Version 1.10, 23 December 2000

Click here to read what's new in the FAQ
Belorussian Translation

1. Introduction and hardware

2. Usability

3. Performance

4. Software

5. Miscellaneous

6. Troubleshooting

1. Introduction and hardware

This HP49 FAQ is maintained by Eric Rechlin <eric at hpcalc dot org>. All questions and answers are from the comp.sys.hp48 newsgroup, HP product literature, my own experience, and personal email. If there are any questions you feel should be added, please contact me (and include the answers!) and I will consider adding them.

1.1 What is the HP49?

The HP49G is Hewlett-Packard's latest graphic calculator. It has 512K of RAM (split into two 256KB ports: Port 0 and Port 1) and 2MB of flash memory. 1MB of flash memory is used by the upgradeable ROM and the other 1MB is available to the user (in Port 2). It has the same 4 MHz Saturn CPU as the 48G series, but the software is rewritten to make the calculator operate more quickly.

Although the screen is still 131x64, it is black instead of blue resulting in much higher contrast. The keyboard has 51 keys, but the ENTER key is now small and in the lower-right corner like the ENTER key on most other brands' graphic calculators. The keys are rubber but they still have a tactile feel. In alpha mode, the arrow keys, numbers, and backspace key all still work without having to switch off alpha mode.

The case is a metallic light blue with a translucent blue-tint slide-on cover. The calculator still fits in the HP48 soft case if you prefer. The piezo beeper and the clock are retained, fortunately.

Infrared has been removed but the serial port (with a 10-pin 38G-style connector) has been retained from the 48. Both Kermit (binary and ASCII) and Xmodem (now with 1K and 1K CRC in addition to 128 checksum) have also been retained, and an Xmodem server has been added. It can also be connected to an overhead projector LCD, a PC, a data-logger, or another HP48/HP49 calculator.

The screen now has a transparent plastic cover on it. Although this was added to prevent screen breakage, the cover has a shiny mirror-like surface, casts a shadow on the screen, prevents the screen from being visible while wearing polarized sunglasses, and scratches easily. Hopefully HP will follow TI's lead and remove the screen cover in the future. It is, however, possible to remove the screen cover; see <http://www.hpcalc.org/hp49/docs/misc/cover.zip> for details.

Official information is available on HP's web site at <http://www.hp.com/calculators/graphic/49g_info.html>.

1.2 Why isn't the HP49G expandable?

The HP49G has a total of 2.5MB of memory (512KB RAM and 2048KB flash ROM). Because none of this is covered, a new bank-switching algorithm had to be created. Also, the HP48's memory management is VERY slow, especially with memory cards installed, so memory management had to be rewritten, resulting in a 10 times speed increase.

The new memory architecture is very open and very easy to program, but the current version lacks the possibility of an expansion port. Perhaps this could be added in the future, but only time will tell.

In addition, the HP49G doesn't have an X in its model name (like the HP48GX and HP48SX) so expandability should not be expected. HP has not announced an HP49GX.

1.3 Why is there no infrared?

Infrared was removed for the HP49G for two reasons:

  1. Because of the infrared, the HP48 has been forbidden in schools in nearly every European country, in Australia, in Africa, etc. Teachers did not realize the limited distance the IR could receive it, and were afraid the calculator would be used for cheating.

    The American market is not that big in comparison with the rest of the world. Would HP really make a calculator that is not profitable throughout the world? HP realized the IR was useful to some people but could not keep something that greatly hurt sales.

  2. There were also technical reasons for omitting the infrared. The Saturn CPU only has one high-power output pin, which was used by the infrared in the HP48. Because the 49 has flash memory, which needs high power, the infrared had to be removed. Also, there was no write access to the ROM in the HP48, but since flash memory needs it, the IR write signal was used.

Basically it was a choice between infrared and lower sales or flash memory and higher sales. It seems HP made the right decision.

A cable to connect two HP49's or an HP49 to an HP48 is included with the calculator. It transfers data at 15,630 bits per second: about seven times faster than the HP48's infrared's standard speed, or twice as fast as the HP48's infrared's maximum speed.

Digitalis has reported on its web site that it is working on an internal IR module for the HP49G. Let's just hope they complete it.

1.4 Why is the LCD still 131x64?

131x64 is the largest screen that the Yorke chip (the HP48G/49G's implementation of the Saturn architecture) will support, according to Jean-Yves Avenard.

Don't worry, the LCD is still better than the HP48's. Because it is black instead of blue and uses Crystal Clear technology, it is much higher contrast than before. An independent non-scientific test by Peter Karp found that the HP48G has a contrast value of 0.24 and the HP49G has a contrast value of 0.55, where 1.0 is perfect contrast (black on white) and 0.0 is no contrast.

1.5 What's up with the color?

Some people dislike the metallic blue color of the HP49G. True, it breaks from HP's tradition of dark, timeless colors rather than using the latest fads in device colors (metallic and transparent in 1999, it seems). Others say it's unprofessional. Some even go as far as to say they'd never buy the calculator because of the color.

HP chose the color to appeal to younger buyers. Maybe high school students really like it. I personally don't have a problem with the color and actually like it, although I would prefer something more traditional. But to me it's just a calculator, so as long as it works (and works for a long time) I'm happy.

