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HP Hardware Hacking Build Hardware

HP Releases Hackable ARM-Based Calculator 124

mikeselectricstuff writes "HP's 20b business consultant calculator isn't the sort of thing that would normally interest the average Slashdotter, but HP has released a Devkit for it, including schematics and source for a sample application, and they appear to be actively encouraging people to re-purpose it. Maybe the engineers thought a business calculator was just too boring for their hardware? The calculator is based on an Atmel ARM chip, and it has a bootloader and JTAG interface to allow user applications to be written and downloaded, turning a boring calculator into anything you can do within the constraints of the hardware."
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HP Releases Hackable ARM-Based Calculator

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  • Sweet (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:23PM (#24626949)

    But how do I embed the calculator in my arm? Knife and some glue?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by edalytical ( 671270 )

      Hacksaw, maybe? I mean the title said it was hackable, I assume that means with a hacksaw. You'd probably want to _integrate_ rather than embed anyway.

    • I thought it was a breakable arm calculator! Phew!
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No no, they embed the ARM in the calculator. Put the sharp objects down man.

  • by Marillion ( 33728 ) <> on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:27PM (#24626963)

    Of course most customers will use this as is. I'm thankful that HP isn't so paranoid of what their niche customers might do. The right of people to tweak products to suit their needs is a right that needs to be preserved.

    • by thermian ( 1267986 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:35PM (#24627033)

      Its not exactly as if someone can harm HP, or any other hardware company by repurposing their calculators, so yes, more companies should do it.

      I suspect what they are hoping is that tech types will play, the calculators name will be thrown around the water cooler, and procurement will find requests to purchase on their desk.

      Which is, of course, all well and good.

      • fearmongering mode on: But wait until the terrorists use this as a guidance system in their low cost cruise missile!

    • by ettlz ( 639203 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:35PM (#24627043) Journal
      When it comes to calculators, I don't think HP have ever been at all bad in that respect. It's not for nothing that their calculators are something akin to the "workstations" of their class: there's always been loads of documentation out there for the HP 28, 48, etc. plus a metric ton of third-party software. A HP graphic calculator can expect to be "re-purposed" any number of times in its useful life (which is a very long time) as part of normal use.
      • by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:10PM (#24627265) Journal

        I mean consider that the HP49g+ has 3 compilers and deompilers built-in, as well as a debugger for UserRPL and SystemRPL. I also believe it may be the only calculator with an SD card slot. (The hp50g is just a slight hardware revision to the HP49g+, although the keyboard is significantly improved, and the use of 4 AAA is also a notable improvement.)

        Consider that it is the hardware platform for the DC-50 [] surveying data collector, and it is clear the calc can be re-purposed.

        • And at $120+, the HP 49g+/50g also seems rather overpriced...

          • by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @03:51PM (#24628407) Journal

            Look at

            HP top of the line grpahing calculator is Hp50g at $117.95. []

            Ti's top of the line is the 89 Titanium at $139.95. []

            TI's top of the line mainline (83 series) is the 84+SE at $120.21. []

            The Hp50g is definitely significantly more powerful than the 84+SE. It arguably has a better CAS than the 89. Yet of the three it is the least expensive.

          • by etnoy ( 664495 )

            And at $120+, the HP 49g+/50g also seems rather overpriced...

            Not at all! I'm a sophomore in applied physics, and when I last year set out to buy the best calculator on the market my first guess was that it would cost me a few hundred dollars, but the 50G landed on 130 euros. For a monster calculator like the 50G I found it very affordable. It also paid off quickly when it helped me get the highest grade in the physics course that followed the purchase.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by zippthorne ( 748122 )

              Be careful with that, though. Your high grade in the current physics course might cover up an issue leading to a very low grade in a following course.

              I've actually found my need for a graphing calculator to be inversely proportional to the difficulty of the course. A trusty scientific calculator is much lighter in the backpack, and far less troublesome should it be lost and should provide all your needs. Matlab on university provided workstations ought to cover the remaining niche that graphing calculato

              • by etnoy ( 664495 )

                Be careful with that, though. Your high grade in the current physics course might cover up an issue leading to a very low grade in a following course.

                Well, of course a nifty calculator can do more bad than good, but you should know the facts before you go on ranting.

                The reason the calculator helped me was that I needed to do many similar-looking calculations that would have needed a lot of effort to perform with any other calc. On the 50g, I could type in the formula in the graphical equation editor and slightly modify the formula for each calculation. I did not use any CAS during the entire exam, and I am more accustomed to pen and paper than to the wo

        • At least for a while, everything I read about the successors to the 48 series like my 48GX were inferior to the older units.

