back to article Ten classic electronic calculators from the 1970s and 1980s

Until sometime in the early 1980s, when you reached secondary school you were handed a slim book full of numbers during a maths lesson and taught how to use log tables. Sines, cosines, tangents, square roots - they were all in there too. While it made a change from long division, it caused its own share of headaches. But, to a …

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Still working

My 36 year old Commodore SR416 still works perfectly.

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Re: Still working

So does my 32 year old Casio FX-602P

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Re: Still working

I did replace the internal rechargeable batteries a while back, but still going strong.

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Re: Still working

Alas the on/off switch on my FX-81 died a long while ago, but I still have an FX-350 by my side here and an FX-570 in the other room which are kept working by dint of leaving the power switch "on" and just using the AC button to switch it on and letting the auto time-out to switch it off.

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Re: Still working

While still at school I upgraded from an FX81, which had taken quite a bashing, to an 180p which could just about be programmed to solve quadratic equations, which is indeed what I used for at O level. That was probably my first ever functional test! It wasn't cheating as marks were awarded for demonstrating how the result was achieved.

It's still going strong and is what I use any time I need to tot some numbers or double check some mental arithmetic.

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Re: Still working

The FX-180P was my 3rd calculator that I bought in 81 following a Rockwell 4 function for O-level and an SR 4912 for A-level. It's still on my desk at work and still used every week (normally to prove that my mental arithmetic is correct to the disbelievers). Every 6-7 years the display dims and I think it has died and then remember that it might need batteries.

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Unhappy

Still missing

Not exactly state of the art, but I sadly miss my long-lost, self-assembly, Sinclair Radionic calculator, circa 1978.

At least I still have my beloved HP48GX.

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Re: Still working

Alas, my 32-year old FX-601P died in Sep 2013 - it is greatly missed.

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Re: Still working

@ Graham Marsden: My FX-82 died that way too, until I cleaned the switch contacts with a bit of isopropyl alcohol. That worked fine for a while longer, and upon its ensuing re-death, a judicious application of emery paper to the metal contacts worked a treat.

YMMV.

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Re: Still working

The first silicon chip in most peoples' homes was probably inside a calculator, as they predated digital watches by a year or two.

In out house it was a Rockwell in 1977. I remember being confised about the funny "4".

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Re: Still working

My beloved Casio fx-7000g is still working, last time I checked a few years ago when I pulled the batteries out, and I still have the manual. Business calculus in 1990 was the last time I really needed it for anything, ah, good times.

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Re: Still working

So does my 32 year old Casio FX-602P

Somehow I managed to kill my 602 years ago, but a couple of years back my father gave me my FX-502P back, which I'd given him when I'd bought the 602. The first software I ever sold was for the FX-502P. I also won £10 off my maths lecturer who bet I couldn't write a framework stress analysis program on a calculator.

Of course the only thing wrong with them was that they didn't use RPN.

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Ah the FX-1000G

The FX-1000G got me through my A-Levels during the late 80's. I can't remember what happened to it after that but it was a good calculator.

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RPN FTW!

I still have my H-P 33E which gets used occasionally.

Its only fault is that because of the odd way that H-P built it [some of the chips are not soldered to the flexible PCB but are kept in place using a piece of spongy foam!] sometimes you need to twist the case a bit to 'improve' the chip-to-PCB contact and get all the LED segments to light.

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HP 33E

I had a HP 33E at Uni. I dropped it crossing the road and, before I could retrieve it, it had been run over by a car. Apart from a crack in the bottom corner of the case, it was unscathed.

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Re: RPN FTW!

The "spongy foam" stuff was pretty common for connecting LCD screens to a circuit board back then. It saved having to add pins, or a piece of ribbon cable to the LCD. If you take one of these constructions apart, you'll find that the foam has black 'channels' running vertically. The problem is that over time the contact between the pads, the channels and the screen deteriorates, but moving things around a bit sufficiently cleans the contact spots again. Oh, and if you have the screen misaligned with the pads on the circuit board, you can get pretty weird displays.

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Re: RPN FTW!

As memory serves, it was called Zebra Strip.

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Re: RPN FTW!

Still have mine, bought in 1978 on a journey to the States. Never got a UK charger for it but just used AA cells in it which have worked fine over the years. Had to strip and clean the keyboard about 10 years ago but it still works fine. Also have a HP16C which does multiple bases and machine code arithmatic. Great calculators.

