HP 42s vs. 48gx/49g/TI83+


Hey there,
I love this site and hope, with the knowledge floating around here you guys can assist me. I own a HP42s, which I purchased several years ago while in college (the first time).
I'm back in school working on a bach. of arts in mathematics so that I can teach high school; alg to calc.
My dilemma is as follows: I need to know which calc is best for a math degree: the 42s, 48gx, 49g or the TI83+. The TI is my last choice, but it is the calc. I was required to have for my current alg. class.
If I have a choice, I would stick with an RPN calc. Do the 48gx or 49g have any advantage over the 42s other than screen size? It seems the 42s is going for 150 - 200 dollars on ebay right now, so replacing it won't necessarily cost me any more cash.
What are your opinions of these calc. for a student majoring in mathematics.




If you determine that the 48gx is the way to go, let me know if you want to trade the 42s for a 48gx. If it's nice enough, I'll kick in some cash.


Hi Joe,

From my experience at the University of Toronto, my calculator does not get much use in math courses. The examinations test my ability to understand and solve complex math with simple numbers; i.e. the professors will tell us if we need a calculator, we're doing the problem wrong.

Some courses stress the understanding of numerical methods and approximations. In which case, you'll probably want something that you can program do to things like Riemann sums. I've never done this with a 42S (although I think it can be done), but it can be done with both the HP-48/49 and the TI. I've done it myself with a TI-86.

Graphing functions, parametric equations, and slope fields can help in the understanding of some math problems. So having a graphing calculator that can do this either directly or with a program could be important for you. (You need a program to do slope-fields with an 83; it's built-in on the HPs.) This is the advantage over your 42S. But, unless you're allowed your graphing calc on examinations, you can probably rely on computer programs for graphing these problems when you need it.

Basically, the TI-83 is aimed at the high school crowd. Some high school textbooks in Ontario go as far as including lots of TI-specific examples. So if you will be teaching math for those grades, you will probably encounter the 83. If you decide you must buy TI, at least buy an 86 because it does a great deal more than the 83. For comparison, the TI-89 is on a similar level with the HP48/49.

Unless your courses stress numerical methods in tests and the professor expects you to having a graphing calculator in the examination, I would stick with what you have.

I'm an engineering student. So I rely on my RPN calc (32SII) for lots of fast number crunching on assignments, tests, and exams. I also have TI-86 and an HP48GX; I like them both, but the HP32SII is my companion that comes with my every day in my shirt pocket.

I hope this is helpful for you.



you can do graphing on the 42S- though you may want that 32K upgrade first :)

Personally I haven't gotten much out of the graphing end- I seem to just use mathematica or SAS when I get to that point.

The 48 is kinda cool for some of the other physical sciences things, though I end up with the 42S being *there* at all times and thus much more often used. (to the point of having phone numbers stored in it)

For teaching- you'll have to be familiar with the TI, most likely. I don't think there are any RPN graphing calcs out there anymore except the 48.

(the 83 can be programmed to do most anything you'll need. The 89 has a lot more power, though.)

The only problem with your 42 is that it is quite nearly irreplaceable if you smash it at this point, while 48G machines (32k ram, no expansion) are floating around for $40 and $50

(one oddity is that I have quite openly used the 42S on "no-programmables" tests with instructor approval due to a refusal to accept that a shirt pocket calc could *really* be programmable.)


graphing can be done om hp 42s? how is it done?



the fact is that the HP42S' LCD is dot matrix type, and there are functions (commands) like AGRAPH and PIXEL (that allows the control over each dot in a roll (X) and column (Y) mapping). Than, with a few programs (listed in the HP42S User's Manual) you can plot curves in its LCD. Not a big resolution (half the HP28S LCD) but it is a graphics display and a graphics calculator.

Hope this answers your question.



Hi, Joe;

I hope you have success in your return to school.

As for your needs, the two HP48G and the HP49G have resources I believe will meet partially your needs. There is an Equation Library in the HP48G that will help with examples, and the HP49G has the Computer Algebra System - CAS - that is a handfull tool for symbolic algebra. Both 48 and 49 share many symbolic algebraic manipulation skills, but they differ in these particular subjects.

