Which retro calculator is best?

for all subjects/topics not covered by the other forum categories
Post Reply
User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Mon Mar 30, 2020 11:08 pm

The other day I had a constructional problem that needed me to calculate tan(30°) x 1.2.

I went to get my trusty calculator to do the calculation and that set me thinking.

1. Which of my scientific calculators would be the best to use?

2. Which of these calculators would be best for GCSE use in schools today?

All my scientific calculators could handle the task but they were not equal when it came to the ease with which one did the calculations. For example a TI-59, a very powerful calculator in its day, needed two key presses to get the tan function whereas a SR-56 only needed one key press and therefore did the calculations faster and easier.

For the second question, I throw that open but with a constraint - the calculator must have been first sold in the 1970s.

I offer the Texas SR-51A as a possible contender on the grounds that all the required functions are easily available and accessible in few key strokes. It also has three easily used memories, x!, simple statistics a random number generator and does not use RPN.

Which calculator would you recommend and why?
- John

Image

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 2974
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by BigEd » Tue Mar 31, 2020 9:00 am

I think I'd have to un-recommend the fascinating, ingenious, inconvenient, and inaccurate Sinclair Scientific!

Back in the day, I had a preference for Commodore's calculators. I think they were less expensive than TI's. The SR4148 has lots of functions and no shift key (other than 'arc'):
http://ernst.mulder.com/calculators/com ... index.html

But the mainstream choice in my day was Casio:
http://ernst.mulder.com/calculators/ove ... index.html

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Tue Mar 31, 2020 11:24 am

I definitely agree regarding the Sinclair Scientific. BITD my slide rule was faster and more accurate than that. It was, however, cool and very small. 8)

Commodore calculators I never used. They were available and that SR4148 looks to be ergonomic to use - I might try to find one. :wink: I liked the aesthetic of the Texas calculators of the day hence I went down that route. Mind you the HP-41C was mind blowing at the time!

Casio is really the only current choice in schools today. My children all used Casio calculators much to my disgust. Their keyboards I felt were massively over-complicated and included masses of functions that were never used. Their displays were clear though and batteries lasted for ages.
- John

Image

User avatar
sweh
Posts: 2163
Joined: Sat Mar 10, 2012 12:05 pm
Location: New York, New York
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by sweh » Tue Mar 31, 2020 1:02 pm

flaxcottage wrote:
Tue Mar 31, 2020 11:24 am
Casio is really the only current choice in schools today. My children all used Casio calculators much to my disgust. Their keyboards I felt were massively over-complicated and included masses of functions that were never used. Their displays were clear though and batteries lasted for ages.
I still have my Casio fx-570c from 1985. Still works (although the plastic wallet started to degrade, so I junked that). But that's 6 years "too new" for the original question scope :-)
Rgds
Stephen

Coeus
Posts: 1496
Joined: Mon Jul 25, 2016 12:05 pm
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Coeus » Tue Mar 31, 2020 4:31 pm

I am not sure I can say which was the best. I do remember that at the time I was talking to my parents about a scientific calculator for school, as well as the prospect of needing the transcendental functions, there was the issue that scientific calculators obeyed operator precedence and many simple ones did not.

Looking at http://ernst.mulder.com/calculators/ove ... index.html, one that I do remember was the Casio FX-100. That seemed to work pretty well. Eventually I got one that draws graphs which is in the list of programmable ones, the Casio - fx-7000G. But that is definitely 80s.

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 2974
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by BigEd » Tue Mar 31, 2020 5:29 pm

Here are my scientifics from the 70s - including three programmables. If we discount those, and the Sinclair, we're left with the highly amusing Commodore with three functions on each key and 5+5+2 display. It does have mean and variance calculation, but I suspect that might not be enough for today's exams.

five-70s-calculators.png
Here's some guidance from AQA.org.uk:
AQA-calculators.png

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Tue Mar 31, 2020 9:08 pm

AQA advice for GCSE? :shock:

That was A-Level stuff when I taught maths, matrix arithmetic and complex number arithmetic especially. Looks like a case for the HP-15C. :lol: :wink:
- John

Image

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 2974
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by BigEd » Tue Mar 31, 2020 9:13 pm

hee hee - I really wanted to mention HP's landscape-format Voyager machines, but they are very much a 1980s product. And, there are still those who maintain that RPN is difficult. (Different, certainly.)