Of course, the fault with the HP33E was that you could enter quite complex programs in it which disappeared when it was switched off. The HP33C came out one year after I bought mine.

Phil.

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Fixing the foam problem.

You should be able to fix the problem with this stuff...

https://www.sparkfun.com/products/12042

It is tape that conducts in the Z axis. Should be able to replace zebra connectors etc quite well.

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Re: RPN FTW! Springy foam connector

Yep, at leat one of the early Nokia phones had this (?910?).

I used to work miracles to my friends by giving them a quick twist to restore a missing segment or two...then retighten the case screws for a longer-lasting fix.

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Re: RPN FTW!

There were basically two types of zebra strip: a silicone tube with narrow conductive rings on the outside, and a rectangular strip with carbon channels inside, running vertically. ISTR the latter ones usually being pink-ish

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No early casio?!?

Where is the green digitron tube featured on the great casio FX-39, 105 or my favorite the 120. Really high quality feel to these with sweet buttons and I loved the way the tube "sang" when you switched it on.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: No early casio?!?

They aren't Nixies, they are Vacuum Fluorescent Displays.

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Re: No early casio?!?

check em under a magnifying glass to see the slightly glowing red anode lines...

Beautiful...

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Re: No early casio?!?

Spot on. Fx39 was revolutionary. Mine died 10 years ago. I miss it.

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Re: No early casio?!?

"check em under a magnifying glass to see the slightly glowing red anode lines..."

cornz 1, your post inspired me to put some batteries in my 1975(ish) casio fx31, just to see the turquoise glowing display light up again. You can indeed see the anode lines glowing; I can't remember if I ever noticed this before.

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Re: No early casio?!?

"slightly glowing red anode lines..."

I think those are actually the cathode (filament), the anode is the green glowing bit.

FX-29 in the drawer here (dates to about '76), still working ok though the black vinyl cover is getting a bit brittle. I'd forgotten how small the little green digits were, but in the days before mobile phones it could double as a handy under-bedclothes torch (88888888). Don't ask.

I use LCD models now, and not in the dark, but still the same scientific buttons get the wear - pi, log, ln, 1/x, sqrt.

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TI-59 memories

My father got a TI-59 from work around 1978 or 1979, and it was the first device on which I tried any kind of programming. Felt like using technology from the future! Unfortunately magnetic card reader was not too reliable, and eventually stopped working. There were also swappable ROM modules of programs. The calculator came with one, but others were supposedly available for special tasks. There was also a cheaper version TI-58 that lacked the magnetic card feature, but was otherwise similar.

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Re: TI-59 memories

So I wasn't the only one who started programming with the TI-59.

I also had, still have somewhere, both of them, the TI-58C - no card reader but at least constant memory.

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Re: TI-59 memories

I have a TI-58 somewhere, it worked last time I tried it, although the rechargeable batteries will need replacing. It had one bit error in its RAM, somewhere near the top, I had to make sure that when programming, I only stored even op-codes in that location.

I got it to play noughs and crosses - it could have been invincible but I deliberately left one way it could be beaten.

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Re: TI-59 memories

Classical or classical. I had the SR-52, the precursor to Ti59 (http://en.cyclopaedia.net/wiki/TI-59).

Read errors on the magnetic cards were a nuisance, and battery life was so-so - but space permitted me to program anovas on it. Made me a local statistics expert in the late 1970s.

The printer was very helpful for documentation purposes. There were occasional contact problems, but wriggling usually solved it.

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Ahhh... memory...

My first programming experience was on a LED display HP. A game involving landing a lander on the moon, IIRC.

Still have an old FX-something lying around, but when I need a calculator, I reach for my HP48. None of that pansy smartphone stuff.

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Re: Ahhh... memory...

> when I need a calculator, I reach for my HP48. None of that pansy smartphone stuff.

My two 48GXs are missing in action, while my 42S has been stolen (back) by a member of my family, and dad keeps his 41s well hidden, so I have to resort to smartphone stuff: https://github.com/shagr4th/droid48.

Binaries available at the usual places, including until recently from F-Droid.

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Re: Ahhh... memory...

> but when I need a calculator, I reach for my HP48. None of that pansy smartphone stuff.