I have found, however, that it is hard to read the blue-shifted keyboard labels under some lighting because of the reflectivity of the metallic color, but that's the price we have to pay for having a calculator in a popular color.

1.6 What is flash memory?

Flash memory, or flash ROM, is a non-volatile storage medium. Flash can be read just like normal ROM, at about the same speed with about the same power consumption, but it can also be written to. Writing takes much higher power consumption and is relatively slow, so it is not practical for main system memory.

The HP49 has 2MB of flash memory. The first megabyte is used by the system for the ROM (the internal system software). This means that the ROM can be upgraded as bugs are found and fixed. The second megabyte is empty, available to the user for data storage. Although some flash memory is quite limited in how many times it can be erased and rewritten, HP guarantees the HP49G's flash ROM to 1 million cycles.

A cycle is reaches every time a bank is formatted, and it takes 9 seconds to format a bank and write to it again. To reach the limit (eight banks times one million cycles times nine seconds) it would take over 2 years of continuous use (and think of all the batteries wasted). Even with above-average use (erasing and rewriting one bank a day), the flash memory will still last at least 21,000 years, according to Jean-Yves. I don't think anyone reading this will live that long...

1.7 What happens if the flash memory is erased?

If the entire flash memory is erased or corrupted, perhaps by a ROM update gone bad or a malicious program, don't worry, the calculator is not worthless. The HP49G has a 64KB non-flash ROM which cannot be erased, and it contains software to download new system software from a PC in case the flash ROM is wiped out.

This permanent ROM, which HP calls the "boot sector," makes it so that the calculator does not have to be sent back to HP for repair if the flash ROM is destroyed.

1.8 How big is the HP49G?

The HP49G weighs 264 grams, or about 9 ounces. It is 18.7 cm (7.4") long by 8.9 cm (3.5") wide by 2.8 cm (1.1") thick while in its protective case and 18.3 cm (7.2") long by 8.7 cm (3.4") wide by 2.3 cm (0.9") thick when bare.

1.9 What accessories are available?

A new link kit (part F1897A for PC, F1898A for Mac) is available for use with the HP49G's 10-pin connector, although an HP38G link kit will work fine. The overhead projector from the 38G/48SX/GX, part F1212A, works fine with the HP49G through the 10-pin serial port. The infrared printer is not supported, however.

Also available is the Leather Calculator Pouch, part F1690A. In addition, Firmware Systems, Inc. is creating a product called Portable DataLab for data collection with the HP49G.

1.10 What type of batteries does the HP49G use?

The calculator operates on three AAA batteries, just like the HP48. A capacitor is used to retain the memory while the batteries are replaced so a lithium backup battery is not needed.

Rechargeable batteries are not recommended, although NiMH rechargeables do seem to work as long as they are charged weekly. It is, however, highly recommended that you use disposable alkalines while upgrading the system Flash ROM.

1.11 What are the serial port pinouts?

    Top of Calculator

    6   7   8   9   10
|   o   o   o   o   o   |
 \  o   o   o   o   o  /
    1   2   3   4   5

   Bottom of Calculator

Pins 1 to 4 are used for RS232, and pins 5 to 10 are used for the overhead display connection.




Thanks to James Donnelly for this information.

1.12 Why does the Filer report 1085KB of flash memory?

As you may already know, the HP49's flash ROM is divided by software into a set of 16 banks of 128KB each. Of these 16 banks, 7 banks are used by the system, 8 banks are user banks, and 1 bank is used by the boot sector.

The boot sector is only 64KB, so the other 64KB is available to the user. Adding up the user memory gives 8 * 128 + 64 = 1088K.

The system stores information in the user banks in order to identify each one, to indicate that they are user banks and how many times they have been erased. This information cover the first 256 bytes of each bank. Thus 2304 bytes (9 * 256) are used by the system. Subtract this from 1088KB and you get 1085.75KB. The Filer only displays the integer part of the number so 1085K is displayed.

Thanks to Cyrille de Brebisson for this information.

2. Usability

2.1 I don't agree with the keyboard layout. Why is it this way?

One major complaint is the small ENTER key. There are several reasons people have thought of and others HP employees have mentioned in the newsgroup:

  1. In order to have enough keys to allow the numbers, ENTER, backspace, and the arrows to all be usable while in alpha mode, more keys had to be added. Two smaller keys could be put in place of a large ENTER key, resulting in a smaller ENTER key and gaining one key.

  2. Once the ENTER key is smaller, there is no real reason to have it in the middle of the keyboard. Why not put it into the bottom-right corner?

  3. TI and Casio put their ENTER key there, so why not HP?

Another complaint is that the / (division) key makes a Z in alpha mode. Again, in order to allow all the numbers, arrows, backspace, and ENTER to be accessible in alpha mode, a compromise had to be made. In this case, the / key becomes Z in alpha mode.

The / key can still be typed in alpha mode with the right-shift key, so it only takes one more keystroke. This is nothing compared to the keystrokes saved by not having to turn off alpha mode to use the arrow keys.

Others have wondered why HP didn't put three more keys to the left of the arrows, where they appear to fit, and would solve the ENTER and / key complaints.

It's true that three keys would fit there; however, it would not be a good idea. Despite the fact that the HP48G has fewer keys than TI's graphic calculators, it looks like it has more because of its layout. The HP49G actually has more keys than TI's but looks like it has fewer because of its layout.

