An HP15-C emulator PCB

Calculate Like It’s 1989 With This HP15C Emulator

Back in the day, your choice of calculator said a lot about your chops, and nothing made a stronger statement than the legendary Hewlett-Packard Voyager series of programmable calculators. From the landscape layout to the cryptic keycaps to the Reverse Polish Notation, everything about these calculators spoke to a seriousness of purpose.

Sadly, these calculators are hard to come by at any price these days. So if you covet their unique look and feel, your best bet might be to do like [alxgarza] and build your own Voyager-series emulator. This particular build emulates the HP15C and runs on an ATMega328. Purists may object to the 192×64 LCD matrix display rather than the ten-digit seven-segment display of the original, but we don’t mind the update at all. The PCB that the emulator is built on is just about the right size, and the keyboard is built up from discrete switches that are as satisfyingly clicky as the originals. We also appreciate the use of nothing but through-hole components — it seems suitably retro. The video below shows that the calculator is perfectly usable without a case; a 3D-printed case is available, though, as is an overlay that replicates the keypad of the original.

We’ve seen emulators for other classic calculators of yore, including Sinclair, Texas Instruments, and even other HP lines. But this one has a really nice design that gets us going.

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The Internet – On A Casio Calculator!

Over the years we’ve become used to seeing some impressive hacks of high-end calculator software and hardware, most often associated with the Z80-based models from Texas Instruments. But of course, TI are far from the only player in this arena. It’s nice for a change to see a Casio receiving some attention. The Casio fx series of graphical calculators can now communicate with the world, thanks to the work of [Manawyrm] in porting a TCP/IP stack to them.

As can be seen in the video below, lurking in the calculator’s menu system is an IRC client, there is also a terminal application and a webserver which you can even visit online (Please be aware that it’s only a calculator though, so an onslaught of Hackaday readers clicking the link may bring it down). The Casio doesn’t have a network interface of its own, so instead, it speaks SLIP over the serial port. In this endeavor, it uses a UART driver sourced from [TobleMiner].

It’s always good to see a neglected platform get some love, and also to note that this is an unusual outing for an SH4 CPU outside its most familiar home in the Sega Dreamcast. It’s a surprise then to read that the SH4 in a calculator of all products, is a custom version that lacks an FPU. This deficiency doesn’t mean it can’t be overclocked though, as this very old Hackaday article describes.

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Soviet Scientific Calculator Gives Up Its Cold War-Era Secrets

Say what you want about Soviet technology, but you’ve got to admit there was a certain style to Cold War-era electronics. Things were perhaps not as streamlined and sleek as their Western equivalents, but then again, just look at the Nixie tube craze to see where collectors and enthusiasts stand on that comparison.

One particularly interesting artifact from the later part of that era was the lovely Elektronika MK-52 “microcalculator”. [Paul Hoets] has done a careful but thorough teardown of a fine example of this late-80s machine. The programmable calculator was obviously geared toward scientific and engineering users, but [Paul] relates how later versions of it were also used by the financial community to root out banking fraud and even had built-in cryptographic functions, which made encrypting text easy.

[Paul] has put together a video of the teardown, detailing the mostly through-hole construction and the interesting use of a daughter-board, which appears to hold the high-voltage section needed to drive the 11-character VFD tube. The calculator appears to be very well cared for, and once reassembled looks like it would be up for another ride on a Soyuz, where once it served as a backup for landing calculations.

We love the look of this machine and appreciate [Paul]’s teardown and analysis. But you say that the Cyrillic keyboard has you stumped and you need a bilingual version of the MK-52? That’s not a problem.

An ALU As A Desktop Calculator Has Stunning Style From Days Gone By

Those of you with an interest in microcomputer history will know that there is a strong crossover between the path of electronic calculator evolution and the genesis of the integrated CPU. Intel’s 4000 was famously designed for a calculator, and for a while in the 1970s these mathematical helpers were seen as the wonder of the age. [Simon Boak]’s calculator is a curious throwback to that era, as it’s not a decimal calculator as we’d know it but a hexadecimal device that simply computes using the functions of the famous 74181 ALU chip.

An ALU, or to give it its full name an Arithmetic Logic Unit, is a component of a CPU with two inputs and one output that can perform any of a range of binary functions upon the two inputs and return the result on the output. This calculator has two of them for eight bits of raw adding power, with a hexadecimal keypad for setting the inputs and a set of 7-segment displays for showing the results. It’s housed in an achingly retro folded sheet metal console case with wooden end pieces that would have graced any engineer’s desk with pride back in about 1975. We may not need one, but we really want one!

