Reality, Emulation and New Calculators (Probably Long)

I spent some time yesterday loading Charles Lee's fine HP-41 emulation on my new Palm Tungsten E, the Tungsten being a replacement for a Vx that had finally "cashed in its chips." To make the story short and to the point, I was suddenly struck by the fact that I (now) had a 41 emulation on my Tungsten, and on my desktop PC and on my company laptop at work. I use these emulations frequently. The incongruity was that I also have a REAL HP-41CX, sitting in a drawer! And I use IT only occasionally! My thought was that with the proliferation of capable platforms, emulations possess a degree of reality that can "exceed" ACTUAL reality! Why carry a REAL HP-41 and a laptop when I can simply host the 41 on the laptop... or the Palm... or...?? Especially when the emulations are as good as the real thing? (Maybe better, if you happen to be lugging a carry-on and one personal item through the airport of your choice...)

This brings me to my thoughts about new calculators, as discussed by members of this group. There have been at least two such discussions in recent months, at least one of them thought out to the extent that the original author had a 50-page (or so) product description. I've always read these threads with a vague sense that they are futile. I just don't see it happening, and the reason why crystalized in my mind yesterday.

Emulations. Emulations are too good, too flexible, and too damn convenient! Why buy another piece of physical hardware when I can simply load an emulation and customize every aspect of it to my desires? (And re-customize it when I tire of it?) Now, I realize that there are other tangible and intangible issues, including such things as the feel of keys, but I'd argue that, taken collectively, they still aren't enough to justify the cost and trouble of working real dedicated hardware.

More importantly, what is the point of SINGLE-PURPOSE hardware in today's multi-tasking world? Would any of us lug around separate devices, one to write documents, another to access the internet and yet another to track our home finances? (Silly example, but you get the point.) If we wouldn't do this, WHY would we want to carry a laptop and a large-ish HP-XX? (And don't talk to me about convenience, the point isn't about trying to compute something while standing in a telephone booth... in the rain...)

I just thought that this was... an interesting set of connected thoughts. Submitted for your approval, in the HP Zone!


Wrong, wrong and wrong! I think it is clear for all of us here that the point of having/using a 15C or a 41 or a 67 or whatever machine is not its functionality, but its style and haptic qualities. An emulation does not touch these issues.


The obvious problem with emulation is that you first need to have a PC or PDA. Most high-school students and undergraduates don't have these things, so they get powerful calculators instead. There will be a market for calculators until every student is issued a notebook PC as standard school equipment.

As for the professional market, it has already evaporated. PCs have displaced calculators from the desktops, PDAs have displaced calculators from the field, and NCEES has displaced calculators from professional licensing exams. Sad but true.


There is a reason to have a calculator instead of a laptop (or in addition to a laptop)

I have a laptop and when I do carry it around, I do not open up Maple to do math; rather I take out my HP-32sii even if it means walking across the house. Why? Computers have loading time. If you want to know what 58.3723392*pi is, you do not want to wait more than a minute for an answer. It is easier to go and grab a calculator and have the answer in 20 seconds.

I could understand that for simple calculations some people might prefer to use an emulator on their palm, but if you are going to be pressing any more than 5 buttons it probably is still faster and easier to carry an extra device.

I can also understand not wanting to carry an expensive 41 or bulky 48 (or 49g+ for that matter). I will seldom carry my 49g+ because it doesnt fit in my pocket, but I will very often carry my 32sii in my pocket.

I still don't think that emulation is to a point that it can overtake the calculator industry, but perhaps in the future (perhaps even not too distant)

Along these lines, though not exactly along these lines, a few weeks ago there was a mention of a customizable calculator. That day I typed out a description of my ideas (and the ideas of others). You can read it at:

I originally wrote it to be read by someone at HP, but it is very difficult to find any e-mail addresses to any real people.

Just my thoughts



That's a very good plan, Ben. Do you feel like designing the computer software? I'm sure with the help of everyone here we could have it ported to desktop computers, PDAs, cellphone and even my 38G (which i don't use much as the algebraic interface is too slow).

As to the way to redefine the keys, if you have a keyboard where the keys can be rearranged, that would solve it. Creates a market for selling packs of new keys with labels for different uses (and when they wear out) too. Or have clear keys with a slot for replacable paper labels.

The only thing i'd add is to have 2 models, one with a 2 line LCD screen the size of the 32SII and one the size of the 48G (though thinner).


For a quick calculation, it is obviously faster to turn on a calculator than to boot up a computer. But even in this case, there are two points worth considering:

(1) In most professional offices, the desktop computer is on *all* of the time. It gets turned on in the morning and stays on until the end of the day; maybe it even stays on overnight. You might have to "wake it up" if it's been in power-saving mode for a while, but that doesn't take a minute or more.