Some people are afraid of buying an HP48 because its key layout looks complex. The HP49 has a less-complex looking keyboard, which makes it look more friendly to potential buyers.

2.2 Do the math functions have to be on CHOOSE menus?

No, you get the best of both worlds once more. New users don't like using softkey menus because the 5-letter limitation makes it difficult to see the function of each, so they prefer CHOOSE menus with more letters shown. Advanced users prefer softkey menus because they are faster and fewer keystrokes are needed.

The HP49 defaults to CHOOSE menus but allows one to switch to softkey menus if desired. Simply set flag -117 and you're back to softkeys!

These new CHOOSE menus are faster than the HP48 menus, allow shortcut keys to be pressed, have a scroll bar, and show up to eight lines.

2.3 What is the CAT key?

The CAT key brings up a CHOOSE menu listing ALL HP49 commands, including commands from installed libraries. It's dynamic yet very fast. If it hasn't been pressed for a while, it takes about three seconds to load. However, it is cached until the next garbage collection, so it will appear quickly the next time.

The catalog also remembers the last command accessed, so that command is highlighted after opening it. Also, you may type the first few letters (rapidly in succession) of a command to quickly jump to it.

2.4 What is the TOOL key?

The TOOL key brings up a context-sensitive menu of tools related to the current application. For example, in the Matrix Writer, this brings up a menu of useful matrix commands. In the Text Editor, this brings up a menu with Find/Replace, Style, and other text editing commands.

2.5 How safe is flash memory?

Because flash memory does not have a physical write protection switch like RAM cards, some people have worried about the safety of data on it.

A memory clear (ON-A-F) will not clear data stored in flash memory. In addition, there is no way for a user to clear flash memory without first sending four "special bytes" to the calculator from a computer. After all, if this were possible, the system software could be cleared at any time by a malicious person!

It is IMPOSSIBLE to clear data in flash memory by accident, according to Jean-Yves Avenard. HP even tested sending 25,000 volts through the serial port and the flash memory survived.

However, there have been some reports to the newsgroup describing cases where the flash has spontaneously erased user programs. This bug seems to have been fixed in ROM versions 1.14-3 and later.

2.6 Why does it default to algebraic mode?

When someone first tries a calculator in a store, he/she expects to be able to use it right away. Most buying decisions are made in the first three minutes. By having the calculator default to algebraic mode, the potential buyer will know how to use it, since a majority of people are not familiar with RPN.

One can easily switch to RPN mode, however, just by pressing three keys ([MODE] [+/-] [ENTER]). It's a flag setting, so RPN mode will remain on, even after a power off or warmstart. All the familiar RPN functions remain (SWAP on the right arrow, interactive stack on the up arrow, DUP on the ENTER key, and DROP on backspace).

2.7 Rubber keys? What was HP thinking?

Although the HP49G has rubber keys, they are not like traditional rubber keys. They have a tactile feel similar to the HP48's keyboard, but they are, unfortunately, a bit stiffer. These are quality keys, and should last as long as any other HP keyboard.

The new keyboard also reduces "key bounce," a problem with HP48 keys. The HP48 works around this problem by slowing down the keyboard access, which in turn slows down software by more than three times. The HP49's keyboard does not have as much "bounce," so it can scan the keyboard in less time, resulting in faster software.

2.8 Who would want a hard case?!

The hard case protects both the keys and the display. It slides back onto the calculator while the calculator is in use, so there is no problem with needing to find a place to put a separate case, like with the HP48's soft case.

For those who prefer a soft case, the HP49 still fits in the HP48's soft case. If one wants added protection, even the HP49 while in its hard case fits inside the soft case, giving padded protection from drops and scratch protection when in a backpack. HP sells the soft case as an HP49 accessory; it's part number 82221-60001.

3. Performance

3.1 How fast is the 3D plotter?

Despite having a 4 MHz CPU, the HP49G is able to make three-dimensional plots faster than ANY current calculator, including the TI-89.

All 3D plots may be rotated on the X, Y, and Z axes (with the arrows and TOOL and NXT) or zoomed (with + and -) in REAL TIME, faster than the TI-89. It draws a 14 by 14 matrix at 6 frames per second!

3.2 Why is the CPU a 4 MHz Saturn, unchanged from the HP48G?

  1. The CPU is still a Saturn because of the huge cost and time related to using a new CPU. The operating system would have to be completely rewritten from scratch wasting the efforts of the last 15 years. It took over 200 engineer years to finish the HP48 alone!

    It took TI five years to create the TI-92 (according to the TI-92 project manager), with its 68000 processor, a new CPU for TI to use in a calculator at the time. Using a new CPU would delay a new calculator by another three to five years.

  2. The CPU is still at 4 MHz for both technical and practical reasons. One German company runs the Saturn at 6 MHz by overclocking it, but it uses up batteries twice as quickly.

    Also, the Saturn chip was only rated for up to 2 MHz when it was used in the HP48S series. HP already overclocked it to 4 MHz for the HP48G series, so overclocking it further would be way beyond specifications. Because HP wanted a quality product, it was not overclocked again.

    To increase the tolerance of the CPU to make it run at a higher speed would take an estimated 19 months, according to Preston Brown, who boosted the CPU from 2 to 4 MHz when the G series was designed. The added time would be needed for the redesign and requalification of the mixed-mode analog and digital IC.

