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Nerd post: Hewlett Packard 3456a digital multimeter

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One of the tragedies of being a nerd is not being able to afford the toys one would like to have when those toys are new. But, thanks to eBay, we can go back in time and find bargains in some of the cool things we’d have liked to have many years ago.

A recent eBay acquisition is an HP 3456a digital multimeter. I believe the list price on these devices was $6,395 in 1982. They can still cost $600 to $700 on eBay if the seller can vouch for the history of the instrument and guarantee that it’s in good working order. If you watch the auctions carefully for a while, you can pick up an HP 3456a for less than $100 if you’re willing to accept some risk.

This instrument seems to be in great working order. The display in the photograph is showing the readout with a 100-ohm resistor across the terminals. The tolerance of the resistor is 5 percent, so at only 1.213 ohms off the rated value of the resistor, the odds are good that both the resistor and the HP 3456a are close to specification.

One of the cools things about the HP 3456a multimeter is that it can be controlled (using an HP-IB interface) by an early HP computer — the HP 85, one of which I also happen to have. Getting the two devices talking to each other will be a project for some other rainy day.

It’s a shame that Hewlett Packard is a mere shadow of its former self. Clearly, years ago, it was a company run by engineers, for engineers, selling to engineers. Cost was not a problem. It was all about the quality of design and the quality of the build. That’s why their stuff is still working today.

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