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Best calculator for the working engineer
02-24-2016, 11:57 AM
Post: #1
Best calculator for the working engineer
So, right at the end of my engineering degree, my poor little Casio fx-82 died. Over the last 6 months I've been improvising with phone/computer calculators, but I've been feeling the need to purchase a new machine.

Alas, I made the mistake of asking Google for the best scientific calculators of all time. A week later that search as lead me here. After switching Galculator on Linux to RPN model and playing with a few phone apps, I've enjoyed using RPN and decided to buy an RPN calculator. My next question is - which model to buy? I don't ask for much:
- I want something that will last indefinitely
- I want easy calculations to be easy, fast and intuitive
- I want hard calculations to be easy, fast and intuitive
- Portability is a must
- It do not want a MATLAB replacement, but I do want to be impressed by its abilities - a good solver and programmability are essential.

So far I've considering the WP-34s, the HP 35s, and (for fun) some of Swiss Micros' remakes of the HP-15c or HP-42. If you were to purchase one new calculator at the start of your career, which would you choose and why?

Thanks
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02-24-2016, 12:08 PM (This post was last modified: 02-24-2016 12:10 PM by Marcio.)
Post: #2
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
If size matters, get the 42 because it's the most capable (also the easiest) of all you mentioned, IMHO. If size is not an issue, get the 50g (It's on RPL, not RPN). I'd recommend the Prime too but it's a lot like Matlab.

Marcio
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02-24-2016, 12:54 PM
Post: #3
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
I expect you'll use a calculator a lot less once you graduate.

A 15C clone has almost everything you'd want for typical quick calculations, all present on the keys without menu diving or typing in function names. Try one of the emulators. Hyperbolics, polar/radian, and some statistics functions are right on the keys. It can do complex and matrices, but a 50g would be better for those. The usability of the 15C complex functions are better than many other calculators, though.

A 50g is great for unit conversions. Choose this if you expect units to be an important part of your life. It has fewer pure math functions present right on the keys, requiring more menu diving. But then it has a zillion more functions total.
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02-24-2016, 02:09 PM
Post: #4
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
I´m a structural engineer, during my studies I used a 48gx after I graduate bought a 32sII and when the keyboard died switch to my old 48gx.
Last year I saw in a auction site (in Argentina) a used WP34s and it's been my primary calculator so far...
It is true that you use less the calculator and more the computer, so in my case any basic RPN it's a GO...

just my 2 cents
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02-24-2016, 02:30 PM (This post was last modified: 02-24-2016 02:47 PM by Jlouis.)
Post: #5
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
If you need graphics, I'd go for the HP Prime; HP50g is not as intuitive as you may like, demanding a high steep learning curve...

If you don't, WP34S, but the HP30b plataform where it is built is not not going to last indefinitly...or better, any calculator won't do, but the 30b will not last much if you use it heavily;

I can sugest to go to SwissMicro DM15L or wait the DM42L, wich will available soon.

Or go to an auction site e look for the originals Hp15c, HP42S, HP41C/CL/CX with at least the advantage pac or the math/stat pac. Be aware that these last options will cost much more money, but you will have the best and reliable hardware possible.

Although not very popular in this forum, a good and cheap option is the HP35s. But have a look in the bugs list available in this site and see if they can bother you. I use it an find it very nice.

Go to TI or Casio at your own risk Smile

However, the best advice that I can give to you is use an emulator/simulator for windows, android, IOS, whatever, and check your necessities, and choose the best for your needs.

Good luck, and please, share with us your decision.

Cheers,

JL

P.S.: The best, really BEST ADVICE IS: BUY THEM ALL AND BECOME A COLLECTOR!!!! your only problem then will be the decision to make of what calculator to use in every each day!!! Smile
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02-24-2016, 03:12 PM (This post was last modified: 02-24-2016 03:13 PM by Sadsilence.)
Post: #6
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-24-2016 02:09 PM)inaqui76 Wrote:  It is true that you use less the calculator and more the computer, so in my case any basic RPN it's a GO...

+1

In my whole engineer's live so far I have never come close to the idea, entering matrices for transformations into a pocket calculator. What rules is a reliable keyboard for calculations up to square roots and linear interpolation, some conversion keys (inch, Fahrenheit, HMS) and that's it.

Sometimes I even use an HP 45 just for fun and to some interest of my colleagues.

For keyboard reason I would resist buying an HP 35s or an WP-34s, despite the fact, that both are nice machines in the right size. For same reason I rarely use a swissmicros 15L clone.

At the moment I have an HP16C and an HP41CX at my desk. For me climax of calculator keys developement. Second one is a bit dangerous cause of peripheral mania ;-)
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02-24-2016, 05:14 PM (This post was last modified: 02-24-2016 05:15 PM by wojtek.)
Post: #7
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-24-2016 12:08 PM)Marcio Wrote:  If size matters, get the 42 because it's the most capable (also the easiest) of all you mentioned, IMHO. If size is not an issue, get the 50g (It's on RPL, not RPN). I'd recommend the Prime too but it's a lot like Matlab.