A longer, more technical explanation from Dave Arnett, who designed the HP48G series hardware:

"I've seen the qualification data on the Yorke IC. I know that they have plenty of speed margin at the nominal process flow and at room temperatures. But I also know that, at the corners of the CMOS process window and at temperature extremes, the parts are marginal at 4 MHz. I remember how we seriously considered doing batch splits, sorting out the fast parts from the slow parts, and introducing the 48G as a 2 MHz machine. I imagine that most HP48 G-series machines could be overclocked as long as they aren't run through the complete HP environmental test suite in that mode. And I would have a major ethical dilemma if management pressed me to release a product with those caveats."

Because the software has been rewritten to make the calculator operate considerably faster for commonly-used features, a new CPU was not as necessary as some may think.

3.3 I still don't see how a 4 MHz CPU can make such a fast calculator

HP has hired some of the world's best HP48 programmers to design the HP49G. Jean-Yves Avenard, Gerald Squelard, and Cyrille de Brebisson, all from the Meta Kernel team, are there. Mika Heiskanen, author of Jazz, ALG48, BZ, QPI, and more, is also working on it. Bernard Parisse, author of Erable, has also contributed.

The new memory management routine is considerably faster, and covered memory is no longer a worry. The GUI, including inform windows and CHOOSE boxes, is 10 to 100 times faster. 3D plotting is much faster. Symbolic manipulation is faster than any other calculator on the market.

3.4 Exactly how fast is this calculator?

Although the HP49G's CAS is based on ALG48+Erable, it is the result of many months of work improving it. Because everything is done with absolute addresses, the old code runs faster too.

100!*100!, which takes about 16 seconds to calculate with full precision on a 48 with ALG48, takes about 1.5 seconds on an HP49. That's faster than a TI-89 or a TI-92+, which take about 4 seconds! Numeric integration is not noticeably faster than the 48 but symbolic integration is much faster.

In general, however, the TI-89 seems to have a faster CAS. Integration, matrix manipulation, and solving seem to be faster on the TI-89 in most cases. However, the 49 can handle problems that the 89 cannot, such as integration with the Risch algorithm. The speed of numeric math on the 49 is usually no faster than on the 48GX, but at times there are slight improvements.

Just about everything else is faster on the 49 than the 89, though.

Once I get more time, however, I will be able to do more performance tests and this section will be expanded.

4. Software

4.1 What programming tools are included?

The HP49 has built-in development software for User RPL, System RPL, and assembly language. Disassemblers are also included! In addition, a new language called HP Basic is included. This is more or less an algebraic version of User RPL, but considerably slower. Sample code is shown below:

    IF I+1-5==50 THEN DISP("Hello World",2) ELSE DISP("I'm off",2) END

The assembly language and System RPL development tools are not officially supported by HP, but they are available in ROM for those who want them. All the built-in graphics routines support grayscale internally as well. Versions 1.05 and 1.10 of the ROM, however, do not have a System RPL compiler/decompiler or assembly language assembler, but the full suite of development tools should arrive soon.

4.2 Can I run an HP48 program in the HP49?

Thanks to Eduardo M Kalinowski for contributing to this section.

HP48 and HP49 binary objects are not compatible. This is because the entry points have changed in the two versions (if you don't know what an entry point is, you can either ignore it, keeping in mind that it is not possible to directly run a HP48 program in the HP49, or search elsewhere on this and other sites for information.)

Therefore, if you send a binary User RPL, System RPL, or assembly language HP48 program to the 49 it will not work. It is, however, compatible on the source code level so programs can simply be recompiled.

For user RPL programs, all you should need to do is send the program to the HP49, either from a computer or an HP48/49, in ASCII format, and it should be automatically converted. Make sure that approximate mode is set while transferring the file. However, if the program uses SYSEVALs, you must change their addresses manually. Also note that libraries cannot be sent in ASCII format.

For system RPL programs, recompiling the sources with the new entries, available at <http://www.hpcalc.org/hp49/programming/entries/>, should suffice. A few commands had some slight changes in behavior, but this should not be a problem as long as approximate mode was set while transferring the program. You may also need to try switching between real and complex mode.

You can also try running a program written by Eduardo M Kalinowski <ekalin@iname.com> which tries to do the conversion automatically. This program can be downloaded from <http://move.to/hp48g>.

However, neither of the two above solutions will work if the programs use unsupported entries. In this case, you're out of luck.

4.3 How powerful is the CAS?

The CAS, or computer algebra system, is based on ALG48 and Erable but is the result of many months of improvements.

The CAS has dynamic symbolic manipulation and solving. Calculus and linear algebra solving routines have "step-by-step" modes to show how the answer is derived, and all steps are shown in "textbook" mode for easy understanding.

Algebra features include factorization, expansion, substitution, systems of linear equations and linear algebra. Symbolic matrices are supported, with Gaussian-Jordan row reduction, eigenvalues and eigenvectors, diagonalization and decomposition.

Calculus features include limits, derivation, integration, differential equations and Taylor polynomials.

Advanced statistics features are included, such as lists, single variable, frequencies, regression, and summary statistics. Sample data descriptions can be used to make and measure inferences about the population of interest with hypothesis tests and confidence intervals.

