Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Tornadoboy

What could they have done better with the 99/4a?

Recommended Posts

Given what was available and practical at the time, what do you think could have been done differently with the 99/4a?

 

Let me preface that by saying I think it was the best computer available and affordable for the home user at the time, but I thought this might make an interesting discussion. Again we're talking about what was POSSIBLE back then given what parts were available and what wouldn't make it too expensive.

 

Personally I can't think of a lot off the top of my head, I always liked the system. Maybe correcting some obvious mistakes like the alpha lock-joystick problem, which was a simple fix, and certainly a better, less stiff set of joysticks as I think the standards were awful. A reset button would have been nice too.

 

What else?

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would have liked a "DOS CARTRIDGE" that would have given the TI an environment similar to at least TRSDOS 1.3. By today's standards, it was a very simple DOS, but considering what we had to work with,m it would have been wonderful.

 

 

(Example manual attached below)

TRSDOS 13.pdf

Edited by --- Ω ---
  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a very well-beaten horse. Here is the short-list:

 

* Make all 64K of addressable memory be zero-wait-state 16-bit.

* Move the system ROM out of the low address range so the interrupt vector table could be RAM instead of fixed ROM.

* Add a memory pager.

* Expose all the system interrupts.

* Expose the system HOLD and HOLDA.

* Rewrite BASIC/XB to run out of system RAM vs VRAM, and write them in assembly vs GPL.

* Give BASIC/XB peek and poke to RAM/VRAM, and a way to load assembly code (I know XB can).

 

I'm sure others will have more to add.

  • Like 6

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a dabbler in the TI system right now, have some things now that will allow me to explore it, once I have the time, but the thing that jumps out immediately to me is the number of columns on the screen. Don't know if it could have been more given the machine specs in 1981, BUT I know that the first home computer I fell in love with - the C64 - was available to me in a lab that also had VIC 20s, and to my 8 year old eyes, even then, I was immediately drawn to the much better to look at 40 columns of text, compared to the 22 columns of the VIC. I was not exposed to Tis then, but I imagine my reaction would have been much the same seeing the TI's better-than-the-VIC 32, but not-as-good-as-the-C64's 40. I understand, of course, that when the TI was released there was as yet no C64, meaning TI had the better of that comparison, but the C64 came out just a year later, and if I'd seen the TI and the VIC side-by-side in 81, and an Atari 800 with its 40 columns had been available, I am sure I would have gravitated to that.

 

It's just so much easier on the eyes.

 

The other thing, of course, was that initial keyboard on the Ti-99/4 - that was a hiccough that cost the company precious time and money! But that they mostly corrected, although the TI-99/4A keyboard layout isn't what one would hope for. Best keyboard I think of the 8 bits belongs to the Atari 800XL, but I'll note that I never used the 1200XL, whose keyboard is of legendary quality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just a dabbler in the TI system right now, have some things now that will allow me to explore it, once I have the time, but the thing that jumps out immediately to me is the number of columns on the screen. Don't know if it could have been more given the machine specs in 1981, BUT I know that the first home computer I fell in love with - the C64 - was available to me in a lab that also had VIC 20s, and to my 8 year old eyes, even then, I was immediately drawn to the much better to look at 40 columns of text, ...

 

The TI-99/4A did, in fact, have a 40-column screen—still does. It just was not available in TI Basic. Cartridges like Editor/Assembler and TI Writer were required to use the 40-column Text mode.

 

...lee

  • Like 4

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a very well-beaten horse. Here is the short-list:

 

* Make all 64K of addressable memory be zero-wait-state 16-bit.

* Move the system ROM out of the low address range so the interrupt vector table could be RAM instead of fixed ROM.

* Add a memory pager.

* Expose all the system interrupts.

* Expose the system HOLD and HOLDA.

* Rewrite BASIC/XB to run out of system RAM vs VRAM, and write them in assembly vs GPL.

* Give BASIC/XB peek and poke to RAM/VRAM, and a way to load assembly code (I know XB can).

 

I'm sure others will have more to add.

That's most of my list but I have a couple more.

 

A slightly bigger keyboard. It feels a little cramped to me. I have an extra TI keyboard and just set it on my CoCo 2 keyboard.

The CoCo 2 keyboard's numbers stick out from under the TI keyboard by half a key when they are aligned on the other end.

 

The 9995 was an optimized version of the 9900 in the TI-99/4A environment (8 bit + scratch RAM).

Instead of being an 8 bit replacement, it should have just been an optimized drop in replacement for the 9900.

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Good suggestions so far. The 'problem' with the TI back in the computer boom of the 80s was the cost of adding a disk drive and being able to write programs in assembly. That pretty much killed off the homebrew games scene (in the UK) as the Vic20/C64, Atari and ZX81/Spectrum laid their internals open with no expansion needed and adding a disk drive was basically the cost of a drive and plugging it in. No big crazy box or monster plug in side unit needed first. If a software house wanted to port a game to the TI of the same standard as its rival platforms it would have to put it on a cartridge which was beyond the scope of a lot of software houses.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

... A slightly bigger keyboard. It feels a little cramped to me. I have an extra TI keyboard and just set it on my CoCo 2 keyboard.