Of course there are programs for both that simulate the others' resources, but if you get the machine as is, these are the basic differences.

The HP49G has a major enhancement: flash ROM architecture (1MB flash as system memory, 1MB flash as user memory and 512KRAM user workbench memory), so you can upgrade the O.S. (for as long as the last one is available) and make resident your better programs and data. There are other subjects related to keyboard and cosntruction, but you are in the need of a math/alg tool, right? For shorten: the 49G keyboard s_c_s! Get the picture?

Well, the HP42S has only a dot-matrix LCD and many number functions, including vectors, complex, matrix capabilities and numerical solve and integrate. I think this is not exactly what you realy ned...

If you want to enhance with programs, let's put the HP42S language closer to an imperative, not structured, assembler-like, RPN-based programming and a lot easier to learn. Both HP48/49 share the RPL structured, FORTH-like (this is HP speaking, not me...), LISP intended language. If you are used to object-oriented programming and you understand multilevel stack concept, you'll see no difficulties on delving into 48/49 RPL.

Wow! I wrote too much.

Hope this does not confuses you more... I'd check 48G and 49G first.

Best regards.


Well the 48Gx is the best available of your line up. The 49G is no longer READILY available. I like the 42s the best of all mentioned, but you did say you want to teach. Well the choice of the teaching crowd and HS market is the Ti-83. It is the one calculator you will need to know to show your students how to use as 90% or them will have this calculator. As I think the Ti-86 and 89 are MUCH better, I still say buy a Ti-83 to learn. It seems you already have the calc as it was required for your previous course.

That said a 48gx is what I use on my desk (units conversions, lots of third party programs, enter key where it should be, etc.) over all the others which I also have. I actually like my 42s best, but would not want to see it lost on my desk and therefore stays home. If you have no such loyalty to your 42s, take the offer of swapping your 42s for his 48GX. You can buy memory cards from Klotz in Germany and a cable and have the best calculator you can buy. A 128K and 2 Meg card make the 48Gx untouchable by anything else.


Thanks for all the great information guys (except for the one jerk who sent the rude email). I wish I could say your info was helful, but I am afraid that I am more confused than ever! :)
Let me elaborate. I am 35 and spent the last 8 years in the army. Not too much need for the ole brain in the military. I could tell you some stories!
Anyway, I have returned to school for a mathematics degree; a bach. of arts to be exact (with education too). I have good apptitude for math, BUT it has been 17 years since I dealt with alg, trig, calc much less diff. equations, etc (ack!). Heck, when I took trig in high school, we had to use tables; calculators weren't even a consideration.
I was accused of being stupid (by the jerk mentioned above) since I didn't appreciate/understand the difference between the calculator models. It is easy to see the physical differences between the 42s and a graphic calculator; that's obvious. BUT, I don't really know what else is different about them.
The 42s is a scientific calc. while the others mentioned are all graphing calculators. Could someone please explain to (stupid) me the difference between a scientific calc. and a graphic calc.; besides the obvious ability to graph a function.
I am very fond of the 42s. Heck, it has been with me for a decade. So what can the hp49g/48gx go that the 42s cannot? It would seem that the 42s should be powerful enough to handle all my classes. If necessary, I can keep the TI around as a learning/teaching aid.
I don't want to waste money on something I won't use but the RPN notation has had me hooked since I saw a 32s in '87.
Thanks in advance for all the advice.



Hi Joe,

One should never discuss taste, but the HP42S is considered the best calculator HP ever made (by a not insignificant part of the HP Community) so my recommendation would be to keep the HP42S, maybe buy a HP48GX in addition to it (but keep the 42S nonetheless!)

Best regards,
Erik Ehrling

(Remove NO-SPAM from the email address before using it)



re "Could someone please explain to (stupid) me the difference between a scientific calc. and a graphic calc.; besides the obvious ability to graph a function."

You've just about hit it on the head. If you want/need pretty pictures, and are too lazy (or incompetent - reminds me of my physics students this week who couldn't graph the SIN or COS functions!) to make them yourself, then the graphics calculator might be better.

