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Selecting a graphing calculator

There are three major brands of graphing calculators currently on the market: Texas Instruments (TI), Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Casio. Of these three Casio is the cheapest, but Texas Instruments is the most widely used.

If your course syllabus says something like, "a graphing calculator such as a TI-83+ is required for this course, but other calculators may be used," you should interpret that as "Use a TI-83+ for this course if you expect any assistance from the instructor."

TI-83 and related calculators

The TI-83 and its close relatives (TI-83+, TI-83+ Silver, TI-84+ and TI-84+ Silver) have identical functionality. The more expensive models are faster (although for most applications you won't necessarily notice the difference in speed).

This is the calculator of choice for high school students (the more advanced TI calculators may not be allowed in your classes) and for college students not pursuing science or engineering majors. The statistics features in this calculator are more than enough for most social science students and gives a good bridge between pencil-and-paper calculations and more powerful software like SAS or SPSS.

A brief summary of the features of each model is given below. Recommended models are listed first.

TI-83+

A slightly faster calculator with more memory than the TI-83, because this is so popular, these calculators are fairly easy to come by. For most students this represents the best value for a graphing calculator. However, if you're interested in connecting the calculator to your computer, the TI-83+ Silver edition or TI-84+ represent better values.

TI-84+

In the long run, this will be the dominant graphing calculator, especially at the high school level. It comes pre-loaded with a number of applications including Cabri Jr which may become a dominant application for high school geometry classrooms.

TI-84+ Silver

This calculator is distinguished from the TI-84+ primarily by its higher price tag and cooler appearance. Oh and it has a slightly faster processor and more pre-loaded programs. But really, if you're buying this instead of the TI-84+ it's for the looks. Both TI-84+ models come with the USB cable for connection to your computer.

TI-83+ Silver

For students interested in connecting their calculators to their computers, the TI-83+ Silver Edition, with its packaged USB cable, comes in a bit cheaper than the TI-83+ with the TI-connect cable.

However the pricing on this calculator is such that even the TI-84+ is less expensive. If you can get a good deal on a used silver TI-83+, get it, but otherwise, the TI-84+ is a far better deal.

TI-83

This is the oldest and cheapest in the line. There are a lot of these around on the used market, and you can pick one up for around $35. This calculator has been discontinued for a while so you're unlikely to see one new.

Casio FX-9750GPLUS

The pros: This is the cheapest fully-functioned graphing calculator our there.

The cons: You'll be the only one in your class with one. You'll have to figure out how to translate your teacher's instructions into the keystrokes for this calculator. About half of my students who show up with one of these end up buying a TI in the end. The other half swear that it's the greatest calculator available.

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