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Popularity and Availability of the PEB


jhd
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I have only very limited experience with the TI-99/4A; I played with a store demo system a bit, and I knew only one or two people growing-up who had one. I do, however, have a couple of questions about the PEB:

 

1) How readily available were these new? Could they be bought at major retail stores (like the computer itself), or where they strictly a mail-order only item?

 

2) How popular were they? Would the "typical" TI user have one, or just people more into programming, esoteric hardware, etc. -- "power users" as it were?

 

Thanks.

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1) you could buy them at most retailers if you had the $, i got my first one used out of the "pennysaver" for 300$ with all the ti cards in like 1984. The retailers stopped carrying them along with the rest of the items that year. I had two in that time period one for my TI and then one for the Geneve when that came out, also the mini-expansion from corcomp as well, which gave 32k, rs232 and ds/dd disks in a fanless small box: http://www.mainbyte.com/ti99/hardware/9900_micro/9900_micro.html

 

2) the typical TI user? Is there such a thing? the users group I was in/ran in the 80's had a high percentage of users with the expansion box, 32k, rs232 and a disk drive. But then the members were almost exclusively adult professionals that could afford those when they came out. (and their kids) lately it seems most of the "new blood" just has a console..

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I have only very limited experience with the TI-99/4A; I played with a store demo system a bit, and I knew only one or two people growing-up who had one. I do, however, have a couple of questions about the PEB:

 

1) How readily available were these new? Could they be bought at major retail stores (like the computer itself), or where they strictly a mail-order only item?

 

2) How popular were they? Would the "typical" TI user have one, or just people more into programming, esoteric hardware, etc. -- "power users" as it were?

 

Thanks.

 

To answer your #1:

 

Yes, you could buy these at places like Sears & Roebuck... in the store. Actually that is where I bought many of my over-priced TI parts back then, like the RS-232 card and acoustic modem. :)

(side note: I've put more money in my original TI than any other

computer I've owned since...... and this one is catching up fast.)

 

Over-priced is the key word here, while available, the price helped limit their purchase. It was not until around 84' or early 85', IIRC that more people started getting P-Box's from places like "$AVE". I had a friend that got his P-Box, Disk drive and controller, as well as the 32K card for only $500.00 shipped to his home.

 

Your #2 question:

 

"Typical", is kind of subjective. When I first got into the TI, hardly anyone had a P-Box, many of the users WHO REMAINED with the TI got theirs after TI pulled out, so as numbers dwindled, the percentage of active users with P-Boxes climbed for a time. Many had dumped so much money into the TI that they probably figured, "In for a penny, in for a Pound". Then as more time went by, most people started abandoning the platform altogether.

 

Now days many of the people who hang out here have P-Boxes as it's still the best way to expand (IMHO) and retain 100% compatibility with everything. I might also mention going the P-Box route does not back you into a self-limiting corner when it comes to future upgrades either.

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Thanks much for the responses.

 

I had a Coco growing up. Other than the cassette deck and a 64K memory expansion, I never purchased any expensive peripherals like the disk drive, multi-cartridge expander, modem, etc. -- and neither did anyone else I knew; these things only existed in magazines and catalogues. To me, the "typical" user just had the base system. I assumed (wrongly) that this would be similar with the TI.

 

I have seen a few TI systems at thrift shops, flea markets, etc., but I do not recall having ever seen a PEB for sale in such places.

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There were a lot more console only users back when the system was new, as TI sold something in the vicinity of 2.5 million consoles, but only a few hundred thousand of the PEBs. The majority of systems that show up on eBay or in thrift stores are still console only systems. That said, there were really two different groups of typical users: the console only crowd with a lot of cartridges (and possibly cassette tapes), and the PEB crowd that went for fully expanded systems (and who often kept going with third-party hardware too).

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I was in Sears with my future wife in '82 thereabouts and droolling over any computer. Earning something like $2.50 an hour made even the $100 Timex/Sinclair a luxury buy that wasn't in the cards. I recall playing with a 99/4 in Sears and the spendy PE box was also there. The 99/4's chicklet keys did not impress and the Timex was more like a cheap calculator. The 4a was more enticing and I looked at Radio Shack's offerings too, but it was all out of reach.

 

I didn't get into any of it till it was much cheaper on the used market. The Timex was my first, I paid $50. TI and Timex both had bowed out some years prior. My dad got into them also at the time, he was down in Mesa, AZ and could browse the giant flea markets down there. He bought an Osborne CP/M, didn't care for it and sent it to me. I lent it to a friend who used it to learn DOS and she started an accounting business she still runs. Just some backstory.

 

After that he found the TI ssystems dirt cheap and got us both a console and some cassettes and we were off together exploring and learning. The TI became both of our obsessions and he upgraded us both to full PE boxes with cards and many carts and manuals so we had near-identical setups. I paid him back for mine as I could, it was around $250 for the works. Similar setups were selling for around $750 and more in Micropendium back then.

 

Later I absorbed a couple other systems as by then I was not going to be without a working TI. By that time I had integrated it into my photography business and used it to time the various darkroom processes I did. It was my worktool, entertainment, mental exercise and diversion. Got on the internet in '94 with it, cutting edge stuff! and damn good memories. Dad and I really bonded by sharing the whole discovery experience.