And it's the same way in many homes as well. It's not unusual for some people to turn on the home computer when they return from work, and leave it on until they go to bed. So again, the computer is readily available if they need it.

(2) Even so, let's assume that calculators are still handier for quick calculations. But this niche is best filled by simpler, smaller models like your 32SII. Is there still a niche for more powerful, but bulkier models like the 48 or 49? In other words, do you really need a 48 or 49 to quickly calculate 58.3723392*pi ?

Edited: 21 Mar 2004, 7:24 p.m.


I'm not trying to steal any credit from Charles Lee, but as the core simulation is a port of my "nsim" I'll assume that you are happy with my work as well.

I see that Mr. Lee is selling the program for $10. I'll point out that I receive none of the revenue generated thereby. Although the GPL allows him to sell my program or derived works, it would have been nice if he had offered me some portion of the proceeds.


Why buy another piece of physical hardware . . . ?

For the keyboard.


--- Les Bell, RHCE, CISSP


Some personal remarks as author of some published and unpublished emulators to this topic.

First of all I think we must distinguish between PC (desktop / laptop) and PDA based emulator systems.

1) PC

This is the area where most people know my name, especially as maintainer of Emu48 (Win32 version). I must confess I'm one of the persons where a PC runs all the day. In the company from the morning to the evening and at home from the evening until I go to bed. So especially the emulation of the high end calculators completely replace the usage of the real ones. Replace means here, replacing the Windooze integrated calculator for simple math like pi*4 and on the other side for HP program developing purpose. The only real calculator I use quite often is the HP32SII in my jacket. Especially for program development PC based emulators are my first choice.

All my DAY calculation routines for the HP42S published on were developt with an emulator. I never tested them on a real machine, it's just too clumsy to type them in or to maintain them on a real machine.

On the other side emulation of low end machines on the PC like HP10B, HP20S or with some restrictions the HP32SII makes not too much sense. It was fun for me to program them, also like Emu28, the HP28C emulator but I don't really use them on the PC.

2) PDA

This is area where my name is unknow. The reason for this is simple, I haven't published my emulators for PocketPC 2002 (Jornada 565).

Reason for this, I got many support requests on Emu48 and much more on Emu48CE. I have nothing to to with any Emu48CE version! A test platform, especially when you write software for PocketPC like me, is quite expensive. How should I test my software and give support to a platform I haven't? Would you spend much time and money into such a project? Selling each copy isn't possible because some source code parts are published under the GPL.

Now back on topic again, on one side we have the emulation of the high end graphical calculators like the HP48 or HP49 on the other side emulations of Pioneer series calculators or other smaller machines.

2.1) HP48, HP49

IMHO not very useful (even if you have a fully working and a more or less bug free version like me), the display is too small, the keyboard has no tactile feedback and depends on the KML script it's sometimes also too small. Also not very useful for developing purpose.

The only useful thing maybe that you have special programs or libraries (navigation tools, ...) which you have to use frequently outside home.

2.2) HP42S, HP28S

I'm personally not such a friend of the HP42S, I use the HP32SII emulaton more often. For more complex calculations I prefer my HP28S emulation on the PDA (display in landscape mode). It's a litte bit faster than the HP48 emulation and the relationship between display and keyboard size is IMHO much better.

2.3) HP32SII

This is an emulator I like very much. The PDA has quite the same size like the orignal, the display is big enough and the size of the keys is acceptable. The emulation speed is about 10 times faster than the original one.

But here we have to ask, what think HP about this? Such an emulator will be a competitor in some areas to there new HP33S. But it's useless to discuss this at the moment, ROM images aren't available.

2.4) Simulators

Can be adapted especially to the needs of the users and onto the situation on the host system. No problems with firmware copyright. Take no care on the restrictions of the original hardware.




As I have been using emulators on a PDA for a couple of years I thought I'd give my 2 cents.
I started using Charles Lee's 41 emulator on the Palm platform almost 2 years ago and it re-kindled my interest in the 41. A year later my Palm died and I move up to a Axim 5 and Frank B.'s 41 emulator. I finally have ended up with the 41 emulator, a 15C emulator and a 16C emulator on my PDA. I find I use the 15C most often as the horizontal orientation makes it almost a 1:1 match. I love the 16C emulaton--when you need it nothing else will but a real one can beat it. The 41 emulation is nice but too small and it doesn't have printing--Charles' emulation at least could print to a text file on the Palm. But, it can run 95% of the FOCAL programs I used during the time I really used my 41C. But...
There is no I/O, no IL loop, no printing--and probably there won't be; its just too much programming to maintain for too little return.
And, touch screens are OK but feedback from virtual buttons just doesn't make the grade.