Edit: I've never heard of AQA before, but they say: "We set and mark the papers for over half of all GCSEs and A-levels taken every year"

Coeus
Posts: 1496
Joined: Mon Jul 25, 2016 12:05 pm
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Coeus » Wed Apr 01, 2020 8:37 pm

BigEd wrote:
Tue Mar 31, 2020 9:13 pm
Edit: I've never heard of AQA before, but they say: "We set and mark the papers for over half of all GCSEs and A-levels taken every year"
That may be so but those topics are nothing like anything I remember from O-level maths so it would be surprising if they had crept in at less than A-Level.

I do remember, though, that we covered a matrix method of solving simultaneous equations so I wrote a program on my BBC micro to apply that used it to do maths homework.

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 2974
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by BigEd » Wed Apr 01, 2020 8:48 pm

Yeah, pretty likely those slides were about A, or AS level, or even Further Maths.

Kazzie
Posts: 1365
Joined: Sun Oct 15, 2017 8:10 pm
Location: North Wales
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Kazzie » Thu Apr 02, 2020 5:08 am

BigEd wrote:
Wed Apr 01, 2020 8:48 pm
Yeah, pretty likely those slides were about A, or AS level, or even Further Maths.
Definitely, material such as integration and solving equations involving surds is part of the A-level syllabus.

The opening sentence of "students taking the statistics option" is also a giveaway; there's no such option at GCSE.

On the plus side, it's nice to see that A-level classrooms have progressed beyond the need to use old booklets of Poisson distribution tables for their stats courses. (A decade ago, some schools were using photocopied pages from the few books they had left!)
BBC Model B 32k issue 7, Sidewise ROM board with 16K RAM
Archimedes 420/1 upgraded to 4MB RAM, ZIDEFS with 512MB CF card
Acorn System 1 home-made replica

Prime
Posts: 2858
Joined: Mon Jun 01, 2009 12:52 am
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Prime » Thu Apr 02, 2020 6:00 am

My Casio FX-82 pretty much got me through my O and A levels. Only thing it doesn't have is base conversion which is a shame.

Cheers.

Phill.

User avatar
Diminished
Posts: 280
Joined: Fri Dec 08, 2017 9:47 pm
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Diminished » Fri Apr 03, 2020 6:24 am

I did my GCSEs in the early 90s (NEAB) and all I really remember needing was trig functions and square roots for quadratics and Pythagoras. Pretty sure we didn't need logs, exponentials or factorials by that point, or nPr / nCr.

I know we were taught matrices at one point, but I think they were removed from the syllabus later (or maybe the school decided to switch boards or something) so we weren't ultimately examined on them.

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Fri Apr 03, 2020 8:39 am

You were lucky in the 90s - you had calculators. When I did my exams 'when I were a lad' we had to use 4-figure maths tables for sines, cosines, tangents and calculation using logarithms. :lol:

I found a book of 7-figure tables in WH Smiths and thought I was in heaven. :wink:
- John

Image

User avatar
Diminished
Posts: 280
Joined: Fri Dec 08, 2017 9:47 pm
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Diminished » Fri Apr 03, 2020 9:03 am

flaxcottage wrote:
Fri Apr 03, 2020 8:39 am
You were lucky in the 90s - you had calculators. When I did my exams 'when I were a lad' we had to use 4-figure maths tables for sines, cosines, tangents and calculation using logarithms. :lol:

I found a book of 7-figure tables in WH Smiths and thought I was in heaven. :wink:
I think we had it lucky in several ways. I remember when I did A-level maths and one of the questions that our teacher dug up for us as practice was an old O-level question on coordinate geometry -- something to do with loci. I couldn't do that damn question then and even after going through university I doubt I'd be able to do it today, either. That was an O-level question, and I couldn't do it at mid-90s A-level standard. People sometimes bring up the notion that educational standards are slipping. Based on that problem, I'd be inclined to agree.

Funny story about log tables, though -- a friend of mine (very bright, ultimately went on to do a Ph.D. in quantum theory at Cambridge) forgot his calculator on the day of the GCSE and had to do the whole thing using tables. He was lucky the school still had them. :lol:

Another thing I remember ... I imagine they've tightened this up now, but when I did A-level maths, there was no restriction placed on graphing calculators. I had a simple graphing calculator at the time so I remember that once I'd finished the pure paper and had a little time left over, I was able to go back and plot graphs of some of the functions we'd been asked to find roots for. It was very handy to be able to check my answers like that.