You can get a HP48 app for Android, and a HP16C one too.

But it doesn't have the tactile delight of the real 16C, so my wife lets me use her 16C.

I've an 41CX too, but it feels more plasticy.

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I still have an HP-28C... incredible machine.

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My first calculator

I had left school and was working for Berni Inns as a trainee manager on the princely sum of £4 per week. My mother came home one day with the first electronic calculator I had ever seen. It was a Sharp and it could add, subtract, divide and multiply with an eight character screen! It also had a button on the side to increment the display count by one so it could be used as a rudimentary counter. At £15 it was nearly a months wage!

Sadly it has been lost.

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HP calculators rewired my brain for RPN so thoroughly that I am almost incapable of using a regular calculator. I was ridiculously pleased when I found a HP11C emulator app for my smartphone.

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RPN

I had a Sinclair Scientific Reverse Polish Notation device. The best thing about it was that almost nobody borrowed it twice! My maths teacher figured it out and explained some of the things that it could do beyond straight arithmetic.

I too now have an calculator app on my phone that does RPN if I want. Now I get confuse a whole new bunch of people...

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Re borrowing RPN calculators

I remember when once in a post grad lecture the nice lady next to me borrowed my HP-48. At first, she was puzzled for a few seconds - I can only guess: "where the heck is equal?". Then she pressed some keys, waited another few seconds, pressed some more keys and silently passed it back to me. It had some weird numbers on the display :-)

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Re: RPN

I was familiar with RPN since youth (some 20 years ago - I think my father had some HP variant) but didn't use them much, until few years ago when I purchased newer HP model. The fun part is that I got accustomed to it from using a simulator rather than the real thing. Now I install this simulator on all computers I expect to need a calculator. And I still have (and use) the real thing, obviously - under 5 years, it's almost new anyway!

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Still use

my fx-7000GA purchased for my A-levels. Have the 7700 (I upgraded for university) as well but it eats batteries at an alarming rate (and I don't need the additional functions in my day job).

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Re: Still use

You could supposedly reduce battery consumption by turning down the contrast on the FX-7000G. Meant you had to tilt it to read it though.

I'll have to dig mine out tonight and see if it still works. It was working a couple of years ago.

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Re: Still use

I still have my FX7000G, I didn't realise it still worked until I saw my wife sitting at our computer filling in her finances spreadsheet and using the calculator to add up some numbers. I made no comment.*

*Do I get a prize for restraint ?

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Re: Still use fx-7000

My fx-7000G is just to the right of my mouse as I'm typing this :-)

It's been in use daily since my GCSE days mumble years ago. I think I'd be stuffed without it.

(And yes, batteries can be made to last by turning down the contrast)

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Re: Still use

Four CR-2032 batteries on the 7700 (one for memory, the rest for the calculator) - and it does like batteries like a fatman likes cakes!

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Ah the skills one forgets

that RPN seems to have hidden itself away in my brain - but funnily enough I can feel the keyboards of some of these in my memory!

And I can also remember the smell of the log tables!

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Re: Ah the skills one forgets

Log tables are a whole different area of nostalgia. I've still got mine tucked away somewhere, hopefully with some slide rules close by.

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Re: Ah the skills one forgets

And I can also remember the smell of the log tables!

I've never had to use a slide rule in anger - I learned how to use one from one of those "how things work" books, but by the time I was doing sufficiently-ambitious arithmetic in school, four-function calculators were widely available.

They did teach us to use log tables and interpolation, though. Interesting at the time, and an understanding of logarithms came in handy years later when I started working with probabilities, which are often computed in log space to prevent underflow. (Of course in underflow becomes negative overflow in log space, but you get a lot more room to work in.)

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Programming was a challenge

I seem to of owned most of these once in my life, especially the Casio's

The greatest challenge with the Casio programmable model was fitting a simultaneous equation solver in the available memory. I was well pleased when I managed it and in hindsight started pushing me to the career in embedded programming I have now

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I did my I O level exams with a RPN HP calculator borrowed from my Dad. Until then I did trig by remembering the SIN of 0, 30, 45, 60, 90 and interpolating between the points and calculating COS and TAN from SIN.

I saved up my pocket money to buy a solar-panel Casio fx911 for my A levels, which I still have in perfect working order. I was doing my tax return with it just a couple of days ago. :)

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