The Texas Instruments ninety nine/4: World’s First 16-Bit Computer

In the past due Seventies, non-public computers were beginning to take off, with masses of options from an array of agencies. The Altair 8800 became an early entrant, popular among techie users and builders. Others, such as Radio Shack’s TRS-80 (referred to by way of its critics because the Trash eighty), the Apple I and II, and the Commodore PET, sold to a more mainstream set of clients.

Industry watchers anticipated TI to have a huge effect available on the market—if it managed to introduce a aggressive product. By 1977, TI engineers had been hard at paintings on no longer simply one pc layout but 3: 1) a low-quit video game console supposed to sell for beneath US $two hundred, with video games saved on ROM cartridges; 2) a private laptop aimed at hobbyists and customers of Radio Shack and Apple computer systems; and 3) a high-cease commercial enterprise pc with almost 10 megabytes of hard disk garage.

As has a tendency to occur in massive agencies, turf wars broke out. The boundary between the online game and domestic laptop agencies, both of which have been competing for resources in TI’s facility in Lubbock, Texas, commenced to develop fuzzy. Meanwhile, the enterprise laptop’s meant marketplace actually overlapped with that of the minicomputer and portable terminal products, which got here out of TI’s Data Systems Division. Ultimately, the online game and personal computer efforts merged, and the business pc become moved to the Data Systems Division, in which it become considered with hostility and finally killed.

The surviving domestic laptop institution, whose product was now known as the 99/4, started out receiving masses of company “assist,” along with stress to use TI’s bothered 16-bit TMS9900 microprocessor. Peter van Cuylenburg, who changed into in TI’s European advertising and marketing division, got here up with an innovative solution to this company pressure. He commissioned a third-birthday celebration contractor to design and construct a non-public computer, code-named “Mojo,” using only chips made with the aid of TI. The contractor used TI’s model of the Intel 8080A in addition to plenty of TI TTL, memory, and different additives.

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While Mojo kind of solved the choice for corporate synergy between the organization’s semiconductor and consumer merchandise groups, the TMS9900 become extra truly a TI microprocessor. And so after a series of discussions and compromises, the Mojo idea was discarded, and the ninety nine/four ended up the use of the TMS9900 in addition to the TMS9918 snap shots chip. The 99/4 additionally ended up with a combination of capabilities from the authentic video game design (which includes an ultracheap keyboard, RF clips to attach to a TV set, and ROM-based packages).

When the 99/four in the end emerged in 1979, having come what may transcended 3 sets of TI control, it acquired normally disparaging evaluations. Benjamin M. Rosen of Morgan Stanley, who become then the leading semiconductor analyst and speedy becoming the main private computer analyst as well, wrote a funny article approximately the disappointment of what turned into predicted to be a primary contender inside the personal pc business. A revised model, the TI-ninety nine/4A was released in 1981 with a higher keyboard, but it wasn’t sufficient: In 1983, the New York Times known as the ninety nine/four “an embarrassing failure.”


Despite being the world’s first sixteen-bit domestic computer, the ninety nine/four, like the microprocessor on which it become primarily based, become a canine. Intended to satisfy two very extraordinary markets, the ninety nine/four and ninety nine/4A served neither one nicely. Unsurprisingly, initial sales have been vulnerable. By 1982 Commodore had initiated a rate battle with its VIC-20 computer, forcing TI to first provide $100 rebates and subsequently shrink the fee from an preliminary $1,150 to an unsustainable $49. The rate struggle became an outstanding boon to purchasers, because it made personal computers lower priced to a much wider marketplace. TI noticed sales of the 99/4A explode, ultimately reaching 2.8 million units.

But the 99/4 and ninety nine/4A were steeply-priced to construct, and the organization misplaced money on every home laptop it bought. One purpose they price a lot to construct become the excessive price of the TMS9900’s unconventional packaging. Specifically, the big quantity of connecting pins for a sixteen-bit microprocessor forced TI to develop its own packaging era. By the time others entered the 16-bit microprocessor marketplace, widespread packaging configurations had been evolved to triumph over this problem.

The 9900 also had a few performance problems due to its precise “reminiscence to reminiscence” architecture, which used off-chip memory in preference to on-chip registers, as a result slowing performance. The lower-price TMS9995 chip that accompanied the TMS9900 overcame a number of those issues with an on-chip sign in document cache, but there was no easy manner to alternative the TMS9995 for the TMS9900 within the TI-99/4 structure.

Meanwhile, most 0.33-celebration software program builders remained reluctant to spend money on programs for the 99/4A. As demand for the 99/4A soared, TI initiated a crash application to ramp up production. But it couldn’t compete with Commodore, which had a low-value layout and persevered to decrease the charges for its computers even similarly. Just as TI’s production output took off, call for for the 99/4A started out to fade. In 1983 the organisation took a large write-off of $330 million, and it deserted the home computer commercial enterprise the following 12 months. Ironically, by using then the TI system had a devoted following amongst customers who had bought the ninety nine/4A due to the fact they couldn’t withstand its low fee. Remnants of that cult nonetheless exist today.