Emulators on the PC are also nice but if I'm going to program a real-world user program and am sitting at the workstation or notebook I'm gonna use Excel, Maple, Basic, C,etc. what ever fits the situation. I use a 41 emulator on my PCs but mostly for hobby purposes: developing machine code rom routines.

Finally, I agree with Christoph Giesselink that emulating the 48/49 series on a PDA is crappy. Not because of the emu48 emulator but there is no way--horizontal or vertical--that you're going to get a usable display on a PDA screen. On the PC emu48 is again great for development of libraries, etc. and for someone to decide if that level of calculator is for them but even with keymapping,etc. actually using it can be very frustrating.

The dream would be perhaps something close to the current HP49G+: an machine code emulation running on a device with a good screen and good sized keyboard. Add the ability to really use SD memory cards as libraries, modules, extra RAM, etc. Really decent I/O; perhaps USB to a tiny interface box having an IL controller (or other general purpose interfaces). With open low level interface drivers other emulators could be loaded from SD cards: One day its an 49, the next a 41 using only a portion of the display.

It probably could be done with the 49G+. After all the 49G+ is really only that: an emulator running on a specialized platform using a CPU designed for PDA devices. It has a crappy I/O interface and a limited SD card interface but the potential is there. It would be a labor of love but it is possible.


Hi, Christoph

You said that you have a HP-32SII emulator. How did you get its ROM????

Best regards,



With open low level interface drivers other emulators could be loaded from SD cards: One day its an 49, the next a 41 using only a portion of the display. It probably could be done with the 49G+.

It has already been done with HP-48GX and HP-49G. Look at the for more information ...

Basically, I have all my emulators (HP-41X + HP-IL, HP-42X and HP-71X + HP-IL) installed on one HP-48GX with two RAM cards and I can switch between them with just a few buttons (3 button presses, to be more precise). Furthermore, I have all modules (which I currently have access to) stored on the RAM card and ready to load. This is a lot of calculators in the pocket ...

I have yet to receive an HP-49G+ as a gift from Douglas Rohm (thanks Doug) so I can modify them to work on this calculator.

Further plans include HP-12/15/16 emulators (if I manage to get them for a few bucks and find a way to extract the ROMs) and TI-95 emulator (Windows version has been finished and has yet to be ported to HP-48/49) ...

Best regards.


For me the main advantage of a calculator is that I can carry it around so the only alternative is emulation on a PDA.
Now, do I really need a PDA? Not at all so I have a 49g+ that covers very efficiently all the PDA needs I have. And this gives me for a fraction of the price and about the same size a calculator, with a real keyboard for convenient input, and a PDA. I am sure many people are in my position. I don't deny that lots of people have PDAs but usually these people do not require an advanced calculator, or actually don't need a PDA (I guess this is most of them).

I am quite sure that there is a market for advanced calculator and a market for PDA and that althought they do overlap, it is only slightly.



Actually, I was thinking of your emulators when I was writing my origional post. I didn't mention them for a couple of reasons: First, since I was sort of "damning with faint praise" emulators on PDA style platforms I didn't want to imply a link to your work and second, I didn't want to imply a link between your emulators and the 49G+ platform. It is great to hear that you are considering moving them over to the 49G+ but that is your business--not mine to imply.

In point of fact, your emulators are the best for small platforms. If I can't have a 41 but want to use one in the real world it certainly makes sense to run on a platform that is "calculator shaped" with a "calculator keyboard" and runs on long-lasting battery power. The only obvious problem is that HP no longer makes or supports the 48GX/49G and pricing for units, memory cards, etc. are to expensive.

I think what I was leading to was the concept that while a PDA is NOt at it's base a "hand-held PC" but rather an organizer/calendar device heading toward the HHPC concept; the HP49G+ is at its base general purpose "calculator" hardware.
We have a screen (big enough to display graphs or a "print-out of several lines), a calculator keyboard, long-life battery operation, multiple I/O (if somewhat primitive), and add-in "module" possibilities. With flash ROM the "OS" for the device is changable at the base software level.

If I can dump all the 49G+ code and emulator code existing, keeping only the machine code routines for screen access, keyboard polling, I/O, and RAM memory access then I could load a 41 emulation written in machine code, the 41 OS roms, and probably a fair number of ROM modules into flash memory. By re-writing portions of the OS routines--as you have demonstrated with your emulator--full use of the existing RAM memory is possible. With custom code in the emulator and extensions to the 41 OS roms SD cards could be used as mass-storage devices and more. Add a keyboard overlay and you have the closest thing to a new 41 possible.