          How is the 50G? Can it compare to the old 48GX? Or is it flimsy and unreliable like some of the 48's immediate successors?

    • by Registered Coward v2 ( 447531 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @02:25PM (#24627791)

      Of course most customers will use this as is. I'm thankful that HP isn't so paranoid of what their niche customers might do. The right of people to tweak products to suit their needs is a right that needs to be preserved.

      Considering HP has made available the code to a number of their calculators to allow emulators to run on various platforms, such as WinCE and PalmOS; they're pretty good at taking care of their customers and trusting them.

      Their calculator division, at least, has always truck me as a group run by engineers and people who understand technology as well as how to make it into useful tools.

      I still have my HP-45; and it still runs. The only problem I ever had was trying to use it on a submarine when we rigged for red.

      • IIRC, HP actually hired the developer of MetaKernel, which was a replacement OS for the HP48 line, to develop the OS for the 49g and newer models - in fact, my 50g has a MetaKernel splash screen.

  • Does it run NetBSD?

    • by harrkev ( 623093 ) <> on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:33PM (#24627425) Homepage

      Does it run NetBSD?

      If you want it to.
      Some assembly required... and maybe some C++.

    • by T3Tech ( 1306739 )
      Well NetBSD has an ARM port right... hey wait Linux will run on ARM.. sweet! a Beowulf cluster of HP calculators!
      • Arm covers a very wide range of processors from microcontrollers with no mmu and very little ram or rom like flash to chips with PCI busses and memory controllers that are capable of running a full linux distro at tollerable speeds.

        This chip is firmly at the microcontroller end of the scale. It doesn't have anywhere near enough memory to run linux and I very much doubt it has a mmu either.

        • by T3Tech ( 1306739 )
          Oh bah, you're going let little details, like pointing out that the 30-36Mhz processor only has 128k of flash and 6k of RAM, get in the way of a beowulf cluster? You're no fun... Party pooper. :p
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by rthille ( 8526 )

      No, it's an ARM7, so no MMU, so no NetBSD.

      At least I think that's true, based on the Atmel part number quoted in another posting.

  • HP calculators (Score:4, Interesting)

    by chrysalis ( 50680 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:30PM (#24626989) Homepage

    HP calculators have always been hackable. The 48 S/SX/G/GX calculators had a large and active scene. I spent countless hours coding on it. The Saturn processor was very nice to code on.

    • Re:HP calculators (Score:5, Insightful)

      by harrkev ( 623093 ) <> on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:41PM (#24627481) Homepage

      There is a difference between "programmable" and "hackable," or at least to me...

      "Programmable" implies that a programming language is made available. Nothing more, nothing less. You can do what the programming language allows you to do. Of course, certain limits may inherent (or added to) the language. It is like giving you a sandbox to play in.

      In this case, "hackable" means that they have thrown the doors wide open, and published almost everything that they know about it (schematics, etc), and are inviting people to dream up new uses (which presumably includes hardware hacks). This is like giving you the keys to the house and saying "It's yours. Make yourself at home. Feel free to paint or remodel if you want."

      I happen think that HP makes (or at least made) the best calculators in the world. Then, TI kind of took over after HP rested on their laurels after releasing the 48G series. The 48G firmware, at least to me, was an ugly hack of the 48S code. For example, HP added new units to the 48G. Of course, it would be too easy to add these units to the "units" menu where they belong, so they had to throw them in a "secret" menu that you will only find by reading the manual.

      I love RPN, and love my old 48SX. Even the keypad feels nicer than any other calculator in the world.

      • You could/can program the 48 series in assembly language. No sandbox.
      • In this case, "hackable" means that they have thrown the doors wide open, and published almost everything that they know about it (schematics, etc), and are inviting people to dream up new uses

        It's not a first for HP, though: they did just that with HP71B way back in mid-80s (and before that HP-41 internal docs, including source code, were released to users' groups with "not manufacturer supported" label).

      • You probably never coded on it. HP calculators were hackable. Almost no one coded on them using the built-in language or using system calls (way too slow), everyone used assembly language and it was great (I miss the P register) and there was no sandbox, except rules to follow in order allow GX/SX compatibility.

        It was well documented and originally undocumented tricks like interrupts were quickly documented through the internet, minitel and bbs.