Otherwise, I'd echo the others who suggest sticking with your 42S. I'm a professional radio astronomer, who has done a lot of number crunching over the last 30 years, and I never felt particularly deprived because I had only my venerable 11C and 41CX to help me. If I needed more power, there were always computers.

If you have to show the students how to do it, though, you may want a TI backup. We were doing statistics in the lab this week, and I couldn't figure out the TI83s and 86s without the manual (which nobody had brought with them!). If you want to bring tears to a student's eyes, make them calculate the mean and standard deviation of 10 4-digit numbers (especially after they realize their first set of data isn't right), doing it from first principles - not using the STAT functions because neither they nor the instructor know how. The mean ain't so bad, but the standard deviation needs a lot of number entry!



Regarding your question about the difference between scientific and graphing calculators…

As an HP-42S owner, you probably know that the main purpose of a scientific calculator is to handle scientific and engineering calculations (i.e. "number-crunching"). The original scientific calculator (HP-35) and some of its descendants were not programmable. Starting with the HP-65 and continuing to today, many if not most scientific calculators are programmable. Scientific calculators cannot draw graphs unless the user wants to calculate individual points and plot them on a piece of graph paper! The exception to the no graphing rule is the 42S which does have rudimentary (and slow) graphing capabilities with its two-line, dot-matrix LCD display.

A graphing calculator is really just a robust scientific calculator with the additional ability to handle graphing and graphics. Thus, graphing calculators can be considered a subset of scientific calculators. It doesn't necessarily have to be this way, but I don't know of a graphing business calculator.

Now let's consider the main differences between the HP-42S vs the HP48GX (I happen to own a 42S and a 48G+, which is similar to the 48GX but without the expandability):

The HP-42S has approximately 600 built-in functions (math, statistics, programming, printing, etc.) and about 8k worth of memory for programs and data. Since you have one, you probably have a pretty good idea of what it can do. If you have specific questions about the capabilities of the 42S and can't find what you need in the Owner's Manual and/or Programming Examples and Techniques book (both pretty well written, in my opinion), please ask here…there's a lot of 42S users to consult.

The HP-48GX has something like 2000 (!) built-in functions and comes with a base memory of 128k. Ram cards can be plugged in to increase that to several megabytes. There are also preprogrammed ROM cards available on a variety of subjects. The 48GX can do pretty much everything a 42S can do, and a whole lot more. The 48GX is a much more complex, as you can imagine, but not so complex that you can't learn how to use it (though this machine is handicapped by a poor Owner's Manual). It is also has a faster processor than the 42S. From the standpoint of your original question, the biggest difference is that the 48GX has a large, multi-line screen and is specifically designed to draw graphs and handle graphics. It is pretty easy and quick to draw function graphs using the built-in menus. Graphing the results of a program is more difficult.

As far as usability, I consider the HP-42S the best scientific calculator ever made, though it is missing a couple of key items from the 41 series machines (the 42S was a semi-lateral move from the 41CV). The 42S is easier to use as a calculator, while the 48GX is really a transitional machine between calculator and computer. The 42S is the top-end evolution of the traditional HP keystroke programmable design and migrating from the HP-55 to the 34C to the 41CX to the 42S was an easy transition for me. The 48GX uses a different programming paradigm that is both more powerful and harder to learn. None of my old programs translate directly to the 48, and I haven't had the time or the inclination to rewrite them. Thus, I use the 42S most of the time, and I use my 48G+ for the specialty stuff the 42S can't do. When my 42S dies, I will probably have to retire!

The reality is that you probably need both machines. That would make you a collector!

Good luck in your new career. After 15 years as an engineer, my dad switched careers and became a high school chemistry teacher. He bought a 35 while I was junior high school, and we have been hooked on them ever since.

Enough of this rambling…good night.