The CoCo 2 keyboard's numbers stick out from under the TI keyboard by half a key when they are aligned on the other end. ...

 

Well, the TI keyboard is a standard keyboard as far as key size, key spacing and row offsets are concerned. Feeling cramped, if not an illusion, is likely due to the fact that keys like “ENTER”, “SHIFT” and “CTRL” are not as wide as we now take for granted, that “ ~ ` [ ] _ ? ' " | { } \ ` <BS> ” are relegated to “FCTN” key presses and the “TAB” key is non-existent.

 

...lee

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I would have liked a "DOS CARTRIDGE" that would have given the TI an environment similar to at least TRSDOS 1.3.

I think the TRS-80 used a small piece of ROM code that read in a bootstrap program, but it's been a long time since I looked at it.

That might be a better approach if you have more 16 bit RAM.

Then the DOS can be updated without needing a new cart.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

Well, the TI keyboard is a standard keyboard as far as key size, key spacing and row offsets are concerned. Feeling cramped, if not an illusion, is likely due to the fact that keys like “ENTER”, “SHIFT” and “CTRL” are not as wide as we now take for granted, that “ ~ ` [ ] _ ? ' " | { } \ ` <BS> ” are relegated to “FCTN” key presses and the “TAB” key is non-existent.

 

...lee

Du-Oh! I checked again, you are correct.

But it does feel cramped. My pinkies like big keys on the sides.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Then the DOS can be updated without needing a new cart.

 

True, if we are talking tech of the past. With the FinalGROM 99 for instance, one could have a new DOS downloaded and installed in mere seconds. The FG99 cartridge is going to make so many things 'possible'... it remains to be seen if the tech will be fully exploited.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One thing TI could have done differently is to have not so royally pissed off Jack Tramiel that he set out to (and succeeded) destroy TI's computer operations. It would have been interesting to see how it worked out for the 99/4A (and 99/8 etc) if that hadn't happened.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I got a TI either at the end of 1982 or early 1983 when they were discounting them below cost and it's about all we could afford at the time. What saddened me back then was how expensive it was to get this computer into a form in which it could do what the competitors could. The cost to add storage (I only had the cassette program recorder), additional memory, and a more useful programming language were all out of reach for this poor 13-year-old back then. Add to that TI's refusal to allow third-party vendors develop for the machine and keeping the architecture under lock and key (to the point that they redesigned it to purposely lock out Atarisoft's cartridges, a company who was willing to support TI's computer) while the other major brands had so much more software to choose from, it all spelled doom for the computer and sure enough, it died unceremoniously. Their entire approach to marketing it by spending money on getting Bill Cosby to endorse it instead of doing something more useful with that money, attempting to treat it as an educational and business machine while scoffing at the entertainment side of it until far too late in the game - well, we all know how that turned out.

 

The part I never understood is that the Beginner's BASIC book that came with the computer was so well done that it was what made me want to learn how to program computers. TI even had many add-on lessons available as commercial software that helped continue educating the user on how to program it, yet their corporate stance was to discourage anyone from doing any serious commercial development on it for it themselves. After the keys on my TI started repeating while typing more often that not (something that happened with their handheld calculators as well), I finally sold it to a friend, saved up and with my mom's help, got an Apple //c which, looking back, I'm sad to say that it was so much more fun to use (even though I really loved the TI) and there was tons of software available for it and quite easily accessible by that time.

 

The TI still holds a special place in my heart as it is what hooked me on computers way back when I was 13.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

True, if we are talking tech of the past. With the FinalGROM 99 for instance, one could have a new DOS downloaded and installed in mere seconds. The FG99 cartridge is going to make so many things 'possible'... it remains to be seen if the tech will be fully exploited.

Seconds? That long? The TRS-80 read the bootstrap in something like 1 spin of the disk and loaded the DOS in seconds depending on the disk and DOS.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One thing TI could have done differently is to have not so royally pissed off Jack Tramiel that he set out to (and succeeded) destroy TI's computer operations. It would have been interesting to see how it worked out for the 99/4A (and 99/8 etc) if that hadn't happened.

So... TI doesn't implement a policy to keep some parts in house that Commodore needed for their calculators, Tramiel doesn't hold a grudge against TI that caused him to try to kill TI, TI comes out with new models, Tramiel doesn't get booted from Commodore for killing their profits, Tramiel ends up controlling the release of the C16, and Amiga, and Atari... who buys Atari and what's an ST?

 

*edit*

And maybe Commodore doesn't buy MOS. That grew out of the TI anger as well.

Also, maybe Commodore has someone outside continue production of the Plus/4 through an external board house because Tramiel isn't as worried about making everything in-house.

 

Dogs and cats living together....