        The hardware itself was also hackable and hacked. A lot of peop

    • Not only that, most graphing calculators are programmable. The TI-86 I had to buy for university had a wide selection of user created software for it. Everything from Tetris and Mario Bros, to programs to do more traditional calculations. It was programmable in both its own version of basic and Assembly. The manual even showed how to program in Basic. You could buy a serial cable from TI which allowed you to create assembly and basic programs on the computer, and upload them to your TI-86. I remember
    • HP calculators have always been hackable.

      The reason that the 12C / 12C Platinum is allowed on exams (e.g. CFP and CFA Certification Exams, and the GARP FRM Exam) is precisely because they are deemed "not hackable" by the people running the exams.

      I guess professors today are a bit more savvy, but when the HP28 first came out and I asked my history professor if I could "bring a calculator" he couldn't see why not :)

  • Password-Pad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:30PM (#24626991)

    Might be nice to use it as an password-pad
    and still have an RPN calculator at the same time.

  • Why? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by WillKemp ( 1338605 )
    I can't see the point of it really. 20 years ago it would have been fantastic. 10 years ago it would have been newsworthy. 5 years ago it might have been vaguely interesting. But now everyone's got laptops and smartphones, what's a fancy calculator going to do that they can't?
    • Re:Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by chuckymonkey ( 1059244 ) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (notrub.d.selrahc)> on Saturday August 16, 2008 @12:38PM (#24627067) Journal
      Be allowed into tests at universities.
      • by xaxa ( 988988 )

        Be allowed into tests at universities.

        My university provided calculators if they were needed, you couldn't take your own.

        • My university provided calculators if they were needed, you couldn't take your own.

          I have never heard of this being done elsewhere, but at least this means that everyone is a on a level playing field in the exams, well at least when it comes to the calculator in use. One thing here is that it pays to have used the calculator before the exam, so that you aren't also faced with trying to learn how to access some of the advanced functions.

          • by Beale ( 676138 )
            AFAIK, this is standard practise in UK schools and universities.
            • Some school districts in the US do so as well. Some only for use on tests, and some for general use in class. Generally they are the same model calculator that they recommend the student purchase.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by TheRaven64 ( 641858 )
            It's pretty common now in the UK. When I was at school, you were allowed programmable graphical calculators as long as you reset them and wiped their memory. I wrote a little app for mine and showed it to the teacher that simulated wiping the memory (same UI in every way - it even included a version of the program list and a few other things that simply showed no programs (I had no way of backing it up, so I lost it when I really did reset mine for an exam). Between things like this, and the fact that mo
            • When I was at 6th form collage in the UK were were allowed such calculators in exams and I belive in theory they were supposed to be reset before the exam but in practice noone ever did.

              On the other hand in the department i'm in at uni they restrict students to calculators from a small list of very basic models.

      • Different universities usually have their own preferred calculator for use on their courses and exams. My university has made the Casio FX-85 series as the officially permitted calculator. What are the choices in other universities?

      • I was allowed to use my Casio FX7000G (yep... 25 years old beauty!) in class once even though someone complained about it because I did program it.

        The prof simply said that if I programmed it to do the functions needed, then I obviously understood how to do solve the problem, which in the real world is how we would do it anyway.

        The next week, everybody had one!


      • by jonwil ( 467024 )

        At my Uni, the rule (when I was there, it may have changed since) was "Calculator. No QWERTY Keyboard."

        I used my Casio CFX-9850G (with some programs on it) in at least one course.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Smaller, lighter, much lower power, and oh yeah, only costs $40.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Try getting your own code onto your smartphone. Depending on what you have it'll range from merely annoyingly difficult to being expensive beyond the ability of the common man to afford.

      • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Tacvek ( 948259 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:15PM (#24627303) Journal

        Any Windows mobile phone can easily be programmed for using the SDK. This does require Visual Studio or some ticks to use the free platform SDK, but most windows developers will already have Visual Studio.

        Once one has the Windows Mobile SDK, one can compile and install applications with absolutely no difficulty. (Almost no providers choose to required signed apps on Windows Mobile phones, and even when they do, the end user can disable that with slight difficulty.)

