Data Logging Like It’s 1982

If you want to log voltages or resistance these days, no problem. You can buy a multimeter with Bluetooth for a hundred bucks, and if you’re really fancy you can spring for the Fluke with a graphical display that will log values automatically. Things weren’t always this cheap and easy, but there was always a way to do it.

Back in the 80s, HP had GPIB, or HP-IB, or IEEE-488 connectors on the back of their benchtop equipment. This was an 8-bit interface not unlike a parallel port that allowed for remote control of test equipment. In a great demonstration of what this was actually like, [AkBKukU] posted a video of connecting an old benchtop multimeter to a vintage computer over GPIB.

The computer used for this feat of retrotechtacularness is an HP Series 80, a footnote in the history of desktop computers, but it does have a custom CPU and BASIC in ROM. As you would expect from vintage HP gear, there are a few slots on the back of the computer for connecting interface boxes, including a modem, a speech synthesizer, and of course, an HP-IB interface that can speak IEEE-488.

With the multimeter connected to the computer over the daisy-chainable parallel interface, it was a simple matter of writing a little bit of BASIC to read a potentiometer and a thermistor. With a little bit more code, this computer can even produce a graph of the resistance over time. This is data logging like it’s 1982, and it’s a fantastic example of exactly how far we’ve come.

26 thoughts on “Data Logging Like It’s 1982

  1. ehhhhmmmm… at 1:36 he says “the commodore PET is really not that great”
    Why would he say that… I guess he really meant “not that great for doing these kind of things”… he must have… yeah…

    1. My PET 4032 (40 col , 32KB RAM) like other PETs has no way of directly accessing the pixel data on the screen. So it would not be suitable for drawing graphics. But in general the PET isn’t pleasant to use.

      Compared to the 80 col, 128KB, and graphics capabilities of my HP-86A the pet seems simple. There are other PETs like the 8032 that fix some of these issues, but you loose compatibility with the 40col software which is the bulk of the library.

  2. I’ll trade you multiple Flukes for one HP Meter like that. Compare the accuracy (and resolution). These days I prefer something like Ethernet for the interface, but would much rather have GPIB than Bluetooth for production testing, calibration, etc.

      1. I’m sure I’m not alone in still being angry that the PC division got the HP name and the foundation that the company was built on was cast aside.
        At least Keysight does a decent job of continuing the tradition.

    1. We have stacks and stacks of those HP meters at work. No one wants to use them when a nice Fluke 287 can do it all and remain portable. Most of the time I’m using a multimeter for such quick measurements that having it on GPIB or ethernet is not worth the setup effort. Having an oscope or a spec an is much more useful most of the time than a benchtop multimeter.

    1. I’m glad someone else mentioned it first, as I was going to type something in anger. ;) GPIB is found on pretty much all current test instruments (real ones found in real labs, not so much hobbyist stuff) from nearly all manufacturers. “Just because there were cars in 1903, doesn’t mean all cars are from 1903”.

    2. At work we have a bunch of GPIB equipment still in use. A lot of our stuff is old, and it lasts. Electric Load Banks don’t wear out easily either. There is a big push to update and reduce the labor requirements and GPIB is still used.

    1. You should checkout the Titan from It uses simple DB9 connectors which provide interfaces for a wide variety of sensor types including Strain Gauge, Voltage, Thermocouple, ICP, and Tachometer/Totalizer inputs. If you get the digital add-on you can also have CANbus, IMU, WFT, & GPS. Their software is free and their tech support is excellent.

  3. I used to have an HP 85 (Similar to the one in the picture above, except it had a built-in CRT display and thermal printer), got it and a box of software and manuals at the Salvation Army for $10, it had a few statistics programs and algebra programs with it, I tinkered with it a bit, cleaned it up and fixed the tape drive, sold the whole lot on eBay for ~$300.

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