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The Texas Instruments ninety nine/four: World’s First 16-Bit Home Computer

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In the past due Seventies, non-public computers were beginning to take off, with lots of alternatives from an array of organizations. The Altair 8800 turned into an early entrant, popular among techie customers and builders. Others, along with Radio Shack’s TRS-80 (mentioned with the aid of its critics because of the Trash eighty), the Apple I and II, and the Commodore PET, bought to a more mainstream set of clients.

Industry watchers anticipated TI to have a significant impact in the marketplace—if it could introduce an aggressive product. By 1977, TI engineers had been demanding at work on no longer simply one computer design but 3: 1) a low-stop online game console intended to sell for beneath US $two hundred, with video games stored on ROM cartridges; 2) a personal computer aimed at hobbyists and users of Radio Shack and Apple computer systems, and three) a high quit business computer with nearly 10 megabytes of hard disk storage.

As tends to appear in giant corporations, turf wars broke out. The boundary between the online game and home PC agencies, both of which had been competing for resources in TI’s facility in Lubbock, Texas, started to grow fuzzy. Meanwhile, the enterprise laptop’s intended market overlapped with the minicomputer and portable terminal merchandise, which got here out of TI’s Data Systems Division. Ultimately, the video game and private laptop efforts merged, and the enterprise laptop turned into moved to the Data Systems Division, wherein it changed into regarded with hostility and ultimately killed.

The surviving domestic laptop organization, whose product was now referred to as the 99/4, started out receiving lots of company “assist,” together with pressure to apply TI’s stricken 16-bit TMS9900 microprocessor. Peter van Cuylenburg, who changed into TI’s European advertising division, came up with a modern strategy to this corporate stress. He commissioned a 3rd-celebration contractor to design and build a non-public PC, code-named “Mojo,” the usage of only chips made by way of TI. The contractor used TI’s Intel 8080A further to masses of TI TTL, reminiscence, and different components.

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While Mojo solved the choice for corporate synergy between the agency’s semiconductor and consumer merchandise agencies, the TMS9900 was extra clearly a TI microprocessor. And so, after a chain of discussions and compromises, the Mojo concept became discarded, and the 99/4 ended up using the TMS9900 in addition to the TMS9918 snapshots chip. The 99/4 also ended up with a mixture of functions from the original online game layout (along with an ultracheap keyboard, RF clips to attach to a TV set, and ROM-based packages).

When the ninety nine/4 subsequently emerged in 1979, having somehow transcended three units of TI control, it received typically disparaging critiques. Benjamin M. Rosen of Morgan Stanley, who became then the foremost semiconductor analyst and fast turning into the leading non-public PC analyst as nicely, wrote a humorous article about the frustration of what turned into anticipated to be a primary contender inside the private computer commercial enterprise. A revised version, the TI-99/4A, became launched in 1981 with a higher keyboard, but it wasn’t enough: In 1983, the New York Times referred to as the ninety nine/4 “an embarrassing failure.”

Despite being the world’s first 16-bit domestic computer, the ninety-nine/four, like the microprocessor on which it became based, become a dog. Intended to fulfill very distinct markets, the 99/four and ninety-nine/4A served neither one well. Unsurprisingly, preliminary income was vulnerable. By 1982 Commodore had initiated a charge struggle with its VIC-20 computer, forcing TI first to offer $one hundred rebates and ultimately curb the price from a preliminary $1, one hundred fifty to an unsustainable $49. The price conflict became a top-notch boon to consumers because it made private computer systems low-cost to a miles broader market. I saw the income of the ninety-nine/4A explode, subsequently accomplishing 2.8 million gadgets.

But the ninety-nine/four and ninety-nine/4A were steeply-priced to construct, and the employer lost cash on every domestic PC is sold. One motive they price so much to construct turned into the TMS9900’s unconventional packaging fee. Specifically, the large quantity of connecting pins for a 16-bit microprocessor compelled TI to broaden its packaging era. By the time others entered the sixteen-bit microprocessor marketplace, standard packaging configurations had been advanced to triumph over this trouble.

The 9900 also had a few general performance issues because of its precise “memory to memory” architecture, which used off-chip reminiscence instead of on-chip registers, thus slowing performance. The lower-value TMS9995 chip that accompanied the TMS9900 overcame a number of those issues with an on-chip register record cache; however, there was no clean way to replace the TMS9995 for the TMS9900 in the TI-99/4 architecture.

Meanwhile, most 1/3-birthday celebration software program builders remained reluctant to spend money on packages for the ninety-nine/4A. As the call for the ninety-nine/4A soared, TI initiated a crash application to ramp up manufacturing. But it couldn’t compete with Commodore, which had a low-fee layout and persevered to lower the prices for its computer systems even similarly. Just as TI’s production output took off, demand for the 99/4A started to vanish. In 1983 the agency took a significant write-off of $330 million, and it abandoned the house laptop commercial enterprise the following 12 months. Ironically, with the aid of then, the TI machine had a devoted following amongst users who had bought the 99/4A due to the fact they couldn’t resist its low rate. Remnants of that cult nevertheless exist today.

Interestingly, the TMS9918 pics controller used in the 99/4 collection determined extensive utilization in the MSX preferred for home computer systems, which extensively utilized a Zilog Z80 microprocessor and the CP/M working gadget from Digital Research. The MSX architecture changed into the brainchild of Kazuhiko Nishi, who based a publishing organization referred to as ASCII Corp., which later became ASCII Microsoft. The TMS9918 pix chip, designed via TI’s Karl Guttag, was relevant to the MSX standard and ultimately became utilized in merchandise from sports manufacturers like Coleco and Sega and Sony, Yamaha, and Toshiba. Had the IBM PC by no means come along, the MSX general might have been lots greater broadly followed.

Jeanna Davila
Writer. Gamer. Pop culture fanatic. Troublemaker. Beer buff. Internet aficionado. Reader. Explorer. Set new standards for getting my feet wet with country music for farmers. Spent college summers lecturing about saliva in Libya. Won several awards for buying and selling barbie dolls in Prescott, AZ. Spent a year implementing Yugos in West Palm Beach, FL. Spent several months creating marketing channels for cigarettes in Deltona, FL. Spent 2001-2004 developing carnival rides in New York, NY.