      • Re:Why? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:32PM (#24627415)
        You must have an iPhone. On every other platform (Windows Mobile, Palm, S60, and BlackBerry) you can easily write and deploy your own code.
        • by mmu_man ( 107529 )

          While it's true for userland code (apps) it's usually not as easy to replace the actual OS, due to total lack of specs...
          Try porting NetBSD or Haiku to them...
          Except for the FreeRunner maybe :)

        • On every other platform (Windows Mobile, Palm, S60, and BlackBerry) you can easily write and deploy your own code

          With Series 60 it's easy to deploy your code. I don't think I've ever found anyone who'd claim it was easy to write it though...

          • With Series 60 it's easy to deploy your code
            That depends on what your code wants to do and where the phone came from.

            All apps must be signed. Phones with nokia factory firmware will let you install apps with self signed certs (though finding the docs on how to generate and use them was a PITA) but such apps are limited to a restricted set of "capabilities".

            If you need capabilities beyond that or you need to run on more locked down phones then you have to get dev certs for development (IMEI locked) and I can

          • But then Symbian Signed came along and it killed my interest in programming for it.

        • I take it you never heard of Symbian Signed and Java Verified then. I fact I do write my own calculator ( and it will only work properly when you hack you phone to deactivate Java Verified.

          So No: the iPhone is not the only phone which needs hacking.


      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by cplusplus ( 782679 )
        It took me about 6 minutes to create a "Hello World" app and deploy it to my Windows Mobile Smartphone, then run it. And it doesn't take a lot of money, either. Go google "Dev Studio Express" and you can find a lite version of Microsoft's Developer Studio, and you can also download the different Windows Mobile SDKs if you look around.
        • Sure - but Hello World does not need any "Capabilities" which which require you to sign your application.


          • 10 more seconds would give you a program which would dial a remote user so you could yell "Hello World" in their ear. WinMo doesn't have this signing issue (and for those carriers that do enable it, anyone with the tools to create software can disable the requirement too).

    • Providing to your opponent before negotiations, interfacing with a laptop, interfacing with a graphing display, interfacing with a network, math tutorials, business how-tos and templates and thats just off the top of my head...
    • I know I'd enjoy hacking on this thing, changing the microcode and making of it something entirely different from a calculator, or make my own functions, my own interactive system, etc. etc.... So I can see the point. Maybe there are more people like me. Maybe your view of the world is narrow.

      • Maybe your view of the world is narrow.

        Yeah, i guess it is. I must admit, i did enjoy working as an assembler programmer back in the days of the first home computers - for the reasons you mention.

        • Re:Why? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @02:05PM (#24627633) Journal

          i did enjoy working as an assembler programmer back in the days of the first home computers

          That's exactly the kind of enjoyment I had in mind. Just to be able to get one pixel on that LCD screen to blink would provide me with some fun. Call me nostalgic, I don't mind; coding close to the HW has always been my passion, ever since the 80's.

          • coding close to the HW has always been my passion, ever since the 80's.

            Damn! Now you're making me want to go out and buy one! ;-)

    • The "running for 9 months on a couple of cr2032s" trick is one I'd like to teach my laptop or smartphone. Also, for calculator use, a real calculator keypad is a very nice thing to have.
    • Re:Why? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:37PM (#24627457)
      Do the batteries in your laptop last for years? I think I replaced the batteries in my HP48G twice during my entire undergraduate career. You can take an HP calculator out into the field on a data-collecting expedition for days or weeks on end without worrying about the charge. And whereas I've worn out the keyboards on a number of laptops over the years, the keys on my 15-year-old HP calculator still work perfectly. There's still a lot to be said in favor of special-purpose hardware.
      • I do think a capacitive touchscreen (though not the resistive ones) will last at least 15 years (the iphone has one).

        The backlight on the lcd might not though, although now with leds this is becoming less and less of a problem. Though, of course, the battery is not going to last.

        In 15 years your iphone will still be going strong, keyboard-wise.

        • But I'd rather have real keys, that click, and you can feel them.

          The iPhone doesn't have them, the HPs do.

          • I do love them. But I'd have to take 50 calculators with me. I mean at least one with a big display, a basic scientific one, and one that can easily work with hex & binary, for starters. Add to that a good unit converter with a lot of tables built in.

            And an ebook reader.

            • Well, except for the basic scientific, my 50g can do all of that, except for MAYBE the ebook reader, but there probably is an ebook reading app for the 50g...

              • You're seriously going to claim a hp50g is useable as either an ebook reader or a binary calculator ?

                I do hope you're joking.

                • I'll grant you that it wouldn't be particularly GOOD as an eBook reader, but... right-shift 3, 4, enter switches it to binary for base calculations. Then, left-shift 3 gives you a way to enter binary numbers. Calculations involving decimal numbers and an alternate-base number are displayed in the alternate base. (And you can switch what that alternate base is in the right-shift 3 menu.)

