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A Brief History of Texas Instruments

The company was established in Texas in 1930 as Geophysical Services by Clarence Karcher en Eugene McDermott. Until World War II its main activity was soil analysis for oil companies in the U.S. and the Middle East. Then it's main customer became the U.S. army, for which it made e.g. radar installations.

In the early 50's the name was changed in Texas Instruments. Main activity now was the manufacturing of transistors. A breakthrough that would change the world forever originated from Texas Instruments: in 1958 TI-employee Jack Kilby invented the chip. 42 Years later, in 2000, Kilby would receive the Nobel Price for Physics for his invention. 

In the late 60's Texas Instruments invented the first electronic desktop calculator. A few years later, in 1972, TI came with the first pocket calculator. With these calculators Texas Instruments became well known among a broad public. In the early 80's TI flirted shortly with the home computers market, but it became anything but a romance.
Nowadays Texas Instruments still is one of the leading chip manufacturers in the world.





Welcome to the nostalgic history of home and game computers  

TEXAS INSTRUMENTS TI 99/4 - the competitors shuddered

Big players on the computer market shuddered when chip manufacturer Texas Instruments in 1979 announced to come with an own home computer. Texas Instruments at that time was the number one among the chip manufacturers. Competitors feared that Texas Instruments could make a good deal because it could equip its computers with its own chips.
But things turned out otherwise. Four years after the introduction of the TI 99/4 Texas Instruments, financially tattered by this adventure, was forced to withdraw from the home computer market.

A Striking Computer
The Texas Instruments 99/4 was a striking home computer. It was professionally designed, with a case covered partly with aluminium and partly with black plastic. On the right site was a relatively big, but also well-designed cartridge port.
A disadvantage of the design was the keyboard, that wasn't suitable for intense typing. De keys were small, almost like those on the pocket calculators Texas Instruments manufactured.

Inside the TI 99/4 was equipped with the first 16 bits microprocessor in the world, the TMS 9900. Texas Instruments had began manufacturing the TMS 9900 in 1976; two years before Intel would launch its 8086. Of course, this processor was initially meant for industrial use in computers costing tens of thousands of dollars. But in 1979 it found its way in this little computer for use at home and in schools.

The 16 bits processor TMS 9900:
the heart of the TI 99/4

Steep prices
The TI 99/4 wasn't cheap: in the U.S. the initial price was 1150 dollar, including monitor. In Europe the PAL-version of the TI 99/4, suitable for use with European televisions, appeared not until 1982. Selling price in the Netherlands was ca. 3000 guilders. If a company wanted to even purchase a couple they would be in need of some serious business loans.

Speech Synthesizer
Texas Instruments soon came with several extensions for the TI 99/4. Famous is the Speech Synthesizer, which turned the TI as one of the few home computers of that moment into a computer that could 'speak' and 'listen'. Besides a floppy drive, an acoustic modem and a thermal printer were available. All anything but cheap.

A Short Life in Europe
Especially in Europe the TI 99/4 led a short life. When this home computer was introduced in Europe, at the other side of the Ocean it's successor, the TI 99/4A, was already built. That's why relatively few 99/4's were sold in Europe. Nowadays this machine is a rarity.
And also all over the world far more 4A's then 4's were sold. That's why on this site we pay more attention to the TI 99/4A. You can read more about in on the next page. There we also describe the amazing shortcoming the TI 99/4 and 4A had, despite their 16 bits microprocessor. 



Specifications of the Texas Instruments TI 99/4


Texas Instruments


1979 - 1981


TMS 9900


3,3 MHz


31 KB


16,25 KB 

Text mode

32 x 24 (16 colours), 40 x 24 (2 colours)

Graphic mode

256 x 192




3 channels, 5 octaves, 1 noise


monitor, cassette, cartridge, 2x joystick, extension port


1150 U.S. dollar


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History of Home and Game Computers, by Erik Klooster, the Netherlands

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