Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TI-99/4A Home Computer

Ahh, the Texas Instruments Home Computer. A humble little silver box that’s near and dear to my nerdy little heart. It was my first computer. It was, of course, grossly out of date by the time I laid my tiny hands on it in, oh, 1991 or so, the original model having been first released in 1979.

The TI-99 4/A was the upgraded version of Texas Instruments entry into the “Home Computer” market, a sector of the computer market that experienced modest success in the 80’s and is acknowledged by few today save various roving sects of hardcore nerds. These machines were the first affordable introduction to personal computing for many families, costing hundreds when machines from Apple or IBM rang up in the thousands. They were largely all-in-one consoles, with built-in keyboards and attachments for using your TV as a display.

You’ll notice the cartridge slot on the right. These machines were billed as computers, but their function in most homes was first and foremost as game machines. Many games popular in arcades and on the atari were ported to the TI-99 and competing systems like the Commodore VIC-20.

The 99 could do more than play games, though. It was highly expandable, and many first and third-party expansion cards and peripherals were released, including a printer, a modem(acoustically coupled! You strapped your phone to it. Really! Ask your grandpa how much fun it was!) and a speech synthesizer. 

One thing the TI-99 did not have an abundance of was commercial software. Programming your computer yourself was part and parcel of owning a home computer. I myself never had a disk drive, which meant I couldn’t save any programs I wrote. My attention span being what it was, I mostly stuck to playing games on cartridges. Still, the TI-99 provided me with the first taste of experimenting with how computers work. Simply getting the computer to run something I’d written was as amazing to me then as any modern HD pixel-shaded tech demo.

It was a great beginning.


  1. Hmm this was a generation of computer technology that I had no previous knowledge of. Is that little black space in the lower right hand corner a screen?

  2. Nope. It hooks up to a tv(it has those two wires you screw on to the back of the tv...if you remember that). That part's just a plastic gaurd for when you're sliding the cartridge in...that part got pretty warm when the computer was on! I think the cpu was under there...

  3. I didn't know Texas Instruments ever made anything other than calculators. Definitely cool, I love older gadgets.


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