard disk sold for $1,950.

HP sold the equivalent of an Ultrabook back in 2000: the OmniBook 500. CNET

HP OmniBook 500: Announced in 2000, this was the equivalent of an Ultrabook (aka, MacBook Air) today. Like most novel HP laptop designs, it was targeted at business, not retail/consumer. It featured a magnesium casing, rubberized surface, a weight of only 3.5 pounds (the equivalent of a 2.5 pound laptop today), a one-inch thick chassis (that was considered razor thin in 2000), Intel Mobile Pentium III processor, a warm-swappable lithium-ion battery (up to 3.5 hours), a 12.1-inch XGA TFT display, ATI Mobility graphics chip, and an integrated modem/LAN combination with "Wake on LAN" support.

HP EliteBook 2540p: I still see this (and its predecessor the 2530p) at airports, coffee shops, and conferences. It's not as prevalent as the ThinkPad, but it's close. Like the Vectra above, it is tank-like in construction. It meets military standards (MIL-STD 810G), has a spill-resistant keyboard with drains, a magnesium-alloy casing, and hardened-steel pin axels, among other road warrior features. And it's one of the few laptops I have considered buying in the last few years aside from the MacBook Air that I now use.