It also supports symbolic solving of differential equations (even third order) and symbolic Laplace and inverse Laplace functions.

4.4 What happened to the equation library?

The HP49G no longer includes the equation library from the 48G series. It is not known why exactly the equation library was removed, but some possibilities are that some schools banned the 48G because of its equations or that it would take too much space in ROM.

It does, however, retain the library of 40 constants, and unit conversions are supported between 127 built-in units. The equation library utilities (with the exception of Minehunt) are also included. ROM versions 1.14-3 and higher have the multiple equation solver (MES) as well.

4.5 Is there support for multiple languages?

Yes. The HP49G has built-in support for English, French, and Spanish. You may select languages by putting the desired language number on the stack (0 for English, 1 for French, and 2 for Spanish) and typing ->LANGUAGE. LANGUAGE-> recalls the current language number.

4.6 How do I port HP48 software to the HP49?

"Porting" a program refers to converting a program written for one computer so that it runs on another computer.

User RPL programs can be fairly easily ported. All you need to do is transfer the program to your 49 in ASCII Kermit mode (or directly from another HP48 using the supplied link cable). Make sure you are in both RPN and approximate mode (both non-default) and the program should run fine. If you accidently download the program while in exact mode, simply switch to approximate mode, recall the program, press down-arrow (to edit it), press ENTER, and store it again.

System RPL and assembly language programs are harder to port. You need to get the source code to the program (possibly by disassembling it, but preferably from the program's author) and then recompile it using the HP49 entry points list. Since many System RPL programs use unsupported points, you will need to rewrite parts of the program. It is a very bad idea to use unsupported entry points on the HP49, as they are much more likely to move from one ROM version to another than they were on the HP48.

In addition, with some programs, you will have to adjust key detection routines because of the changed keyboard layout.

4.7 How do I do unit conversions?

The Pocket Guide's explanation of unit conversions is only accurate when both RPN and softkey mode are active, both non-default settings.

To convert between two types of units while in algebraic mode, one must use the CONVERT command. To do this, first choose CONVERT from the UNITS-Tools menu. Next, type the value of the unit object to convert, an underscore ([RightShift]-[Minus]), and then select the unit from the UNITS menu (or type it manually). Finally, press the comma key ([RightShift]-[SPC]), the number 1, another underscore, and select or type the unit to convert to. Now, after pressing ENTER, the unit will be converted.

In RPN mode with choose boxes, enter the value of the unit object to convert, choose the unit from the UNITS menu (or type it manually with an underscore before the unit). Now enter the unit to convert to, with a value of 1 (as decribed above). Finally, choose CONVERT from the choose menu.

In RPN mode with softkey menus, of course, you can follow the directions in the Pocket Guide. This is by far the quickest method.

4.8 Why does the backslash (\) character do strange things?

On the HP48, one could type a backslash (\) in a string and it would simply place the backslash character in the string. On the HP49, the backslash is a special control character.

Also on the HP48, it was not possible to insert one quotation mark into a string, as it would act as a string separator. The only workaround was the "C$ $" trick. With the HP49, one can enter a single quotation mark in a string by preceeding it with a backslash ([Alpha]-[RightShift]-[5]).

In order to insert a backslash into a string, you need to type two backslashes. The first backslash is treated as a control character and the second one is displayed in the string.

4.9 Why did my file transfer result in a string containing "HPHP49-C..."?

There are two possible reasons. One is that your file transfer was corrupted, and the other is that the original file wasn't created correctly. Some HP49 files actually start with "HPHP48-..." because the author wrote the program on a 48, although this is uncommon. The first thing to try is to send the file again. If this doesn't fix it, you need to run OBJFIX, by Jean-Yves Avenard. To run OBJFIX, enter the following line of code, where -> is the arrow character:

256 ATTACH MEM DROP ->A 26 + A->

4.10 How do I access the plotter in RPN mode?

In algebraic mode, one accesses the plot windows by pressing the blue shift key followed by one of the six function keys. Because the blue shift key is used for storing variables and unit conversions in RPN mode, the plot menus can't be accessed in the same way.

To access the plot windows in RPN mode, simply hold down the blue shift key while pressing one of the six function keys. This way it works perfectly.

4.11 What ROM version do I have?

The HP49G has three ROM versions: the operating system ROM, the CAS, and the boot sector.

To find the ROM version of your calculator's operating system, simply type VERSION and press [ENTER]. It will produce two strings that look something like this:

"Version HP49-C
Revision #1.10"
"Copyright HP 1999"

The HP49-C means it is a commercial release. HP49-B is used for beta releases which will be posted on HP's web site from time to time. The #1.10 means that it is version 1.10. Beta ROMs have the release number after a hyphen following the version number, as in #1.14-5.

To find the version of the CAS, simply type VER and press [ENTER]. There is no user command to find the boot sector version, but all known production 49's have version 1.9.

4.12 How do I solve differential equations?

Thanks to Paco Valenzuela, <pv@correoweb.com>, for this information.

With 'DESOLVE' you can solve equations like A*Y'+B*Y+P(X)=0, P(X)=A*X^N+B*X^(N-1), etc. For example, to solve 3y'+5y+4x=0, put '3*d1Y(X)+5*Y(X)+4*X' and 'Y(X)' on the stack and run DESOLVE. DESOLVE can be found on the S.SLV menu ([LeftShift]-[7]).

