My TI-99/4a system(s) as of 6/7/10

You must remember this... line

Introduction

I used to keep track of how much money I'd spent; items I'd bought, items I'd sold, costs, losses, duplications. But after a while the list got to be an encumbrance. It is curious that, in spite of the effort, and even though I own all the separate components, none of the configurations I actually use match my original system exactly.

This page does get a little technical and geeky, so if you don't know or care about the details of the TI-99/4a and its third-party components, just skip it.

The original system

The old system was an original black and silver console, speech synthesizer, and a cassette deck. I stuck with that setup for a while, eventually getting a Mini-Memory cartridge and learning assembly programming on that. The fully expanded system included a peripheral expansion box (PE box) with a modified fan. (I kept the beast in the bedroom, worked at it late at night, and I had to keep it quiet.) The PE box held a standard 32K memory card, standard RS232 card, and a CorComp floppy controller and two half-height DSDD capable 5 1/4" Shugart drives. The console eventually held an 80K Gram Kracker (an exotic device described very well here.) The printer was a rock-solid Okidata Microline 92, the joysticks some Atari clone joysticks I can't really remember which had to be connected through an adapter I still have, and a continuing succession of modems that went from 300 baud up to a speedy 2400 baud. (Never did have or use the acoustic coupler.) My first display was my TV, but I soon graduated to a small but excellent 7" TV/monitor with AV inputs, and finally graduated to the Panasonic branded version of the 10" color monitor. I still own and use both the 7" TV/monitor and the Panasonic, and both still work.

These days I'm using 3 1/2" diskettes and some venerable 5 1/4" drives, as well as a new CF drive attachment, attached to a range of hardware in configurations that can and do change according to what I'm up to. In most configurations they're better systems than the one I sold, although, of course, one can still do next to nothing with it that's actually productive. But it's about fun, not productivity. In any case, below are the three most typical configurations I use these days.

System #1: The 'Main' System 

This combination usually includes a speech synthesizer, peripheral expansion box with RS232, 32K memory, and a CorComp disk controller with upgraded eproms. The PE box has two 3.5" drives and drives two more 5 1/4" drives in an external enclosure. A Tandy dot-matrix printer with tractor feed works pretty well on the printer port. No Gram Kracker in the main unit, but instead a couple of other third-party goodies I used to crave but never owned: an antique Horizon RAM Disk, and a newly build P-Gram+ (with clock.) At one point I had a p-Code card as well, which I thought would be neat but wasn't, so I sold it. I keep no modem on the system, but can make serial connections into with a nearby Linux system for a terminal session, or into a windows machine for capturing output. My old 7" TV/monitor is the primary display, because it fits best into my little basement computer rack. And speaking of fitting, that's a flexible ribbon cable that I use to attach the 'fire hose.'

cellar system

This is a 'working' system, but it's down in the basement so not often in use. I don't use the Gram Kracker in it because it doesn't play nicely with the P-Gram+ card. That means that I loose some the custom modifications I made to the TI's 'OS' through the GK, including my beloved modified character set. Nevertheless, the P-Gram+ provides the ability to load modified cartridges, like my ultimate modified Extended BASIC, and it has four banks of GROM/GRAM space instead of only one.

The RAM disk card is a nice addition because of it's ability to run a boot-up menu and hold some key utilities in battery-backed RAM, but it's old and the connections to it's NiMH rechargeable batteries are not so good. I like it, though, and maybe someday I'll finish setting up the menu and it will get it a lithium battery upgrade.

This main system is shown with my basement 'museum/data center' and has easy access to serial ports on multiple old systems. Not shown in this picture is my oldest working PC system: an Intel 386 based tower in which I've installed 5 1/4" and use with the TI99-PC program.

System #2: The GK/Micro system 

This unit usually includes my Gram Kracker (alas I only own one,) a speech synthesizer, and a CorComp 9900 Micro Expansion system, another device I had always coveted. The 9900 includes 32Kb memory expansion, RS232s ports and a (real) diskette controller all in one little box. I use the 9900 with a spare console and an external enclosure holding a 5.25" and a 3.5" disk drive. The GK in combination with the 9900 is the closest match for my original system, and much quieter and more compact.

To complete the match with my original system is an Okidata 92 printer, actually a composite of two that I found. The first one had an excellent print-head and self-tested wonderfully, but the interface board was apparently shot, and I could not get it to print with any combination of cables/computers. Believe me, I tried, because this unit had the OKI ROMS and would have recognized all the control codes in my old software. When the second one came along I snatched it up. It was an 'IBM' OKI, with a normal parallel interface (which worked!) and IBM escape codes in the ROMS. It also had a terrible, worn-out printhead. So I swapped in the nice print head from the first printer, and also reserved those OKI ROMS which, someday, I may try with the IBM interface board. Who knows? In the meantime it's a solid printer, looks great, and works with the OKI-IBM escape codes.

sunroom system

The video on this system is run through a composite to VGA converter (the cheapest I could find on eBay) and into a KOGI LCD VGA monitor. Works quite nicely. I keep all this in a little sunroom adjacent to my office, and use it quite a bit... or at least more often than the big system in the cellar.

System #3: The CF/Play system

Finally there's a console I keep in my summer house. It has a Speech Synthesizer and a CF7a device attached via another flexible ribbon cable, as well as my old 10" Panasonic/TI monitor. The new CF7A+ system includes 32K memory and a parallel port. The CF7A+, hand built one at a time by Jaime Malilong, emulates memory expansion, adds a parallel port for printing, and provides 'disk access' to diskette image files which are in turn stored on a handy CF card. No floppies. To print I have a solid old Citizen's 9-pin.

cape system

Since this is intended (at least partially) to be a game machine, I keep one of my Epyx 500XJ joysticks with it for 'serious' game-playing. I keep the other Epyx at home along with some TI joysticks, and yes, I still own a cassette recorder and the dual cassette cable. Don't use 'em, though.

My wish list

I'd like another 80K Gram-Kracker, because I'd like to... have another one. If the one I have breaks, I'm doomed.

A hard drive controller and RLL drive for my expansion box would be nice, although I understand they're very cranky and also may not be compatible with my CorComp floppy controller. On the other hand, I wish I could find someone to take my two spare expansion boxes...

I might buy another CF device, especially if Jaime or someone adds a serial port option.

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