Texas Instruments TI-99/4A

This wasn’t the first computer I ever used. (That was a TRS-80 Model I in 1980, when I was in 4th grade.) This wasn’t the first computer for which I wrote software. (That was my grandfather’s TRS-80 Color Computer.) It was, however, the first computer I had at home. We bought one in early 1983, not long before TI dropped support for the machines. We had a fairly basic setup…16K, a Radio Shack tape recorder for saving programs, an old Sears 19″ TV for a monitor, and a handful of cartridges. Upgrades that cost more than we paid for the computer in the first place led us to get an Apple IIe a couple of years later (which has since morphed into the mighty “Stealth IIGS”). The computer, along with the TV, got left behind in 1988 in West Germany (as it was then called) when we returned to the States from an overseas posting.

It’s 20 August 2001 as I write this. Three days ago, I received a package with a TI-99/4A and a bunch of other goodies from an eBay auction. It came with almost all the cartridges I had back in the day, plus many more that I didn’t have (including a couple of TI Extended BASIC cartridges…if only I had had one of those :-) ). Here’s the inventory:

  • The computer itself, in the older black-plastic-and-brushed-metal case with matching black keyboard, power transformer, and RF modulator.
  • One pair of the standard TI joysticks.
  • The optional speech synthesizer (mondo cool gadget).
  • Utility cartridges:
    • TI Extended BASIC
    • Speech Editor
    • Music Maker
  • Game cartridges:
    • A-Maze-Ing
    • Adventure
    • Alpiner
    • Chisolm Trail
    • Donkey Kong
    • Hangman
    • Hunt The Wumpus *
    • Hustle
    • Indoor Soccer
    • Mind Challengers *
    • Munch Man
    • Parsec
    • TI Invaders
    • Tombstone City *
    • Video Chess
    • Video Games I
    • Yahtzee
  • Education software:
    • Addition and Subtraction I
    • Beginning Grammar
    • Computer Math Games II
    • Division
    • Early Learning Fun *
    • Early Reading
    • Multiplication
    • Number Magic
    • Percents

The starred cartridges, plus Car Wars, are what I had the first time around. (Early Learning Fun was for my sister, but I think she never used it. I tended to “monopolize” the computer…both the TI and the Apple that came after it. :-) )

The out-of-the box hardware configuration for a TI-99/4A is something like this:

    • 3-MHz TMS9900 16-bit microprocessor, one of the first 16-bit microprocessors, and the first used in a PC
    • 16K RAM, expandable to 48K.

One expansion port on the side. Some peripherals, such as the speech synthesizer, plugged into this port in daisy-chain fashion. The Peripheral Expansion System was also available, which plugged into this port and offered eight expansion slots for memory, serial and parallel interfaces, disk controllers, and more.

  • Integrated 16-color graphics with a 32×24 text display with reprogrammable character set and [additional capabilities that I need to look up]
  • Ports for two digital joysticks and two cassette recorders, the latter for program and data storage.
  • Integrated 47-key keyboard with upper/lowercase input and auto-repeat.

In the past few weeks, I’ve built up a small collection of 99/4A links. Here are some of the better ones; they have more comprehensive links themselves.

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