Marcio

50g has RPL and RPN and also algebraic. I'm sure about it as I have 4 pieces :-)
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02-24-2016, 05:43 PM
Post: #8
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-24-2016 03:12 PM)Sadsilence Wrote:  In my whole engineer's live so far I have never come close to the idea, entering matrices for transformations into a pocket calculator. What rules is a reliable keyboard for calculations up to square roots and linear interpolation, some conversion keys (inch, Fahrenheit, HMS) and that's it.
+1
Excel, MATLAB, Python, R, etc. are all much better tools for doing computation on more than a few numbers at a time. For this reason, I'm not particularly interested in something like the HP Prime or even the 50g for that matter. However, when I have just a few numbers to crunch, I find it annoying to use PC or smartphone-based calculators because they compete with other applications for screen space. My preference is a 1- or 2-line programmable RPN calculator. The 32S/II, 42S, 35S and 41C are all good examples.

David Brunell
Houston, Texas
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02-24-2016, 05:55 PM
Post: #9
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
For me, the wp34s is the best mix for everyday use.

The only caveats are the availability/durability of both the 20b/30b platform and those of the key stickers. I think I have bought enough 20b/30b machines to have at least one working at my retirement, years from now. I'm not sure about the stickers, though.

Regards.

César - Information must flow.
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02-24-2016, 06:47 PM
Post: #10
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
As far as software, the WP-34S is excellent, but it's an unfortunate victim of the poor keyboard quality of the 20b and 30b. I wouldn't recommend it as a daily driver, unless you want to run the emulator on a 7" tablet or something.

I keep a 48SX on my desk, as I much prefer the keyboard and menu layouts to the 50g (and even the 48GX to a small extent). The 50g has a lot of great additional functionality, but I always felt like it made a lot of steps backwards in terms of usability.

I am neurotically awaiting delivery of a DM-16L and DM-41L, and will more than likely be ordering a 42L (or whatever it ends up being called) this summer. Pounding out a quick keystroke-style program on a traditional RPN calculator is often a much faster process than doing an equivalent structured RPL version (thanks in no small part to the sluggish text editor), and if I need to do some kind of sophisticated structured/OO coding, it's probably better off done in C# or Python anyway. (As an aside, I once pounded out a triangular peg solitaire solver in Pythonista entirely on my iPhone at a family dinner party. Yeah, I'm that relative.)
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02-24-2016, 10:38 PM (This post was last modified: 02-24-2016 10:53 PM by Tugdual.)
Post: #11
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
In terms of user friendliness nothing beats the 15C. It was not my first calculator but definitely my favorite one. It has the right size, the right keyboard and the LE reedition is extremely performant making it very responsive for fast entry and calculation.
I had a Prime, meh didn't like it, too many problems, not reliable, just good for school stuff, providing you always have a paper clip with you.
The 50g is definitely the next one in my list. The calc is ugly, keyboard truly inferior to a 15C but the operating system is a real achievement. Amongst the many features, I like the multi equation solver, unit conversion, base support etc.. RPL is in my opinion the best language for a calc, I mean to code without a PC beside your calc. It might not be the most intuitive calc at first but there is a very elegant and consistant concept, what seems to be the most mature rpn/rpl calc ever. If you never had one, I would recommend it just for the sake of discovering it.
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02-25-2016, 12:19 AM
Post: #12
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-24-2016 10:38 PM)Tugdual Wrote:  In terms of user friendliness nothing beats the 15C. It was not my first calculator but definitely my favorite one. It has the right size, the right keyboard and the LE reedition is extremely performant making it very responsive for fast entry and calculation.