 

Back to the point, any full system around my area was rare. My second PE box came from a flyboy from Ellsworth AFB who hailed from Texas and was stationed at Ellsworth, paid $350 for all his TI stuff so after that I had two systems up and running at the same time and "multitasked." ;) Not many of us TIers were that involved.

 

-Ed

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Love the backstories!

 

I interviewed Michael Capobianco a few years back -- he was one of the principals of Not-Polyoptics, a third-party software company for the 99/4A from the early days until the late 80s. Their games were listed in TI's official software catalog and they advertised heavily in 99'er Magazine, the main print information source for the TI back then.

 

He told me that their biggest sellers, by something like a 10-1 ratio, were cassette games for the unexpanded TI in BASIC. Even making a 16K Extended BASIC game would chop sales of that title down to a fraction, and games requiring disk drives or memory expansion were scarcely worth the effort to put out, sales-wise.

 

I think a lot of the reason the TI community that we have exists today is the proliferation of "fire sale" hardware after the axe fell in 1983. I imagine a lot of the "fresh from the attic" consoles we see still surfacing on Ebay are from people whose families bought them heavily discounted, played with briefly, and put away. Meanwhile, those frustrated by the high retail price of the expanded systems were quick to grab up that old stock when the big stores started clearance-ing it out.

 

(As a side note to this, I'd theorize that the cassette software probably sold better to isolated TI users back in those days of slow modems and inconvenient copying. More people with disk drives would likely be part of a larger scene or a user's group, where disk copying was more common, so ironically that higher-quality, more advanced software was easier to pirate and sold even fewer copies.)

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Dad and I got a lot of our software via his membership in the Mesa TI group. He photocopied to me the newsletters and the cassettes and later on floppies he got from their library. Second-hand magazines brought us many hand-typed programs we shared via mailed cassettes. Later, dual subs to Micropendium, which I carried nearly to the end of that fine publication. Tex-Writer was one typed-in program from 99er magazine we used to send "letters" to each other that took many minutes to load by the sloth-like data-read. Disks were a dream item till he snagged the two fully-expanded boxes. I still remember my first WOW trying the speech module making it say "dynosore" (had to spell stuff phonetically and I worked at fossil museum) and Double WOW, how fast those 90k disk drives were! We were on a roll!

 

We both bought our share of commercial software, but we weren't above a little pirate copying and sharing of them between us two. Some we bought two copies of, like TI-Base and others both to support the authors/distributors but also to have update support. The majority of the TI packages were all purchased used and they were plentiful and cheap after the fall of TI from the market.

 

Now it's nostalgia but while it was fresh and new it was amazing times for both of us and I'm sure all us TI'ers sharing and learning all the latest tricks. I wrote and edited for newpapers using Funnelweb or TI-Writer and got my Mac-using brother's eyes to pop a bit when I demonstrated how fast a long text could scroll.

 

Still got ALL this stuff parked next to me with extras and spares in the shed, but sadly now mostly collecting dust while I play TI on a Mac emulator. Can't seem to part with it, but should move the doubles on to some of the New Bloods still having fun enjoying the re-discovery of the 99.

 

-Ed

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I haven't spent nearly enough time with my real system lately either. I travel a bit for work and I've bowed to the reality that coding on an emulator is just way easier to fit into life. I've at least made some progress in getting my system back up and ready, but my basement 'war room' ends up being a dumping ground for stuff and it's hard to keep it organized and ready for TI time. I've got a few other systems in various states of setup down there as well, and I need to just spend a weekend cleaning it up and making it usable.

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I am one of those TI users who was console only for a long time, with my only peripheral being a cassette drive. I had 2 carts, namely Adventure and Video Chess. My parents had bought the console for me in 1981 at the height of the market, so it was very expensive for them. Very loving parents :) Unfortunately, that was all I could afford on my own for a long time until I graduated from pediatric residency and started practicing.

My parents to did get me a 256k IBM PC clone in 1986 when I got accepted into medical school, and again it cost them a small fortune. This was light years beyond the capabilities of the unexpanded TI, so the TI got shelved until I got back into it in 1995 when I could afford to splurge a bit, primarily through Competition Computer and Joy Electronics. I discovered the Chicago Faire in 1998 and the rest is history :)

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Them was the days, great recollections! Owning a TI when it was new and "hot" had to be near-magic. By the time I got in, it was old hat though still new to me and the TI was as far beyond the Timex TS-1000 back then as that first PC was to your TI console-only/cassette setup.

 

So far as it went for me, TI suited all my needs until I moved into desktop publishing. I bought many TI packages, even the obtuse and super-nerdy Forth-based Printer's Apprentice, which gave me publishable results after photographic reduction to enhance the final dpi, but dot-matrix printing could only so much and it was hugely slow and tedious.

 

By then, I was able to score a used Mac and could print to inkjet and laser and even do grayscale photos, so I never looked back after that. The TI was still my programming "fix" since there was nothing similar for the Mac that I owned or knew how to use. Macs were more about just running the amazing software, not much of rolling your own amazements or being able to easily list, draw from or modify other's works like you easily can with TI Basic or XB.

 

Years later, that's still the way it is! I can program the TI or the Timex, but that's about it! :lol:

-Ed

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