Which retro calculator is best?
 flaxcottage
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Which retro calculator is best?
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 TI59, a very powerful calculator in its day, needed two key presses to get the tan function whereas a SR56 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 SR51A 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?
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 TI59, a very powerful calculator in its day, needed two key presses to get the tan function whereas a SR56 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 SR51A 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?
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
I think I'd have to unrecommend 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
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
 flaxcottage
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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.
Commodore calculators I never used. They were available and that SR4148 looks to be ergonomic to use  I might try to find one. I liked the aesthetic of the Texas calculators of the day hence I went down that route. Mind you the HP41C 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 overcomplicated and included masses of functions that were never used. Their displays were clear though and batteries lasted for ages.
Commodore calculators I never used. They were available and that SR4148 looks to be ergonomic to use  I might try to find one. I liked the aesthetic of the Texas calculators of the day hence I went down that route. Mind you the HP41C 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 overcomplicated and included masses of functions that were never used. Their displays were clear though and batteries lasted for ages.
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
I still have my Casio fx570c 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 scopeflaxcottage wrote: ↑Tue Mar 31, 2020 11:24 amCasio 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 overcomplicated and included masses of functions that were never used. Their displays were clear though and batteries lasted for ages.
Rgds
Stephen
Stephen
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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 FX100. That seemed to work pretty well. Eventually I got one that draws graphs which is in the list of programmable ones, the Casio  fx7000G. But that is definitely 80s.
Looking at http://ernst.mulder.com/calculators/ove ... index.html, one that I do remember was the Casio FX100. That seemed to work pretty well. Eventually I got one that draws graphs which is in the list of programmable ones, the Casio  fx7000G. But that is definitely 80s.
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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.
Here's some guidance from AQA.org.uk:
Here's some guidance from AQA.org.uk:
 flaxcottage
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
AQA advice for GCSE?
That was ALevel stuff when I taught maths, matrix arithmetic and complex number arithmetic especially. Looks like a case for the HP15C.
That was ALevel stuff when I taught maths, matrix arithmetic and complex number arithmetic especially. Looks like a case for the HP15C.
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
hee hee  I really wanted to mention HP's landscapeformat 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 Alevels taken every year"
Edit: I've never heard of AQA before, but they say: "We set and mark the papers for over half of all GCSEs and Alevels taken every year"
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
That may be so but those topics are nothing like anything I remember from Olevel maths so it would be surprising if they had crept in at less than ALevel.
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.
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
Yeah, pretty likely those slides were about A, or AS level, or even Further Maths.
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
Definitely, material such as integration and solving equations involving surds is part of the Alevel 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 Alevel 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!)
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
My Casio FX82 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.
Cheers.
Phill.
 Diminished
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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.
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.
 flaxcottage
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
You were lucky in the 90s  you had calculators. When I did my exams 'when I were a lad' we had to use 4figure maths tables for sines, cosines, tangents and calculation using logarithms.
I found a book of 7figure tables in WH Smiths and thought I was in heaven.
I found a book of 7figure tables in WH Smiths and thought I was in heaven.
 Diminished
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
I think we had it lucky in several ways. I remember when I did Alevel maths and one of the questions that our teacher dug up for us as practice was an old Olevel 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 Olevel question, and I couldn't do it at mid90s Alevel standard. People sometimes bring up the notion that educational standards are slipping. Based on that problem, I'd be inclined to agree.flaxcottage wrote: ↑Fri Apr 03, 2020 8:39 amYou were lucky in the 90s  you had calculators. When I did my exams 'when I were a lad' we had to use 4figure maths tables for sines, cosines, tangents and calculation using logarithms.
I found a book of 7figure tables in WH Smiths and thought I was in heaven.
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.
Another thing I remember ... I imagine they've tightened this up now, but when I did Alevel 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?

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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
My Casio fx2500 (bought February 1979) got me through my 'O' Levels and still works nicely.
 flaxcottage
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
That's a straight forward looking calculator and well used loved.
 walkerworks
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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!
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!
bygonebytes.co.uk
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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 EL506R. It seems that the original EL506 was released in 1980, so just outside the scope of this thread.
I bought a TI89 graphing calculator for University, which served me well, until someone stole it.
I went through High School with a Sharp EL506R. It seems that the original EL506 was released in 1980, so just outside the scope of this thread.
I bought a TI89 graphing calculator for University, which served me well, until someone stole it.
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 flaxcottage
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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.
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.
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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.
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.
 Nigel
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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 TI30 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:
and you'll very quickly end up with Pi.
That's the display from my The red LED display TI30 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 + …
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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:
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:
 22/7
355/113
8 squared squared squared
42 square root
.3 squared squared reciprocal
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
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
I went through GCE  nope  stop  GSCEs (8489) 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 Alevels, 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 TI82  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.
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 Alevels, 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 TI82  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.
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 flaxcottage
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
@Pernod  Hey I have those self same calculators! My children used them through school for GCSE and ALevel. I could never use that Casio; it was much too complicated.
@ 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.
@ 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.
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
I picked up a TI30 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 EL506R). I never did find the chance to turn my hand at RPN, though.
I don't know what happened to that TI30, but a few years I picked up a Casio FX36, with a nice green (VFD?) display. That's on a shelf, somewhere in the house.
I've also got a TI83 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.
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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 arccos 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.
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.
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
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 flaxcottage
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Re: Which retro calculator is best?
Nothing beats a bit of calculator pron in the morning (except perhaps the smell of magic smoke!).
Re: Which retro calculator is best?
There is a certain smell to old calculators too. Very evocative.