      • Under heavy use (e.g. chemistry class), the four AAAs in my HP 50g calculator will last maybe a month. I use rechargeables, which have come a long way since the old days, but it's still a drag. I love the calculator, though.
    • by niceone ( 992278 ) *
      By that argument this calculator shouldn't even exist - why don't people just do their business calculations on their laptops or smartphones?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by lm317t ( 971782 )
      Aside from power, weight and poor tolerance to extreme temperature changes, try controlling a servo or stepper with a laptop in a critical realtime environment, like with sensors. You might be able to do this with a parallel port, but it would be extremely unreliable without a true realtime OS and alot of hacking, also expensive. Unless you admire Rube Goldberg this would be foolish. You can actually guarantee better response time with a fairly slow embedded processor.

      There's much more to the computing
    • A calculator will know that the result to the question above is 7 while most of those calculators bundled with a smartphone will give 9 as a result.

      In fact about 85% of the calculators you can buy for a smartphone will give the wrong result of 9 as well.

      And none of the calculators you can buy for a smartphone can be programmed. MyCalul for Symbian 9 has formula evaluation - which is good - but still not programmable.

      The only programmable calculators for a smart phones I know of are the one I wrote myself (h

  • But can it play Van Halen's "Eruption"?
  • Good on 'em (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anastomosis ( 1102421 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:10PM (#24627269)
    Whoever is in charge of decisions like this at HP really needs to be hired at Apple.
  • Embedded Hardware (Score:4, Interesting)

    by lm317t ( 971782 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @01:27PM (#24627375) Homepage
    The L series is a typical AT91SAM7 32bit chip that should work with the usual openocd toolset []. It does not look like HP is using an RTOS like FreeRTOS [] which, among other things, has a udp/tcp/ip stack that I like to use on the AT91SAM7X series which contain an embedded MAC (no apple fanbois, thats a Medium Access Controller). The code is using IAR compilers :( so you can't just dive in to using the Gnu arm toolchain [] without some serious homework 1st creating a makefile and tweeking various files.

    The engineers did populate the connectors for the JTAG and provide unpopulated pads for ADC, PWM, SPI, and basic digital I/O, so I would say that anyone looking to get started in embedded electronics could start here, they'd just be locked into using IAR. Also a display is awesome for providing a UI, something most embedded dev kits lack!

    Thanks HP, it really is nice that you guys considered the hacker community as customers.
  • Brick! (Score:5, Funny)

    by cplusplus ( 782679 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @02:00PM (#24627589) Journal
    I bet the first thing I'd turn it into would be a brick.
  • Some people need to learn that a hardhack is not the same as a difficult hack or a hack that involves something running on hardware. If that were the case, all hacking could be considered a hardhack.

  • Maybe after I figure out what actual purpose my Altair 8800 can serve, I'll try to figure this one out
  • With multiple ADC channels this thing would make a nice data logger. Hopefully, someone with time on their hands will add WiFi and TCP/IP stack. I would like to track a few key parameters in my vehicle and having a cheap data logger phone home via WiFi each time I pull into the garage would be sweet.
  • To me, the most interesting aspect of the dev kit is that the HP calculator group did not even have the engineering resources available internally to draw that simple little schematic and instead outsourced the hardware design to the Taiwanese design and manufacturing house Inventec. Pretty sad that HP - once a premier engineering company - does not even design their own hardware anymore. I also like how they created the pdf version of the schematic with a trial version of some pdf writer.
    • It is pretty normal that companies outsource the technology that is not their core competence. It makes economic sense to have your engineers work on innovative tech instead of old tech.
    • by lm317t ( 971782 )
      I don't believe linux will run on this device, not without some majorly difficult hacks. There is no external memory interface, which you need for Linux b/c of its very limited RAM. Only the sam9x series will run linux.
  • Hacking the 20b (Score:3, Informative)

    by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Saturday August 16, 2008 @06:09PM (#24629555)

    People have been doing hardhacks to HP calcs for decades.

    Here is a good place to go for info on HP stuff. []

  • HP is a bit late coming to the party, TI has had "hackable" calculators for years now.

    In fact, I bought my first TI just so I could have an affordable Z80 platform to program on. But it's nice to see HP *finally* getting with the program (no pun intended).

    BTW, check out

I came, I saw, I deleted all your files.