To solve 3y''-2y'+x=3, put '3*d1d1Y(X)-2*d1Y(X)+X-3' and 'Y(X)' on the stack and run DESOLVE. In other words, if you want y' use d1Y(X), for y'' use d1d1Y(X), and for y''' use d1d1d1Y(X).

4.13 How can I program in System RPL and assembly language?

System RPL is a superset of User RPL, the simplest programming language built into the HP49 and several previous HP calculators. Assembly language is the lowest level programming language, which involves working directly with the CPU.

HP has provided tools that run on Windows 9x/NT/2000 computers for developing software in System RPL and assembly language. This software, Debug2, also known as the HP49 SDK, is freely available from <http://www.hpcalc.org/hp49/pc/programming/>. It includes two emulators, a compiler, an assembler, and a debugger.

System RPL and assembly language programming tools are also built into the ROM of the HP49. All versions of the 49 have had an assembly language disassembler in library 256. ROM 1.14-2 has a System RPL compiler and assembly language assembler, Masd, in library 257. ROM 1.14-3 and higher have everything from 1.14-2, plus a System RPL decompiler, in library 256.

To access these tools you must first attach library 256 (it is not attached by default). More information on these tools can be found elsewhere on <http://www.hpcalc.org>.

4.14 What hidden key combinations are available?

The HP49 has many undocumented key combinations involving a held-down shift key. Some are listed below.

[ALPHA] [RightShift]&[EQW]: Capital Greek omega
[ALPHA] [RightShift]&[2]: Upside down !
[ALPHA] [RightShift]&[3]: Upside down ?
[ALPHA] [RightShift]&[6]: Degree sign
[ALPHA] [RightShift]&[SPC]: Semicolon (;)
[LeftShift]&[NXT]: Last menu (like the 48GX's [MENU] key)
[LeftShift]&[TOOL]: Toggle Real/Complex mode (in ROMs after 1.18)
[LeftShift]&[VAR]: HOME (in ROMs after 1.10)
[RightShift]&[ENTER]: Toggle Exact/Approximate mode (in ROMs after 1.10)
[RightShift]&[EQW]: Back quotes (``)
[RightShift]&[RightArrow]: Kermit Server
[RightShift]&[SPC]: Semicolon (;)
[RightShift]&[9]: Time-Tools menu [Backspace] (held while warmstarting): Ignore library configuration routines

There are also undocumented key combinations that do not require a shift key to be held down. Some are listed below.

[Backspace]: DROP
[LeftArrow]: Display graph window
[RightArrow]: SWAP (RPN mode)
[UpArrow]: HIST
[DownArrow]: Edits object with most appropriate editor
[LeftShift][DownArrow]: Edits object with command line editor
[RightShift][DownArrow]: Review key (shows full text of softkeys)
[RightShift][RightArrow]: Xmodem Server (in ROMs after 1.10)

Thanks to Veli-Pekka Nousiainen and David Haguenauer for contributing to part of this section.

4.15 What does the dot after my numbers mean?

In the HP48, there was only one kind of number: real numbers. Real numbers had a decimal point only if they had a fractional part; otherwise, the decimal point was omitted.

The HP49 adds a new number type: integers. To differentiate between the real number and integer data types, the HP49 never shows a decimal point on integers and always shows a decimal point on real numbers.

This means that, for example, the integer number 1 is displayed as "1" whereas the real number 1 is displayed as "1.". Therefore, the dot after the number means that the number is a real number (and all numbers are reals in approximate mode).

4.16 How do I extract programs from libraries?

You will have to download special software to extract programs from libraries. There are a number of programs on my site which can do this, including LibEx, LibKit, Library Cracker, LibTo, ObjTools, and OT49.

5. Miscellaneous

5.1 How much does it cost and where can I buy one?

The 49G first reached a few stores in the U.S. on August 12, 1999. It wasn't widely available until August 17, however, and it still seems to be in short supply. Right now college bookstores seem to be the best place to buy them, as the bigger stores don't seem to have them in stock yet.

Most prices seem to be in the US$150 to $180 range, minus a $10 rebate (found at the store selling the calculator). Several mail order stores have them for around US$169; see my buying guide at <http://www.hpcalc.org/buying.php> for details.

In Europe the 49G generally seems to cost more and is typically available at larger dealers only.

5.2 Will there be an HP49GX?

HP has not said anything official about an HP49GX, although several rumors were spread by both HP and non-HP people at various conferences. One thing I heard was that if the 49G sells well, an expandable calculator will arrive in 2000.

5.3 Why doesn't the HP49G have [insert feature here]?

To understand the answer, you'll first need a little summary of HP calculator history. I recommend reading this post, thanks to Jake Schwartz, but I will summarize it in the next couple paragraphs.

From the 1970's to 1993, all calculator design resided in Corvallis, Oregon, in the USA. In 1993, around the time of the release of the HP48G/GX, calculator design operations were moved to Singapore. After operations were moved to Singapore, the only calculator released was the HP38G, the result of a combination of efforts from Singapore and some people from HP Corvallis.