The 15C is really nice, but I'd say the usability takes a hit when writing/debugging programs, due to the display being strictly numeric. Also, using the MATRIX and TEST functions often requires a trip to the reference printed on the back panel. It's a very nice scientific, but I'd hold out for a 42 if you don't want to deal with those drawbacks.
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02-25-2016, 02:23 AM
Post: #13
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-24-2016 02:30 PM)Jlouis Wrote:  Although not very popular in this forum, a good and cheap option is the HP35s. But have a look in the bugs list available in this site and see if they can bother you. I use it an find it very nice.
HP 35s is very good option. I use it for everyday calculations. What about the bugs list. None of them has provided me trouble, never.
I have HP 50g too, this is more complicated calculator with huge number of functions. It's very interesting to calculate with 50g, but for quick calculations I prefer HP 35s.
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02-25-2016, 06:59 AM
Post: #14
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-25-2016 02:23 AM)Voldemar Wrote:  
(02-24-2016 02:30 PM)Jlouis Wrote:  Although not very popular in this forum, a good and cheap option is the HP35s. But have a look in the bugs list available in this site and see if they can bother you. I use it an find it very nice.
HP 35s is very good option. I use it for everyday calculations. What about the bugs list. None of them has provided me trouble, never.
I have HP 50g too, this is more complicated calculator with huge number of functions. It's very interesting to calculate with 50g, but for quick calculations I prefer HP 35s.
Except for the keyboard. I had a 35s for a year and the plus key is no longer responsive every other key press. 35s is no longer reliable and taking dust.
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02-25-2016, 07:31 AM
Post: #15
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-25-2016 06:59 AM)Tugdual Wrote:  
(02-25-2016 02:23 AM)Voldemar Wrote:  HP 35s is very good option. I use it for everyday calculations. What about the bugs list. None of them has provided me trouble, never.
I have HP 50g too, this is more complicated calculator with huge number of functions. It's very interesting to calculate with 50g, but for quick calculations I prefer HP 35s.
Except for the keyboard. I had a 35s for a year and the plus key is no longer responsive every other key press. 35s is no longer reliable and taking dust.

But what non-vintage RPN calculators do have a nice keyboard?
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02-25-2016, 08:42 AM (This post was last modified: 02-25-2016 08:46 AM by Sadsilence.)
Post: #16
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-25-2016 07:31 AM)Anodos Wrote:  But what non-vintage RPN calculators do have a nice keyboard?

As soon as you had a working 15C, 16C, 41C, 28S, 48, 42S or even an HP-45 under your fingers: no one so far, sadly.
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02-25-2016, 11:06 AM
Post: #17
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
I would recommend the wp34s which is a beautiful and very, very capable calculator, but you have to live with using LOTS of menus. The functionalities are great, but so many that even three (!) shift keys are not near to enough for all of them. This means that you will have to remember the names of some functions, too if you do not want to scrool through single line menus forever. This is the drawback of the display HP decided to use on the 30b.
The WP34S is built on a HP 20b/30b platform. The 30b has a decent keyboard which is not as good as the old ones, but still not that bad. The calculator will probably not last forever due to a not too bad, but compared to the old devices flimsy hardware.

Alternatively, get a hp 15C. Programming is a bit tedious, but easy. After using it a while you will recognize the keycodes without much searching. No graphical capabilities though. I would prefer an old 15C which you can overclock fairly easy to make it fast and more usable. Those tend to get expensive.

Alternatively, get a 50g. BIG thing, tons of functions, keyboard not that bad. No need to talk about that more, because of the earlier posts.

You also might think about a HP 48G. They sell cheap on TAS, work nice, and the RAM can be upgraded on the GX models. I also made a PCB a while ago which boosts the 48G (without X) to more than 2 MB of RAM. This is probably one of the best calculators HP ever made, but it has one single drawback: it is SLOW for anything that is not happening on the stack (e.G. graphing or menu navigation is a pain). This can be partially made better by using tools like speedui, metakernel or java which speed up the system a lot.
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02-25-2016, 06:17 PM
Post: #18
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-25-2016 11:06 AM)damaltor Wrote:  Alternatively, get a 50g. BIG thing, tons of functions, keyboard not that bad. No need to talk about that more, because of the earlier posts.
You also might think about a HP 48G.

I'd go for a 50g because:
  1. Infinite stack: Perhaps it's just me, but I don't like to waste time copying results on paper, so I leave them on the stack for later reference. Or hit Enter 5 times to make many copies for later use.
  2. List processing: To do the same calculation on several alternative inputs, just put them on a list and do your thing only once. Big time saver for engineers.
  3. Full keyboard customization: Who cares if you don't like the keyboard layout. Put what you use most wherever you prefer and done.
  4. SD Card: Once you get your simple programs running properly, they are easy to backup without a PC. Same for your precious results.