At university they were having none of this nonsense and they just issued us calculators for the exams. (They were Casios, I'm afraid.)

Not fair, is it? [-X

stephen_usher
Posts: 117
Joined: Sun Apr 10, 2016 2:47 pm
Location: Oxford, UK.
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by stephen_usher » Fri Apr 03, 2020 12:59 pm

My Casio fx-2500 (bought February 1979) got me through my 'O' Levels and still works nicely.
IMG_0903.jpg

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Fri Apr 03, 2020 1:42 pm

That's a straight forward looking calculator and well used loved. :D
- John

Image

User avatar
walkerworks
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Oct 22, 2019 12:03 pm
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by walkerworks » Mon Apr 06, 2020 10:52 am

Here are my two favourite calculators..the side rule was standard issue from school - I say that.. they issued them but parents had to pay up :)

The Commodore SR1800 saw me through college. I remember reading a review saying that the only problem they could find with it is that it couldn't be read under a 1000w green lamp!
Attachments
Slide Rule.jpg
sr1800_on.jpg
bygonebytes.co.uk

Kazzie
Posts: 1365
Joined: Sun Oct 15, 2017 8:10 pm
Location: North Wales
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Kazzie » Mon Apr 06, 2020 11:18 am

Ooh, that's a nice British Thornton you've got there! (Says the guy with a box of slide rules on a shelf.)

I went through High School with a Sharp EL-506R. It seems that the original EL-506 was released in 1980, so just outside the scope of this thread.

I bought a TI-89 graphing calculator for University, which served me well, until someone stole it. :(
BBC Model B 32k issue 7, Sidewise ROM board with 16K RAM
Archimedes 420/1 upgraded to 4MB RAM, ZIDEFS with 512MB CF card
Acorn System 1 home-made replica

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Mon Apr 06, 2020 2:01 pm

These Commodore calculators look to be very good. Simple but with everything one would need. I like the green display. :)

That Thornton slide rule is almost identical to mine. I bought mine when I went into the sixth form. BITD it was the bees knees and cost an 'arm and a leg'. It lasted me all through university. We did get access to electronic calculators in the final year but they were really primitive and the slide rule and pencil and paper were a better and more reliable option anyway. A personal electronic scientific calculator in 1972 was beyond the means of any individual.
- John

Image

User avatar
Pernod
Posts: 1959
Joined: Fri Jun 08, 2012 11:01 pm
Location: Croydon, UK
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Pernod » Tue Apr 07, 2020 2:33 pm

Used this for my 'A' levels, probably needs a new battery. I seem to remember we weren't allowed scientific calculators in the 'O' level exams, having to use tables, so had a basic calculator before this which seems to have disappeared.
20200407_135024.jpg
Then upgraded to this for uni, I think. The wiki says this was released in 1994 but I finished uni in 1993 so maybe I bought it for work instead.
20200407_135108.jpg
- Nigel

BBC Model B: ATPL Sidewise, Acorn Speech, 2xWatford Floppy Drives, AMX Mouse, Viglen case, BeebZIF, etc.

scruss
Posts: 211
Joined: Sun Jul 01, 2018 4:12 pm
Location: Toronto
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by scruss » Tue Apr 07, 2020 4:41 pm

compet361nixies.jpg
Sharp Compet 361 display
compet361nixies.jpg (11.95 KiB) Viewed 399 times
That's the display from my Sharp Compet 361 Desk Calculator, circa 1969. No scientific functions, but you can persuade it to produce square roots. It uses its own input logic - neither algebraic nor RPN - which makes it a bit special to use.

The red LED display TI-30 might win. Especially if you remember how slow it was for calculating trig functions.

I'd always advocate for RPN because it's the way scientific calculators should work. You can also do magic on them, as this thread reminded me. In RAD mode, do:

Code: Select all

1 ENTER ENTER sin +  ENTER sin +  ENTER sin +  ENTER sin + …
and you'll very quickly end up with Pi.

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 2974
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by BigEd » Tue Apr 07, 2020 5:09 pm

I collected some favourite calculations on Saturday, from calculator enthusiasts, as to what they like to do as a quick check. Here's the list:
  • 22/7
    355/113
    8 squared squared squared
    42 square root
    .3 squared squared reciprocal
and then of course there's bashing the cosine key until the number stops changing

and 2 followed by enough square roots to bring it down to 1
and then squaring it back up again to see the effect of hidden digits

and the famous calculator forensic, in degrees mode:
  • 9 sin cos tan arctan arccos arcsin
(Which I think I first saw in a Commodore advert in the daily paper.)

