Remoticon 2021 // Rob Weinstein Builds An HP-35 From The Patent Up

Fifty years ago, Hewlett-Packard introduced the first handheld scientific calculator, the HP-35. It was quite the engineering feat, since equivalent machines of the day were bulky desktop affairs, if not rack-mounted. [Rob Weinstein] has long been a fan of HP calculators, and used an HP-41C for many years until it wore out. Since then he gradually developed a curiosity about these old calculators and what made them tick. The more he read, the more engrossed he became. [Rob] eventually decided to embark on a three year long reverse-engineer journey that culminated a recreation of the original design on a protoboard that operates exactly like the original from 1972 (although not quite pocket-sized). In this presentation he walks us through the history of the calculator design and his efforts in understanding and eventually replicating it using modern FPGAs.

The HP patent ( US Patent 4,001,569 ) contains an extremely detailed explanation of the calculator in nearly every aspect. There are many novel concepts in the design, and [Rob] delves into two of them in his presentation. Early LED devices were a drain on batteries, and HP engineers came up with a clever solution. In a complex orchestra of multiplexed switches, they steered current through inductors and LED segments, storing energy temporarily and eliminating the need for inefficient dropping resistors. But even more complicated is the serial processor architecture of the calculator. The first microprocessors were not available when HP started this design, so the entire processor was done at the gate level. Everything operates on 56-bit registers which are constantly circulating around in circular shift registers. [Rob] has really done his homework here, carefully studying each section of the design in great depth, drawing upon old documents and books when available, and making his own material when not. For example, in the course of figuring everything out, [Rob] prepared 338 pages of timing charts in addition to those in the patent. Continue reading “Remoticon 2021 // Rob Weinstein Builds An HP-35 From The Patent Up”

1973: When Calculators Were Built Like Computers

Should you ever pick up [Steve Wozniak]’s autobiography, you will learn that in the early 1970s when his friend [Steve Jobs] was working for Atari, [Woz] was designing calculators for Hewlett Packard. It seems scarcely believable today, but he describes his excitement at the prospects for the calculator business, admitting that he almost missed out on the emerging microcomputer scene that would make him famous. Calculators in the very early 1970s were genuinely exciting, and were expensive and desirable consumer items.

[Amen] has a calculator from that period, a Prinztronic Micro, and he’s subjected it to an interesting teardown. Inside he finds an unusual modular design, with keyboard, processor, and display all having their own PCBs. Construction is typical of the period, with all through hole components, and PCBs that look hand laid rather than made using a CAD package. The chipset is a Toshiba one, with three devices covering logic, display driver and clock.

The Prinztronic is an interesting device in itself, being a rebadged 1972 Sharp model under a house brand name for the British retailer Dixons, and that Toshiba chipset is special because it is the first CMOS design to market. It was one of many very similar basic calculators on the market at the time, but at the equivalent of over 100 dollars in today’s money it would still have been a significant purchase.

Long-tern Hackaday readers will remember we’ve shown you at least one classic calculator rebuild in the past, the venerable 1975 Sinclair!