1, 2 and 3 also apply to a 48, so it's also a good choice.
Disclaimer: I am a working engineer, used a 48 while at school and first few years at work, moved on to the 50g 10 years ago and never needed anything else. I also have a 32S for backup, but don't use it much because the different Enter behavior (I make too many mistakes because of unintended DUP).
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02-25-2016, 06:36 PM
Post: #19
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
(02-25-2016 06:59 AM)Tugdual Wrote:  Except for the keyboard. I had a 35s for a year and the plus key is no longer responsive every other key press. 35s is no longer reliable and taking dust.
I have HP 35s four years. Keyboard is OK, all keys are responsive.
Maybe I am the only lucky. Smile
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02-25-2016, 08:35 PM (This post was last modified: 08-16-2016 05:37 PM by Ron Ross.)
Post: #20
RE: Best calculator for the working engineer
I haven’t posted for a while, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to put in my 2 cents. 1st, are you going to take the FE exam? What is your engineering major?
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If you plan to take the FE or PE exam, the only Hp allowed is the Hp 35s (and the long discontinued Hp 33s). And the Hp 35s is a pretty good calc which seems to be 2-3X better quality than the WP 34s (a reflashed Hp 30b). While the WP 34s is an excellent RPN calculator in features, it aint that great on build quality ie under heavy use, it might only last 1-2 years (I keep wanting to buy one, but I have a couple of Hp 30b’s and from both personal experience and the feedback I get from people that flash these calcs is a full third of these calculators suffer from QC issues).
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Getting back to the Quality of an Hp 35s, it seems to be built to last thru 2-3 years of heavy use (or 3-5 years of professional use). It DOES not compare in quality to the older LCD Hp calculators such as the Voyager (Hp11c, Hp 12c, Hp 15c etc) or Pioneer (Hp 20s, Hp 32s – Hp 32sii, Hp 42s, and Hp 17bii) lines which can last decades. Sadly, if you plan to take the FE or PE exams, you should just buy an Hp 35s for $50-60 while you still can. The NCEES will likely allow this calculator for the next decade (whether it’s readily available or not, you cannot rely upon Hp to continue to sell anything RPN but the Hp12c and the Hp Prime).
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Talking about the Hp Prime, it is a good graphing calculator for the student but I am not a fan as it is more of an algebraic calculator with RPN stuck on as an afterthought. However, it has the best build quality of anything currently available from Hp for the last 10-15 years.
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You did NOT mention which engineering major you are. If you are an EE or ME with machine design, the Hp 42s is the calculator of choice. It is worth the $$$ you will spend on it. If you are any other engineer even an ME in building design (HVAC), you would be happy with nearly any of Hp’s RPN scientifics, but I would suggest the easiest to find, an Hp 32sii. These are easy to find and if in good shape, should last you another ten years or so (keep in mind, these are already 15-20 years old). This is the predecessor to the Hp 35s now available. It has a better keyboard layout and is much more durable and of unmeasurable quality over the current Hp 35s. Its drawbacks? Skimpy memory, no real matrix support and poor implementation of complex numbers. But it is what I use as my travel calc.
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If you are not taking the PE exam in your future and want a great calculator (but on the cheap), I would suggest an Hp 48G (or the new Hp 50G now on sale). I prefer the older Hp 48G as any high end math that I do, generally needs to be documented hence the really advance functionality of the Hp 50G is wasted and the graphing aspect isn’t used either. Both are available for $50-70 (the Hp48G would be used but should be in Great shape of course). My impression of the Hp 48G is that if the foam compression under the LCD screen lasts, the calculator will last. The Hp 50G will probably last 5-10 years under moderate to heavy use.
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As many here have said, once you graduate, you may not need much. In that respect, I actually have my Hp 48g tucked away in my desk so as to not look like the calculator NERD I truly am and have a plain Hp 12c on my desk (they are cheap and easy to find used).
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If you find an Hp 11c or 15c, these are very nice too (and of even top notch superior quality), but they are not as straight forward to program or use as the more recent Hp 32sii. You might also come across an Hp 41C (several flavors, any of which is good). These are often found in the $150 range and while they are great calculators and even pocketable. However given their age and how their previous owners will have used them A LOT, you can buy a much less used Hp 48G for less than half of that and have a better made calculator.
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So, to summarize my suggestions (for a pocket calculator), 1st recommendation would be an Hp 32ii. All other calculators mentioned are 2nd best candidates (aside from an Hp 42s iif you are an EE, otherwise, there are many here who still prefer the Hp 32sii)
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If you are planning to take an FE or PE exam, buy an Hp 35s too (I don’t really consider the Hp 35s to be a true pocket calc, it’s not that much smaller than an Hp 48G!!!).
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If you want a pocket calc with plenty of features, the WP 34s or the Hp 42s are the next steps up in power. Before you hunt down a WP 34s, you can buy an Hp 30b to check quality (they are cheap, because they are Cheap!). But the Hp 30b does have trig functions and is usable as a scientific calculator right out of the blister pack. However, its menu system is poorly arranged for a scientific calculator (it is a business calculator with trig after all).
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One last consideration that was loved by an EE that used to visit this forum, the Hp 17Bii. These are often fairly cheap, have excellent build quality and their built in solver allows for you to add any functions not already built in (ie adding trig functions as this is a business calculator w/o any trig). This calculator is fairly easy to find in near new condition for around $50. It offers selectable rpn or chain logic (ie algebraic w/o precedence).
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One last comment. Maybe you don’t really need an RPN calculator, just a really nice quality calculator. Buy an Hp 20s. This should be easy to find for about $50 in excellent condition and will last you a long time. Yeah, it has its shortcomings, but it is of excellent build quality and is very similar in functions to your original calculator but with more functions and programmable.
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