Edited by JamesD

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Yeah, locking out the Atarisoft cartridges was such a boneheaded move, I wondered at the time what they were smoking down there in Texas. As a percentage of machines sold, it does not appear to be large, but word got around and it led, in part, to the end.

 

You can have the best and most powerful computer in the world, but it's worthless without software. Our little TI is coming out of hibernation after all these years in part because of all the new software and the new hardware that lets people exploit it all at a lower cost.

 

So thanks to people like: Tursi, Rasmus, Matthew180, RalphB, Ksarul, Vorticon, Acadiel, ElectricLab, Fred Kaal, JediMatt42, InsaneMultitasker, Sparkdrummer, Senior_Falcon, Stuart, Sometimes99'er, Airshack, Willsy, Lee Stewart... and many others that don't immediately pop into my head at the moment.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Seconds? That long? The TRS-80 read the bootstrap in something like 1 spin of the disk and loaded the DOS in seconds depending on the disk and DOS.

 

Sorry I meant to upgrade the cartridge, not to load it.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So... TI doesn't implement a policy to keep some parts in house that Commodore needed for their calculators, Tramiel doesn't hold a grudge against TI that caused him to try to kill TI, TI comes out with new models, Tramiel doesn't get booted from Commodore for killing their profits, Tramiel ends up controlling the release of the C16, and Amiga, and Atari... who buys Atari and what's an ST?

 

*edit*

And maybe Commodore doesn't buy MOS. That grew out of the TI anger as well.

Also, maybe Commodore has someone outside continue production of the Plus/4 through an external board house because Tramiel isn't as worried about making everything in-house.

 

Dogs and cats living together....

What if Motorola, intel or Zilog buy MOS and all the rights to the 6500/02... and then discontinue it?

*edit*

In 1975. (Zilog would be out at this date)

Edited by JamesD

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The video chip (VDP) is not often mentioned in these discussions. As a games developer, the biggest problem is probably the CPU RAM to VDP RAM bottleneck. Having shared CPU and VDP RAM would have opened up a lot of possibilities, e.g. vector graphics (and would also have made it possible to run machine code on an unexpanded console).

 

If that was not possible, even some small modifications to the VDP could have helped a lot:

 

- User defined VDP address increment, for instance to be able to read and write the same byte without setting up the VDP address again

- A more useful color palette

- More fine-grained control of location of VDP tables, especially in bitmap mode

- Full support for hybrid bitmap modes, i.e. without sprite duplication bug

- Scanline interrupt

And on my wish list for bigger improvements:

- At least 8 sprites on a line

- Some form of hardware scrolling, even just 0-7 pixels

- Real 4 color bitmap mode

 

An 80 column mode would also have helped to establish the TI's position as a serious computer.

  • Like 3

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

This is a very well-beaten horse. Here is the short-list:

 

* Make all 64K of addressable memory be zero-wait-state 16-bit.

* Move the system ROM out of the low address range so the interrupt vector table could be RAM instead of fixed ROM.

* Add a memory pager.

* Expose all the system interrupts.

* Expose the system HOLD and HOLDA.

* Rewrite BASIC/XB to run out of system RAM vs VRAM, and write them in assembly vs GPL.

* Give BASIC/XB peek and poke to RAM/VRAM, and a way to load assembly code (I know XB can).

 

I'm sure others will have more to add.

I agree, GPL was designed to be a interface for the OS devices and Menu system.

Also GPL is great at handing all types of memory movement in next to no space taken in RAM.

Lastly it has facility to do IO device access enhancing Assembly that would make it to complicated with no standards for Assembly Programmers.

Edited by RXB
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The 9995 was an optimized version of the 9900 in the TI-99/4A environment (8 bit + scratch RAM).

Instead of being an 8 bit replacement, it should have just been an optimized drop in replacement for the 9900.

 

The data bus is 8 lines wide, but the architecture is, of course, still 16 bit, so you should not call it "8 bit". The 8 data bus lines had a tremendous advantage over the 16 lines of the 9900 - the byte accesses were much more efficient, no more read-before-write.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

The data bus is 8 lines wide, but the architecture is, of course, still 16 bit, so you should not call it "8 bit". The 8 data bus lines had a tremendous advantage over the 16 lines of the 9900 - the byte accesses were much more efficient, no more read-before-write.

I was talking about the memory interface, not the internal architecture.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I won;t bitch about hardware, since we'll never know what the machine would have been like has it included the 8 bit processor it was designed for.

 

I know that memory cost a fortune in 1978, and that as a result rom space was limited, but the lack of a simple CAT command in TI Basic has always driven me crazy. The idea that you have to either load a little proggie or insert a cartridge for this most basic of disk functions has always driven me crazy. Yes, I know that most folks couldn't afford a disk drive back then, but including the command in Basic would have demonstrated forward thinking.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The disk controllers from Myarc (HFDC, DDCC-1) included the DIR subprogram, and this was definitely a relief (CALL DIR(drive)).

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
Sign in to follow this  

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...