The 38G, aimed at high school students, was largely a flop and the HP48 series remained the calculator of choice. After releasing NO new calculators after the 38G, it appeared HP Singapore was not ever going to do anything. So, at the 1997 HP Handheld Conference in London, it was announced that a new calculator group, the Australian Calculator Operation (ACO), would form in Australia on November 1, 1997 to design future calculators.

Also in late 1997, I posted to comp.sys.hp48 a list of three new calculators I wanted HP to create. The first calculator I suggested was a low-cost scientific calculator, which I called the HP23, similar to the TI-34 but preferably with RPN. This became true (including everything but RPN) with the HP6S. The HP6S is not a real HP calculator; rather, it is a rebadged Texet Albert (now discontinued).

The second calculator I suggested was the HP48F/FX (although I later changed that to the N/NX because F sounds so similar to S). That was to have 512K of RAM and include Erable, ALG48, and Meta Kernel, which all came true with the 49. My suggestions of boosting the clock speed and staying with a more traditional color scheme didn't come true, though.

The third calculator I suggested was the HP58, with a new CPU architecture, a higher resolution screen, 2MB of Flash ROM, both a GUI written in assembly and a command line interface, and lots of RAM. Some of this came true with the 49 and some is yet to arrive.

Because HP's ACO received no support from the previous calculator operations, it was completely on its own and had to prove itself to bring in capital. Their first product, announced in March 1998, was the HP48G+. The 48G+ cost virtually nothing to engineer and brought in the initial money to continue design. The HP6S, a low-cost scientific calculator announced in April 1999, was their second product and first truly new calculator. The HP49G is their third product, based loosely on the HP48.

The HP49G is not a super-high end product for several reasons. First are the reasons listed above: HP's ACO is relatively new to calculators and didn't want to risk everything on an expensive calculator, plus they didn't have the money to invest in a large project. Second, HP needs to boost its education market share. The only way to do that is to release an affordable calculator to compete directly against the TI-89.

In addition, an all-new high-end calculator would take an estimated three to five years to design. Considering the HP49G was announced only a year and a half after the forming of the ACO, there was a relatively short wait for the 49, which is basically a redesigned HP48. I think most people will agree that it's best that the HP49G came out after a short time rather than waiting two more years for a new, higher-end calculator.

In summary: it would be impractical for HP to come out with a high-end do-everything calculator at this time, so some compromises had to be made.

5.4 Is the HP49G allowed on standardized tests?

Use of the HP49G is permitted on College Board tests, including AP exams, the SAT, and the PSAT/NMSQT. It is not known yet whether the HP49G will be allowed on the ACT, but it most likely will be prohibited because of its symbolic math capabilities.

5.5 What comes with the HP49G?

The following is included in the box with the HP49G:

  1. HP49G calculator with slide-on cover (F1633A)
  2. Three AAA batteries
  3. Unit-to-unit link cable with adapter to connect to another HP49G or an HP48
  4. User's Guide
  5. Quick Reference Pocket Guide
  6. Registration card
  7. Nameplate

5.6 When was the HP49G announced?

The HP49G was announced in Europe at the OpenHP event in Paris, France, on May 21, 1999. It was announced in the USA at ASEE in Charlotte, North Carolina, on June 21, 1999.

The press release is available at http://www.hp.com/pressrel/jun99/21jun99a.htm.

5.7 Are there any Easter eggs in the 49G?

Yes, there are many Easter eggs. One is carried over from the HP 48G series. Type RULES and you'll get the following word puzzle:

?????? MITCH????????????  CHRIS
???? T??? H??????? G.T.???? O
?? P H??? I?? A? ACO N A A? O
?? T????? T?? I? K F A R? JEFF
?? E???? MIKA DAN? R?? I? I O
GARRY???? A??????? E?? E? A

VGER is V'Ger, the code name for the 49G and also a computer/robot in a Star Trek movie. ACO stands for Australian Calculator Operation, the name of the group which designed the 49G. The other names are people related to the development of the 49G: BERNARD Parisse, CHRIS Leitao, CHRISTIAN Bourgeois, CYRILLE de Brebisson, DAN Smith, DAVID Chibo, GABRIEL Lagos, GARRY Heinze, GEOFFREY Marnell, GERALD Squelart, G.T. Springer, JEAN-YVES Avenard, JEFF Harcourt, JIAN He, KEIRAN O'Neill, MARK Carter, MIKA Heiskanen, MITCH Davis, NIGEL Hooke, PETER Lanius, RAY Suryn, RODOLFO Sandonato, TANYA Brooks, and TEHN Yit Chin.

A number of other Easter eggs are in the ON-D self tests, covered in the next section.

Want to know another Easter egg? There's a Tetris game hidden in the ROM. Just type "HpMad" (including the quotation marks) in any new input form command line (even the BEEP item in the MODE window works!). Have fun!

Believe it or not, there is another Tetris game hidden in the ROM (versions later than 1.18 only). In the EquationWriter, type MINEISBETTER, highlight it, and choose SIMP. You will be rewarded with a better Tetris game.

There are even more Easter eggs elsewhere (including one in the Fast3D routine), but those are up to you to find.

5.8 What happens when I press ON-D?

Press ON-D followed by one of the following keys to do something cool:

5.9 What link cables can I use with my 49G?

It seems that HP has produced four different calculator link kits. Please correct me if I am wrong about any of this information, because some of it I am just guessing. The first cable, included with the PDL and sold stand-alone from 1990 to ?, has a PC serial connector on one end and a 4-pin HP48 connector on the other end. This will not fit in the HP49, which needs a 10-pin connector.

