Life expectancy of Pioneers?

While reading a through the archives I found it a little bit discouring to learn that my Pioneer calculators (32s and 32sii) have very limited lifespans. This brings the following question to mind: if I were to have placed a brand new 32s or 32sii away in storage 10-15 years ago without ever using it would I still encounter the same problems with it as if it had been used all along?

I think I read about problems with the Pioneers that occur as they age (something to do with internal foam pad compressing with time that can be corrected by taking it apart). Does this happen with heavy usage or will this occur regardless of how well I treat my calculators? I think this was a post by Paul Brogger but unfortunately I have not been able to locate it in the archives.

I'd like to pick up another 32s on ebay, put what's the point if it'll only last another 5 years anyway. Any insight to the life expectancy of the 32s/32sii would be welcomed.

Edited: 18 Mar 2004, 7:19 a.m.


I have a 32S that I bought in 1988 or 89 (not sure when), and it still works like the day I got it, some 15 years later. In fact, it still has the original batteries.

I suppose it's just a matter of taking good care of the machine, never subject it to stressful situations (like dropping it or putting it close to a source of heat)... and having good luck.



Wow... the same batteries?

Is the 32s just more effecient with power than the 32sii, because I have gone through 2 sets of batteries in about 3 years on my 32sii.



Hi Ben,

No, you are just a power user!



Pioneers just don't have many problems, period.

That said, the most common age-related problem seems to be shrinkage of a rubbery pressure strip that maintains contact between the keyboard traces and gold pads on the printed circuit board. This is a VERY fixable malfunction. Disassembly/reassembly/ of the Pioneers may be done without cosmetic damage. Removal of the PCB is a bit tricky, but again, needn't be cause for alarm. Fixing the contact strip itself is simple. If you don't feel up to such involvement on your own, I think Randy Sloyer (who often posts here) will perform such a fix for a reasonable fee -- check with him.

The most common use-related problem is wearing of the keyboard's internal conductive pads. That's significantly harder to fix, and is directly related to the amount of use the calculator gets, and not so much to its age. (In fact, the keyboard's conductive ink may be less durable as it gets older, but I don't know about that.) This too, however, may be repaired, provided you have parts from a little-used replacement unit. (Say, a 14b or 20s.)

Other than those two things, I've heard that LCD displays, by their nature, have a more limited lifespan than do LEDs, and that they may be cause for concern over a span of something like 35-50 years. (Someone correct me here if I don't remember correctly!)

If you like the 32s, do take a good look at the 33s when it becomes readily available. I think most of us will be pleasantly surprised, when all is said & done. (And it's reassuring to know that an RPN keystroke programmable should be generally available for some time to come.)


For a real interesting read on calculator longevity, search the archives (either the last one or the 2nd back) for a long back-and-forther between Valentin Albillo and Norm (where are those guys!).




The foam pad problem occurs in a very small percentage of the population. As Paul mentions, it is quite repairable. It's not something I would be overly concerned with. This is hardly a consolation if it happens to yours where the sample size is typically one :-( They don't have to be old for it to occur as most times it is caused by the pad having been installed just a smidge out of position. The 48's have the same design and hence the same problem. Yes, they can loose their spring force over time but most often it is caused by manufacturing process variations with pad position and how well the lower twist tabs were closed.

Keyboards are the real Achilles heel of a Pioneer or 48 machine. Keep them clean and don't stab the keys with any more force than necessary and it should last for a good, long time. Most dead keyboards I see have been used outdoors. Fine dirt works it way inside the keyboard layers and acts as an abrasive. I've also seen ash from cigarettes do the same thing. The result is either a key that does not register with each key press or in extreme cases, a shorted key with the resulting dead calculator. Either way, it's not something that can be repaired easily. Pounding heavily on keys can break the keytop hinges. Once broken, it will lead to a shorted key, killing the unit. It may take years to occur once the hinge is broken but it will happen at some point. That's something to always ask a seller, although it is hard to describe the condition. I think it is best said that any key that wobbles like a loose tooth is broken. Pushing lightly on one side will result in the other side popping up with about the same amount of travel as it pivots about the actuation pin underneath in the middle. The ENTER key seem more prone to this failure due to it's width. Once a key is broken, it's shelfware or eBay fodder for the unknowing.