User avatar
mjforbes
Posts: 318
Joined: Thu Jan 12, 2006 1:38 pm
Location: Southsea, Hampshire, UK
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by mjforbes » Tue Apr 07, 2020 7:15 pm

I went through GCE - nope - stop - GSCEs (84-89) with a bunch of TI things. I can't remember the 'silvery' one that did the bulk of it, but that was replaced by a 'Galaxy' model - cream coloured "desktop" thing.

Anyway - my dad (who had an HP RPN programmable thing with a manual the size of a phonebook) judged "modern" scientific calculators on the accuracy of 60 [sin > cos > tan > inv tan > inv cos > inv sin] - he was quite impressed that one of mine gave a 60.000001 result. And the speed test of course - factorial of 69.

Onto A-levels, I had a Casio FX something G - one of the first graphing calculators. Three CR2032s that could be drained in seconds and could only be replaced (at great cost ...) with a watchmaker's screwdriver.

I've still got a TI-82 - works well, but the contrast on the screen is terrible.

I've got to go in the loft soon, so I'll dig them out.

M.
"We're happy as fish, as gorgeous as geese, and wonderfully clean in the morning."

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Tue Apr 07, 2020 9:02 pm

@Pernod - Hey I have those self same calculators! My children used them through school for GCSE and A-Level. I could never use that Casio; it was much too complicated. :lol:

@ BigEd - I always used the calculator forensic 29 sin cos tan atan acos asin. Most Texas ones get to 29.00001537 and my HP ones give 28.9999...

One could always try these forensics on the Sinclair Scientific for a laugh. :D
- John

Image

Kazzie
Posts: 1365
Joined: Sun Oct 15, 2017 8:10 pm
Location: North Wales
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by Kazzie » Tue Apr 07, 2020 9:21 pm

scruss wrote:
Tue Apr 07, 2020 4:41 pm
The red LED display TI-30 might win. Especially if you remember how slow it was for calculating trig functions.
I picked up a TI-30 from a charity shop two decades or so ago, and enjoyed learning it's different syntax for entering calculations (as compared to the "Direct Algebraic Logic" on my EL-506R). I never did find the chance to turn my hand at RPN, though.

I don't know what happened to that TI-30, but a few years I picked up a Casio FX-36, with a nice green (VFD?) display. That's on a shelf, somewhere in the house.

I've also got a TI-83 that was the required model at the college my brother went to, and a regular Sinclair that belonged to my father. Sadly battery damage (and a decomposed inductor that's fallen off the board) in the latter means I'm unlikely to be able to fix it without a circuit diagram and a lot of luck.
BBC Model B 32k issue 7, Sidewise ROM board with 16K RAM
Archimedes 420/1 upgraded to 4MB RAM, ZIDEFS with 512MB CF card
Acorn System 1 home-made replica

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 2974
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by BigEd » Tue Apr 07, 2020 9:48 pm

Oh, so we've got three choices for the calculator forensic! I did try it on the Sinclair, and as I recall it wasn't impressive. And you have to keep converting to/from radians manually. Let me try again... At the cos stage we get 1.0, and at the arc-cos stage we have an argument greater than 1. Even so, we get a result: 3.3231

Ah yes, factorial 69. Although I haven't any expectation of the answer, other than knowing it was very big.

Which reminds me of one of the first things I did on my first scientific, the Sinclair Oxford 300. I did tan 89.999 and tan 89.99 and noticed that the two answers have the same digits, but one is ten times bigger. Much later on I realised why that should be.

User avatar
1024MAK
Posts: 9902
Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 5:46 pm
Location: Looking forward to summer in Somerset, UK...
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by 1024MAK » Wed Apr 08, 2020 8:25 am

There is more calculator chat and p0rn in this older thread :lol:

Mark

User avatar
flaxcottage
Posts: 4022
Joined: Thu Dec 13, 2012 8:46 pm
Location: Derbyshire
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by flaxcottage » Wed Apr 08, 2020 10:59 am

Nothing beats a bit of calculator pron in the morning (except perhaps the smell of magic smoke!). :lol:
- John

Image

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 2974
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Which retro calculator is best?

Post by BigEd » Wed Apr 08, 2020 11:30 am

There is a certain smell to old calculators too. Very evocative.

Post Reply

Return to “off-topic”