Calculator - Calculators Versus Computers

Calculators Versus Computers

The fundamental difference between a calculator and computer is that a computer can be programmed in a way that allows the program to take different branches according to intermediate results, while calculators are pre-designed with specific functions such as addition, multiplication, and logarithms built in. The distinction is not clear-cut: some devices classed as programmable calculators have programming functionality, sometimes with support for programming languages such as RPL or TI-BASIC.

Typically the user buys the least expensive model having a specific feature set, but does not care much about speed (since speed is constrained by how fast the user can press the buttons). Thus designers of calculators strive to minimize the number of logic elements on the chip, not the number of clock cycles needed to do a computation.

For instance, instead of a hardware multiplier, a calculator might implement floating point mathematics with code in ROM, and compute trigonometric functions with the CORDIC algorithm because CORDIC does not require hardware floating-point. Bit serial logic designs are more common in calculators whereas bit parallel designs dominate general-purpose computers, because a bit serial design minimizes chip complexity, but takes many more clock cycles. (Again, the line blurs with high-end calculators, which use processor chips associated with computer and embedded systems design, particularly the Z80, MC68000, and ARM architectures, as well as some custom designs specifically made for the calculator market.)

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Famous quotes containing the word calculators:

    But the age of chivalry is gone. That of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever.
    Edmund Burke (1729–1797)