Texas Instruments Under Fire for Removing ASM, C Programming Features From TI-83, TI-84 Calculators

Apparently concerned by the possibility for cheating in exams, TI is opting to remove two key hobbyist features from its calculators.

Gareth Halfacree
a year ago β€’ HW101
The TI-83 Premium CE is losing its ability to run ASM and C programs, to hobbyists' dismay. (πŸ“·: Texas Instruments)

Texas Instruments' calculator division has raised the ire of hobbyists with the removal of the ability to run custom software written in assembly (ASM) or C on a number of its more popular calculators β€” ostensibly as a means of clamping down on cheating in exams.

Programmable calculators have been popular with professionals and hobbyists alike since their invention, initially as a low-cost means of experimenting with computer programming without having to spend thousands of dollars on a desk-filling home computer and today as a platform which offers long battery life and surprising compute performance in a pocket-friendly form factor.

Texas Instruments has long benefited from this, encouraging students and hobbyists to pick up its calculators for their projects β€” in 2016 even launching the TI-Innovator Hub, a TI LaunchPad-based add-on for its TI-84 Plus CE and TI-Nspire CX programmable calculators.

Now, though, the company has released a firmware update which removes key functionality from some calculators: the ability to run custom applications written in C or assembly.

"Unsurprisingly, the response here at Cemetech and elsewhere was overwhelmingly negative: although some expressed understanding of the pressures TI is under from exam boards and teachers, and others uncovered sensationalized videos suspected to be part of the impetus for this change, most expressed anger, disappointment, and betrayal," writes Dr. Christopher Mitchell, founder of graphing calculator programming site Cemetech.

"I later spoke with Peter Balyta, President of EdTech at TI, and he understands that removing ASM functionality is a bitter pill to our community. He reaffirmed that this was a difficult decision, but one that was made out of an abundance of caution to prioritize learning for students and minimize any security risks."

Owners of TI-83 Premium CE and TI-84 Plus CE calculators, the two confirmed as being affected by the move, have responded extremely negatively β€” and pointed out that both calculators include a Test/Exam Mode which locks out custom application functionality. Those who have tried TI's Python port, designed as an alternative to ASM and C, have further complained at its lacking performance β€” particularly for graphics operations.

Those who want to cheat in exams, meanwhile, will likely stick to hardware-based hacks β€” such as replacing solar panels with internet-connected OLED displays, using a TI-83 as a Raspberry Pi Zero housing, or even hacking a TI-84 into a functional cellphone.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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