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I brought my Casio fx-83 ES in my first year of university. It was the recommended calculator at the time by my university (Kingston upon Thames) and is now one of only two allowed in examinations.
You can't really get more reliable than a Casio, not in my experience anyway. That being said I buy a brand new one at the start of each academic year. That is the other main advantage of a FX-83 ES: very cheap. I buy it from the local ASDA at around £6, they usually have a deal on at the start of the school year. I have never had one of these fail on me and as an engineering student I use daily and, as you can imagine, it takes a few knocks.
The functions of the Casio FX-83 ES are almost limitless, and with a competent user there is very little that you would want to calculate that it can't handle. There are two exceptions to this however. Firstly it can't handle matrices and wasn't designed to. There is no option to do so and this is usually the reason universities favour it, I would imagine so anyway. The second major drawback that anyone would experience is the length a single calculation. I would imagine that any Engineering, Maths or physics based student would not be effected by this until they move onto there final year, as the space for a single equation is reasonably long. When your approaching the maximum length of equation the calculator slows down considerably and often you may press keys that do not register when the following key press does.
Personally I don't read the instruction manual that comes with the calculator, and I would imagine most people don't. Despite this the interface is really simple and user friendly. I find that the best way to use a new calculator is to have a play around and see what it can do.
Overall the value for money on the Casio in possibly better than any product I have every brought, I get more use out of the Casio FX-83 ES than any other product. All in I would recommend it to any reader who is looking for a easy, reliable scientific calculator.