Calculator blog

Musings and comments about our common interest


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Comments on Prime's new firmware

There are few weeks left until the new HP Prime firmware arrives. We have informed about it recently, and we have given the main advantages it will come with. But let’s elaborate on a couple of new features that make the HP Prime, at last, a professional tool.prime10

The first one is the new available numbering formats. This has long been a problem for me. I use calculators everyday in my financial work; and we are using big integers (like 123456789, as opposed to one- or two-figure numbers as would be used in a class). You just can't read big numbers properly if there is not a) a separation between numbers in groups of three, and b) an alignment with a fixed number of decimals, so that you can make sense of which numbers are big and which are small.

Without these features, I always folded back to my HP41CL or HP15c. Curiously, I don't get out the best of them, the HP42s - maybe I don't want to damage it for fear of losing it. In a way, I seem to think that there will always be 41cs to modify, but not 42s

The a) thing was so simple to do that even the first HP RPN calculators were able to make it right. Even the already old HP50g was able to do it. It was a pain for me when using the Prime in a professional environment. (The second part was irrelevant in the past, since there were no additional lines - but now there are. However, it worked fine from the first firmware release)

The second thing to fix was to get consistency from app to app on how the GUI should work with finger gestures. It was surprising that the behaviour was not the same in all apps. This apparently is also mostly fixed in the new version. We look forward to increase the number of gestures available in most apps, so that we don't miss our smartphones when using the calculator.

Apparently, support for the wireless dongle and the Smartstream machinery has also been improved. This will be the object of the coming blog issues.

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The humble HP10bII+

This website is devoted to HP calculators, and it is mainly geared towards HP calculator enthusiasts. But this blog issue will not be mainkly devoted just to them, but to everyone.

HP created the scientific calculator business in 1972, when it launched the HP 35 calculator. It is less well known that it also created the financial calculator business when it issued the HP 80. This was the first calculator that included the Time Value of Money formula built in, as well as other percentage-based formulae. That was as early as 1973, and it was its second handheld calculator. The basic difference is that in the scientific model, it was assumed that the formulae would be introduced by the user; in the financial models, the main formulae would be built in for faster results.

Both of these calculator were high end models at the time, with a price of around 400 dollars then; and both were using the Reverse Polish Notation data entry method, which was the only available back then.

Fast forward to 1989. Then, as part of the Pioneer calculator series, HP launchs the HP10b, the lower level of its business series at the time (which peaked with the HP17b). It was continued with the HP10bII in 2000, with the rounded body that appeared when production was outsourced to Chinese third parties. The keyboard click on these, while still miles ahead of everything from the competition, had a plastic feel that alienated many HP users (that could be said as well of all other Pioneer sucesssors, like the HP 17bII+ gold version). The firmware quality did not have the same level of the original HP versions. Since the processor was completely different from the Saturn-based chips that HP had been using from the HP71b and HP29c, the Chinese producer had to redo it from the start. Inferior algorithms were used, although with faster processor. This was much more evident on the HP17bII+: the solver in it is clearly worse than the original. In a way, these models were "reverse-engineered" by the chinese supplier, based on the original design requirements.

But with the new calculator team in HP, a decision was made to produce themselves the firmware thereon. The new team has created the HP30b and 20b, the fastest calculators around; the HP10bII+, using the same body but with many more clever functions; and the HP 39gII and the HP Prime, heralding the future scientific models.

The original 10bII used a single "second" key. As the basic financial calculator, it only had a limited set of functions. The new one, on the other hand, has many more functions. HP has decided to add on top a lot of scientific functions, to the point of making the purchase of a purely scientific calculator questionable. And it is an statistic powerhouse: it has several distributions included, apart from many other statistical functions. Were it not for the lack of RPN, it is vastly better than the HP12c for all practical purposes.

Take a look besides and see how it looks in reality:

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New flashing service

Today I have received a USB to com adaptor. Since most of our computers are laptops and quite new, we did not have serial adapters. I have then proceeded to update a 12c+ with the latest available software. In this particular case, it did not increase speed (it was already 150 times faster, so I am not deceived), but it corrected a number of issues compared with the original firmware.

We have decided to offer firmware flashing as a service for our purchases of a calculator. It will have a 10 € charge. The rules:

  • Calculators elegible for firmware flashing are HP10bII+, HP20b, HP30b, HP12c (ARM version)
  • The customer supplies the firmware through email.
  • The calculator to be flashed will be a new, out-of-the-box (or plastic package!). The serial number and proof of purchase bits of the packaging will be included in the shipping to the customer. (It is the customer decision to register the calculator in HP's website). Sorry, we will not flash calculators not brand new!

One of the most exciting projects is the repurposing of the hp20b and hp30b financial calculators with ultra-slick scientific firmware. The project is called wp34s and is run by Marcus von Cube, Walter Bonin and Paul Dale (in no specific order!).

You can find it on

There have been a number of releases (build number was 800 at the time of writing), and you can check whether you like the software by running the included .exe file and testing the features. The .exe file has the advantage of having the right labels on the keys!

I have not yet tested the flasher cable and software on a HP30b but I plan to do it shortly. I will then report on the results!

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