Dave and Fred,
Thank you both for the information. I only wish I were as verbose (but I believe my future students may just think I am long-winded!).
You guys pretty much confirmed my ideas on the subject. To be truthful, I wasn't sure if there was any reason to keep the 42s after getting a 48 model, since (as you confirmed) it can do much, much more. Of course, the size of the 42s (and my previous 32s) has its advantages as well.
Your point regarding graphing calcs is valid. I never had the luxury of using a calc in high school, much less a graphing calc. Even now, in my current Alg. course, which takes a HEAVY graphical approach to functions, I find the graphing calc. to be a mere luxury. Sure it is nice to be able to key in the function and have the machine draw the graph, but its almost eaisier for me to just memorize what the basic functions' graphs look like. Sure, it is nice, but is it really necessary.
Perhaps keeping it as a backup (and keepsake) is a good idea. The TI calcs seem to be pretty much the way to go now days, especially since I will be using one in my future class. Well, unless HP gets off its butt and revives interest in RPN calcs!
Out of curiosity, what do you guys think of the HP49g compared to a TI89?



No real need to elaborate here. It is a moot point as Hp has dropped the Hp49G.

There are serveral evaluations and many arguments. I will say this, "If you have to ask, buy a Ti.".

If you had a 48G, a 49G is a nice step up in features and meomory with an advanced CAS included. It is however a Frozen Hampster Butt Blue with a sub-standard keyboard with an enter key located in the WRONG Place. If you have never used an Hp before, you would not notice the last two Major Drawbacks.


Now that is one descriptive color name!

Maybe we can expect a new crayon and/or M&M's color now that the word is out? {8^D


Sadly, I have used a HP since 88 and I have gotten used to the quickness which I can enter data. The TI I am using now for school take so much effort, but it still does its job nicely.
In addtion, I checked out the school bookstore today an found two hpg+ calcs for sale, at $169.00!!! Crazy talk!!! They let me play with it and I still prefer the feel of it to the TI, but I guess I will just break down, sell my TI-83+, sell my 42s, and get a TI-89 and be done with it. Ebay here I come.
Thanks for all the good advice. And, HP, if you are reading this, you are screwing over a good number of people by not paying attention to who bought your machines. It is too bad.


Well, I will have to retire when all of my 3 HP-48GX (each with 128K + 2048K RAM cards) die.

Each of them contains the following:

(1) HP-41X: HP-41 emulator expanded with 16-chars LCD, 4096 data/program registers (28K RAM), plenty of modules (38 in total including CCD, XF/XM, Printer, HEPAX, PPC, Advantage, Math, Stat, Card Reader, Games, Machine, ...) and many additional features.

(2) HP-42X: HP-42 emulator with 96K RAM and 2 additional ports (31K + 32K) for storing programs.

(3) HP-71X: HP-71 emulator with 129.5K RAM, MATH, Forth/Assembler and HP-41 Translator ROMs.

So, I practically have 4 calculators in one (HP-48GX + HP-41X + HP-42X + HP-71X) ... four worlds in one :-))) and I don't ever think to buy anything but a HP-48GX.


There have been graphing business calculators, though the "graphing" functions are more often relegated to things like histograms and pie charts. Not sure how far you take this.
the 19Bii comes to mind, and the old large screen nav/sci/bus thing TI was involved with back when.

I don't think the 42S is really much less powerful than the 48G outside of graphics handling, progamming language objects, and text/string objects.

If you upgrade to 32K RAM for the 42S, you can program nearly anything you want done into it that it doesn't do already. The 42S is quite fully programmable in a computer sense, not just "keyboard macros". If you want very limited equation based programmability, look at the 17Bii.



Please don't misunderstand - I didn't intend to denigrate the programming capabilities of the 42S. I have written a nubmer of quite sophisiticated programs for it and earlier models (I even posted my feet-inches-fractions program for the 41 on this site a while back…those of you who only do metric should be very thankful indeed!). I have also written quite a few "keyboard macros" too.

It's just that 48 series has considerably more programming capabilities and, coupled with graphics, the ability to make better looking programs. All in all, the 48 is even more computer like than the 42S. For someone like me, who was trained on early HP programmables, Fortran 77, and Basic, and has less and less time to write programs, the transition to the 48 style programming is more work than it's worth. I've written a few simple things for the 48, but nothing more.


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