And, of course, that is only doing a retro calculator. For all those who wish to design a "new" calculator the 49G+ holds out the actually of a prototype hardware platform. IDE platforms exist for the CPU, reverse engineering the existing code to determine low level device drivers is possible (and possibly illegal). It's also one of the best ways to go for projects that would never be commercially viable: use "off the shelf" components.

When I had a Palm PDA with the OS3/4 I was able to use available tools to hack and customize the flash rom code--replacing certain applications with others I found better suited and adding certain application into flash to customize the user interface. I was able to maximize RAM memory and have a personalize interface. There exists that possibility for the 49G+.

I can imagine a 49G+ with alternate flash ROM files on SD. The origional stock code. A "41" image or perhaps an image with several emulators: 41, 15C, 16C, 42S, 71 and the code to switch between. Add keyboard overlays, load user programs to RAM from SD files and you effective can carry 1/2 a dozen calculators in your (big!) pocket. Of course, switching flash images would take time so you might generally keep the emulator flash in place and load the stock image only when needed. Switching between various emulator if in flash would be very quick.

Real world, though, if you do re-code your emulators for the 49G+ platform, and can implement them as libraries which can easily be switched from/to SD card memory to calculator memory; this will be the best available solution. Even better would be if you can eventually re-write the emulations in CPU machine code so they don't need to draw on the 49 code emulator. That is too much to expect though; too much work for you with too little return for your time.
In the end, I guess the question is how many here would buy a 49G+ and an emulator package from you if it meant they could have the 49 RPL machine plus 41,15C,16C and other emulators--running faster than the origionals--at the touch of a button.


From a person who has it.

BTW, I had a discussion with Eric Smith a while ago. It _should_ be possible to extract them from the real calculator. I know from my documents that the Lewis and Bert chips have "mode" pins, where the chip can be switched into the Verbose Mode. In Verbose Mode every Saturn bus activity is also viewed on the six external Saturn bus pins. The Sacajawea chip of the HP32SII (and others) is very similar to the Lewis and the Bert chip, so we can expect that it has also external test and Saturn bus pins. Finally I know that every Pioneer calculator has an integrated ROM test where every ROM address is read minimum once. The problem is, I have no information or idea where on the chip the necessary pins are.




I made some snapshot photos of my current PDA implementations. They aren't very sharp because I haven't removed the screen cover.

Further information, especially what's happen with Emu42 for PocketPC 2002 or about the conditions that it will be published, can be found in a HPCC Datafile V23N1 article, copy on from Erik Ehrling.

The KML scripts I use have various authors:

  • Emu32: Christoph Giesselink
  • Emu42: Erik Ehrling
  • Emu48: Victor Chow & Pete Wilson, Leopoldo Bueno Castillo

The pictures:





You are a great contributor to this forum. You are also darned smart, full of ideas, perceptive, and young. And you have somehow caught the calculator bug. You are like a window or portal for us old codgers <g> into the world of youth computation--and the future.

I enjoyed reading your article regarding the HP001 and indeed it is a good idea--one that has been here before--the 41c"blanknut" but perhaps it is time to make it really shine (41c blanknut was perhaps ahead of its time--not a smooth implementation).

In that you are interested in design (specifically of calculators) and that they are a "hands-on" device, do you have any other calculators to compare and learn design from? Do you have any classics?

Being a designer myself (but not of calculators) I feel that one will always do a better job if one has a sense of history--and other solutions. To that end, I think you need to have "in hand" some of the great classics. I have a 15c that is worn but still totally functional--If you like, I will lend it to you along with a PDF'd manual so that you can see what it is all about.

I wish I had a 71-B I could lend to you, too, but I don't own one. Apparently the old Sharps were quite something, too.

Also, our company president has a 200LX and that is really something--though it seems to be "obsolete" in today's marketplace. I don't (and at the same time I do) know why--it is really neat!

The point is that one needs to know "the market" as it were, but also, and especially for the creative person who will create a market---one needs to know good design.

Perhaps someone else who frequents this forum will have some of the other devices that you really need to see?

Best regards,

Bill Platt



I own a 33s and a 49g+. My school lends me a 32sii, so I have had that in my possession for 2.5 years, and will have it until May 2005. I have used, in short intrevals, a 12c (belongs to a friend). I was at the local museum once and on the entry desk was a 17b (I think), so I picked it up and starting using it (I was tempted to leave it in RPN mode, but I returned it to ALG before putting it down).

I would love to borrow that 15c. Thanks for the offer.

And btw, the whole 001 wasn't really only my idea. It was a compulation of several peoples' opinions.


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