The next cable (part number F1015A, with F1015-80002 on the DB9 connector) had a PC serial connector on one end and a 10-pin 200LX connector on the other end. It also included a 4-pin adapter for use with the HP48 or 95LX. NEVER use this 200LX cable with the 49G. Although both have a 10-pin connector, the 200LX cable sends standard serial signals (including 12 volt current) through the wires; the 49 link cable only uses four lines (TX/RX/GND/Shield) as the other lines are for video output.

This means that by plugging a 200LX cable into the 49G you are sending 12VDC into the CPU which will possibly cause permanent damage to the calculator. This is a VERY BAD THING, so NEVER EVER use a 200LX cable with a 49G.

The next cable (part number 8120-6736 on the DB9 connector) made had a PC serial connector on one end and a 4-pin HP48 connector on the other end. It also included a 10-pin adapter (part 1252-6635) for use with the HP48 or HP38G. I believe this was sold from mid-1995 through late 1999. With the adapter this cable works fine with the HP49 (it's what I use).

The newest cable (part number F1897A, with F1897-66000 on the DB9 connector), made beginning in late 1999, has a PC serial connector on one end and a 10-pin HP38G/HP49G connector on the other end. It also includes a 4-pin adapter (part F1633-66001) for use with the HP48. Although this looks very similar to the 200LX cable, it's not the same thing and it's safe to use with the HP49G.

If you don't already have an HP48 link cable and want one for the 49, first ask for a 49 cable (part number F1897A). If the store cannot get it, then ask for an HP38G cable, which will work fine. Just don't use a 200LX cable.

Another option is to simply build your own cable. There are five methods listed on the page at <http://www.freeweb.org/computer/enrico/cable49g.htm>.

5.10 Where is the AUR?

The AUR (Advanced Users Reference, sometimes called the Advanced Users Guide) is currently being written. Part 1, including the CAS command reference and general command reference, and Part 2, with more detailed information on the use of the calculator, are available on both HP's web site and at http://www.hpcalc.org/hp49/docs/misc/. A print version, which is optionally free after mailing in the 49G's registration card, should arrive in the near future.

Simply check which of the three manuals you want on the registration card, and HP will mail it/them free of charge. Please only do this if you will honestly take advantage of the information in the AUR; I'm sure it will cost HP quite a bit to mail out the books.

5.11 Why do I get an "Object with bad CRC" error?

When running the ROM self-test ([ON]+[F4], [7]) of a version 1.05 49G, the calculator will give an "FROM fail: Object with bad CRC" error. This is harmless and doesn't mean anything is wrong.

To remove this error, simply upgrade to a newer ROM.

5.12 How does the 49G compare with the TI-89?

A reasonably good comparison between the 49G and the 89 can be found at <http://www.technoplaza.net/calculators/index.cgi?p=49vs89>.

6. Troubleshooting

6.1 How do I stop my calculator from perpetually warmstarting?

After installing a library, the HP49 sometimes warmstarts over and over again. If this happens after a library is installed in port 0 or 1, one might clear the memory to restore the calculator to normal operation. However, if the program is installed in port 2 (flash), there is no easy way to do this.

For this reason, HP set up the HP49 to ignore all libraries if the backspace key is held down while warmstarting. Holding down the backspace key usually allows the calculator to be started normally, so the offending library can be easily removed.

This probably is generally caused by installing a corrupted library, either because it was corrupted in transfer, was not written properly, or was written for a calculator other than the 49.

6.2 No matter what I do, I cannot get my HP49 to communicate with some computers

Early versions of the HP49 (those with serial number under ID94...) have a buggy serial port. If you have one of these calculators, call HP tech support and get the calculator replaced with a fixed model.

First reported by Marcel Flipse, the first HP49's had improperly wired serial port buffers, causing them to send a weakened/distorted signal. This causes computers with off-brand motherboards (including Macintoshes) to have trouble communicating with the calculator.

6.3 Why are the keys so stiff?

Early versions of the HP49 (those made before early 2000) have a much stiffer keyboard than newer models. It is possible that you can get a replacement under warranty by calling HP tech support if you have an older calculator.

All Chinese 49G's (serial number beginning with CN...) have the better keyboard. It is possible that the later Indonesian 49G's also have the improved keyboard, but I cannot confirm this.

6.4 Why is the screen cover so horrible?

Short answer: screen covers are horrible.

Long answer: early versions of the HP49 (those made before early 2000) have a much poorer screen cover than new models. The old screen covers have a rainbow effect, making the display hard to read in many lighting conditions. The old screen covers also scratch easily. The new screen covers are made of an acrylic and seem to be more difficult to scratch and don't have a rainbow effect. Comparing my 39G (with an acrylic screen cover) with my older 49, it seems that the new screen covers are slightly clearer, too.

If your 49G is still under warranty, it is possible that you can get a free replacement with better hardware by calling HP tech support.

All 49G's that were made in China (CN... serial number) have the good acrylic screen covers. It is possible that the last ones made in Indonesia also have the better screen covers, but I do not know which serial numbers are affected.

Part of the HP Calculator Archive,
Copyright 1997-2014 Eric Rechlin.