If the 74181 is a mystery to you then fear not, because chip master [Ken Shirriff] has produced some handy explanation work on its operation.

Thanks [Ted Yapo] for the tip.

An Open-source Scientific RPN Calculator

Why reach for a bland, commercially available calculator when you be using a model that employs RPN (Reverse Polish Notation) in its calculations and be a custom build all at the same time? The kids may have colour TFTs and graphing functions, but your keyboard has no equals sign, and that means something.

Unfortunately for RPN enthusiasts, the RPN calculator is a little on the rare side. Since classic models from the 1970s and ’80s are rather pricey, [Anton Poluektov]’s just build his own called the OpenCalc. This glorious specimen is an open hardware RPN calculator with more than a nod to the venerable Hewlett Packard HP42 in its design.

At its heart is an STM32L476 low-power ARM processor and a Sharp Memory LCD, all on a PCB clad in a 3D-printed case you’d have been proud to own in the 1980s. It runs from a CR2032 which is more than can be said for some modern styles of calculator, and it gives the user everything you could wish for in a scientific calculator. The key legends are a set of printable stickers, which when printed on self-adhesive laser film prove durable enough to last. All the resources can be found in a GitHub repository, so if RPN is your thing there’s nothing to stop you building one for yourself.

If RPN interests you, it’s a subject we’ve looked at in greater detail in the past.

Vintage Calculator Design Shows Just How Much We Take For Granted Today

[Amen]’s Rockwell 920 calculator from the 70s was a very impressive piece of hardware for its time. It sported a 16-digit display, a printer, and it could run programs. It even had a magnetic card reader/writer that could be used to store programs and data externally. Seen through today’s eyes, it was less like a calculator and more like what we would call a single-board computer. They are also a window into another era, a time when many of the electrical design assumptions we take for granted hadn’t happened yet. When the time came to dig into what made the calculator tick, [Amen] had a lot of work to do just to get basic tools running.

For example, [amen]’s Blue Pill (an open-source, multipurpose test and measurement tool) is, on one hand, the perfect tool to snoop on the inner workings. However, those inner workings happen to use negative logic at -17 Volts, which means a logical zero is -17 V and a one is 0 V. Oh, and it uses an oddball clock rate, to boot. Since the Blue Pill doesn’t support -17 V negative logic (does anything?) a bit of custom work was needed to craft an interface. Once that was working, the Blue Pill was off to the races.

The unfamiliar elements didn’t end there. The pins on each IC, for example, are in a staggered layout quite unlike the DIP pattern most of us (and our tools, breadboards, and IC clips) are familiar with. As for the processor itself, [amen] has access to low-level documentation on Rockwell processors and instruction sets, but the timing diagrams are puzzling until one realizes the processor has two clock inputs at two different frequencies, resulting in what [amen] describes as four separate “clock phases”.

These design decisions were certainly made for good reasons at the time, and they even have a certain internal harmony to them, but it’s still a window into an era when the elements underpinning much of what we now have and work with had not yet happened.

Check out the video embedded below to see [amen] explain what it took to hook the Blue Pill up to a Rockwell 920. Also, if you’d like to see one of these vintage machines demonstrated in all its functioning glory, here’s a video of one being put through its paces.

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Reverse Engineering Silicon From The First Pocket Calculator

We’ve seen so many explorations of older semiconductors at the hands of [Ken Shirriff], that we know enough to expect a good read when he releases a new one. His latest doesn’t disappoint, as he delves into the workings of one of the first hand-held electronic calculators. The Sharp EL-8 from 1969 had five MOS ICs at its heart, and among them the NRD2256 keyboard/display chip is getting the [Shirriff] treatment with a decapping and thorough reverse engineering.

The basic functions of the chip are explained more easily than might be expected since this is a relatively simple device by later standards. The fascinating part of the dissection comes in the explanation of the technology, first in introducing the reader to PMOS FETs which required a relatively high negative voltage to operate, and then in explaining its use of four-phase logic. We’re used to static logic that holds a state depending upon its inputs, but the technologies of the day all called for an output transistor that would pull unacceptable current for a calculator. Four phase logic solved this by creating dynamic gates using a four-phase clock signal, relying on the an output capacitor in the gate to hold the value. It’s a technology that lose out in the 1970s as later TTL and CMOS variants arrived that did not have the output current drain. Fascinating stuff!

[Ken] gave a talk at the Hackaday Superconference a couple of years ago, if you’ve not seen it then it’s worth a watch.