One note I must mention on prolonging the life of any Pioneer or 48 series machine: If they ever become saturated with liquid, remove the batteries immediately. Don't think twice about losing your programs because if you leave the batteries in, you'll loose the calculator as well. The combination of voltage and liquid results in electrolysis which will destroy the ON switch keyboard conductor. If the liquid was anything other than water, rinse the unit in distilled water a couple of times, shake all the excess out and leave to dry for two or three days. This is very important when the liquid has any acid content, juices and soda are killers. This is of paramount importance with these machines:

  • 14B
  • 17B
  • 17Bii (except for the last two years of production)
  • 22S
  • 27S
  • 32S (not the 32Sii)
  • 42S
  • 48S or SX
The reason here is the cpu chip is not encapsulated in plastic, but is exposed. Yes, the actual silicon die is open for all to see inside the case. Any acidic content and it will eat through the aluminum leads on the chip in a couple of hours. It is great design for shock resistance but it really falls short on environmental resistance.

Above all, don't loose sight of the fact that the 41 was the last machine designed by HP to be repairable. The Voyagers and Pioneers, from the start, were considered a disposable item. While the Voyagers are the most reliable machine they ever built, the Pioneers/48's are a close second and far ahead of all previous machines. While we hope they will work forever, it just can't be. But, with some common sense and a little TLC, they'll still be working to hand down to the next generation. Hopefully, they'll understand the actual math behind the graph on their <gasp> graphing calculator.

Edited: 19 Mar 2004, 9:40 a.m.


Hi Randy,

...rinse the unit in distilled water a couple of times, shake all the excess out and leave to dry for two or three days. This is very important when the liquid has any acid content, juices and soda are killers. This is of paramount importance with these machines:

The reason here is the cpu chip is not encapsulated in plastic, but is exposed. Yes, the actual silicon die is open for all to see inside the case. Any acidic content and it will eat through the aluminum leads on the chip in a couple of hours. It is great design for shock resistance but it really falls short on environmental resistance.

Why not the:

17Bii (except for the last two years of production)

32S (not the 32Sii)


Are do these have a CPU that is encapsulated?

Best regards,



Hi, can you please send me a copy to use with V41?



Yeap, thats the deal. They are "normal" epoxy packaged surface mount IC's instead of the TAB packages.


I've just take the back off my 32sii following the instructions here, and removed the PCB. Nerve racking, but so far so good: it still works if I re-assemble it and hold it together!

The reason for the repair attempt is a dead column of keys, and the problem does indeed seem to be poor contact with the mylar strip. Just tightning the hold-downs did not solve the problem reliably.

What should I do now? Should I be trying to do something with the foam pad? Above in this thread someone says that the pad is 'easy to deal with', but I can't find a reference on searching the forum.

I dont want to be doing and undoing the twist tabs repeatedly so I'd like to get it fixed first time. Please help!

Thanks in advance,



Add two layers of vinyl electrical tape on top of the pad, cut to approximately the same size. Not real critical, you just need to add some height to the pad and it will be fine. Clean the PCB and mylar connector with isopropyl alcohol - use a q-tip. Don't rub too hard. Blast with canned air to remove any dirt/fibers. Reassemble.

Close the two outer bottom tabs first - it centers the board.


I would find a different tape than vinyl electrical tape. It outgasses something awful and the adhesive likes to ooze really badly. You don't want goo loose all over your machines' innards.


There are probably as many approaches as people who've had a Pioneer apart.

I rolled a strip of "Scotch" tape back on itself lengthwise to create a sticky cylinder about 3mm in diameter (IIRC) and as long as the foam pad. I stuck it UNDER the foam pad (between the front case and the taken-out-and-reinserted foam strip). After putting things back together, everything works fine. (I imagine a strip of that double-stick white foam stuff would work too, but again I'd put it beneath the original foam, not on top of it.)

The alcohol is good, the compressed air sounds good. The LCD and keyboard contacts do need to be CLEAN and free of foreign matter. (Do avoid using too much alcohol -- I seem to remember posts about it causing a white stain or discoloration on certain displays -- maybe those referred to plastic display windows, but I'd still use it sparingly.)

I flatten and straighten the metal hold-downs, and re-twist 'em with the "knee" of a small, angled, needle-nose plier. (The bend keeps the rest of the plier free of the PCB -- a little flat square-nosed plier should work as well.) In twisting, I try to get the "fingers" on the ends of the larger metal tabs to obtain maximum purchase on the PCB -- sometimes they want to fold up or stay in the PCB slot where they're not doing any good.

By far the most important part -- minimize the number of twist cycles on the metal tabs. I haven't had one break yet, and I don' wanna!

Edited: 23 Mar 2004, 3:23 p.m.


I completed the repair to today. I used a thin roll of micropore medical tape underneath the foam pad and cleaned things up with isoprop alcohol as suggested.

Everything clipped back together easily (and I did not break a twist tab!) and it all works beautifully.

We have three of these in our family: I bought one each new for my two girls when they started secondary school and one of them was distraught when she thought it was hers that was broken! Nice to know now how easy they are to fix.

Many thanks to all who offered advice.



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