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News Archive - Casio AL-1000 Introduction Article

Casio AL-1000 Introduction Article
Electronics, November 13, 1967

An article announcing Casio Computer Co., Ltd.'s new AL-1000 programmable electronic calculator. The AL-1000 was introduced in Japan in early October of 1967, with publication lead-times resulting in the approximate delay of one month before this article was published. The AL-1000 was later marketed by Commodore in North America through an OEM agreement with Casio.

The AL-1000 represented a new second-generation architecture for Casio's electronic calculators, utilizing a small magnetic core memory array manufactured for Casio by Mitsubishi. Casio's first-generation electronic calculators utlized discrete transistorized shift registers for storage of the working registers. This change reduced the number of components required to implement the calculator, freeing up room in the chassis to add on extra logic for the programming functions without changing the physical size of the calculator from the earlier machines.

The AL-1000 was also Casio's first programmable calculator, though its programmability was limited to only 30 steps, and had no conditional or branching capabilities. The programming was somewhat tedios, as the machine did not use learn-mode programming where steps of the program are entered into the machine using the keys of the keyboard to represent each instruction. In learn-mode programming, if the user wanted to enter an add instruction, they would just press the [÷] key on the keyboard. For programming the division function on the AL-1000, the user had to look up the division function in a table, and press a specific digit key on the keyboard to represent the add operation (in this case, the division is programmed by pressing the [9] key). There were fifteen program codes, and only ten numeric keys on the keypad, so some of the programming codes involved pressing a digit key followed by the decimal point [.] key to encode the function. For example, to program the square root operation, the code is "4.", so to program this code, the user would press [4] followed by the [.] key. This would appear on the display as "4.", distinguising it from "4", which is the code for manipulating memory register 1. Thus, in programming mode it was possible for the display to contain multiple decimal points being lit for operation codes for [AC](2.), [KC](3.), [√](4.), Program Stop(6.), and End Program(7.). Other codes that are not defined cause undefined operations, e.g., using program code "8.", which isn't a valid program code, would cause expected operation to occur if accidentally used in a program. The calcualtor did not detect the use of invalid operation codes, and the logic would carry out undefined operations if they were used.

The AL-1000 did have an ability to reset the program counter to the beginning of a program (the "End Program") function, allowing for simple looping, but the user would have to press a key to resume the program at the beginning when the "End Program" code was encountered. But, without conditional testing capabilities, the looping feature had somewhat limited usefulness. The programming was useful mostly for simple linear calculations that did not need any kind of intelligent iteration, and was intended mainly for automating repetitive operations, freeing the operator from having to key in all aspects of a repetitive process. The programming feature also had no ability to embed constants in a program, meaning all constants within a program had to be pre-stored in memory registers in order to be used. This requirement led to crowding of the limited number of memory registers. Casio addressed this to a degree by providing two half-sized memory registers that could be used for storing smaller constants, leaving the four full fourteen digit registers for larger constants and variables within a program.

The AL-1000, due to its relatively low price (~$900US, or ~380,000¥ in Japan) when introduced, and approx. $1,495 when introduced in the US in early 1968.

Casio claims historically that the AL-1000 was the first stored program programmable electronic calculator. There were a number of stored program programmable electronic calculators that were on the market before the AL-1000 was announced, including the groundbreaking Mathatronics Mathatron, as well as the Monroe EPIC-2000. If punched-card programmable calculators (where the program is stored on punched cards rather than in some form of electronic memory), then the Wang LOCI-2 can also be included in the mix.

Some time after the introduction of the AL-1000, an updated version of the calculator, the AL-1000S, was introduced, that added electronics to the calculator that allowed it to be plugged into an external box that provided an interface to a modified typewriter that could accept input and print output for recording the results of calculations.

See the Old Calculator Museum's exhibit on the Commodore AL-1000 for more information on this interesting calculator.