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

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I had the TI-99/4 in 1980 - $450 w/rebate, loved the machine! Went to Dallas area TI User's Groups and got really excited about computing. BASIC was slow compared to the competition. XB (another $90) was cool but collision detection was hampered by the slow BASIC. Cassette storage got old so I looked into a disk drive option. Cost was staggering! I needed to sell my TI-99/4 to get the newer TI-99/4A. Numbers didn't add up. By 1981 the Apple ][+ seemed to be the best deal. Fully expandable with disk drive for less than the cost of a loaded PEB.


Apple had lots of software on computer store walls. The Apple 2 itself made VIC-20 and the TRS-80 Color Computer look like toys. Atari-800 would also have been a good choice at this time...maybe a better choice. The Atari was clearly the most powerful of the day but seemed to have less software availability. The Atari name probably influenced my decision in a negative way as it sounded like a video game console. I was happy with the Apple2+...eventually upgraded to the Apple //e which stayed my main system for five years. Apple2 graphics and sound are horrible when compared to the TI. As a BASIC programmer I was very disappointed with Apple2 graphics. Woz pulled off all kinds of digital-yoga moves to get that think working in color. The speaker beeps and clicks! Enough said. Still, Apple 2 was supported by many software publishers and hardware manufacturers because it was wide open.


IMHO the TI-99/4A is probably the most interesting machine of the era due to all of the peculiarities and mis-steps made by Texas Instruments. I agree with OX, "the competition just ran straight out of the box." TI should have never made the PEB. They should have made a new computer with RS-232, disk interface, and more RAM...and a cheap expansion port like Atari's serial deal. They held on to a bad design and tried to use the PEB to save face. It's all very confusing to understand why the PEB was a solution and not just another computer in its place?


I'd like to read interviews to see why these decisions were made. So far all I've read on the subject is the Orphan Chronicles. Any good sources out there to map out TI's thought process? 

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You bring up an interesting point.  TI attempted to rectify the expansion situation with Hex-Bus, and it was going to be included in the computers introduced in 1983.  If it had been there from the outset, I think the 99/4A would have been more successful.  Had TI gone ahead and released the Hex-Bus interface for the 99/4A, all you’d really need is a Speech Synthesizer, a sidecar 32K and the Hex-Bus interface and the expansion peripherals would have been very competitively priced with Commodore and Atari.

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Posted (edited)

Hi folks,


From what many of you have written in your messages, many thoughts are way to complicated. It is much simpler. Following things TI could have done better with the 99/4a:

-built-in 32kB RAM

-built-in Extended Basic

-built-in RS 232 interface for a printer




Edited by MueThor

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The benefits of 20/20 hindsight are plentiful, but considering TI was one of the first out of the gate, I am in no position to judge.  I am however eternally grateful to those 3rd party manufacturers and today's hobbyists that have improved upon and have expanded this little machines potential to the point that we are STILL having fun with it 35+ years later.

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On 4/24/2017 at 1:57 PM, PeBo said:

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.

   Yes! Yes! Yes! Me too. To this day I despise TI Disk Manager cartridges. The way the system manages disk drives is so after-market, it hurts. 


 The original TI-99/4 with it’s BASIC manual proved an excellent introduction to computing. It was fun saving and loading games from cassette. This was advanced stuff for those crossing over from video game consoles. The machine really got me excited about game programming. I didn’t mind the chicklet keyboard because I hadn’t anything to compare it to.


   Then came the giant anvil to my 16 year-old dreams. The Extended BASIC cartridge. That one got me very excited at the time it was released. I believe I willingly paid $90. After a few days of using it I realized the damn collision detection call was virtually useless due to the sloth pacing of XB itself. Many issues listed on this thread explain why.


   What good is a fast sprite if you can’t find it’s actual location in a timely manner?


   The final nail in the coffin for me was the price of a new 99/4A console, and a reasonably equipped PEB. Way too expensive. Hello Apple ][+.


   Apple // graphics and sound were inferior to the TI but everything else was better. Plus, tons of software due to the open architecture approach. Why was this obvious to a very average 16 year old but not the TI leadership?


   IMHO the giant military grade PEB is an attempt to save face. TI should never have tried to save the 99/4 via the 99/4A + Fire-Hose PEB route. They should have designed a new grown-up computer right away. 


   Admit failure, liquidate stock, learn from your mistakes. Was the 99/4 ever salvageable with all these mostly unnecessary restrictions we’ve listed on this thread? 


   Apple/Atari/Commodore/Tandy didn’t need a giant expensive PEB to get the computer to behave like an adult. Maybe the first TRS-80s did but not the others.


   How about a 99/8 with internal expansion slots, built-in serial port, 32k expandable to 64k, and plug in disk drive? 


   Anything less was doomed to fail.


   Unfortunately, the only computer the 99/4A + PEB combo bested was the 99/4.


   Which is not to say I don’t love this machine. I do. Just...someone in Lubbock decided to put lipstick on a pig.


   What TI could have done better was learn from their mistakes and start over.


   In the mid to late 80s Tramiel and Shiraz Shivji (C-64 fame) at the then smallish Atari Corp, with a shoestring budget, created an entirely new ST line, including the 68000 16-bit Atari ST models, in less than seven months. After a frenzy of designing, programming, and testing, Atari Corp was able to produce FIVE working prototypes in time for Winter CES 1985. FIVE new computers! The entirely new 68000 "Jackintosh" ST models in only five months!


   Maybe big bad TI lacked a sense of urgency?


   TI should have cowboy’d-up and started over by early 1981. They could have dominated the 1981 Christmas season with a world beater.

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