My first computer: A Tandy 1000

John Sheesley describes his first computer: a TI 99/4a.

Last week, Jason Hiner’ mentioned that his first

computer was a

Mac Classic. He also asked other TechRepublic members what their first computers were.

My first computer was actually a TI 99/4a. This was a

computer that my parents bought when I was still in high school. It was a nice

little unit. Texas Instruments actually sold a lot of them in the early 80’s

but got scared when IBM entered the market with the PC and bailed out.

As you can see from the image below, the TI 99/4a was all

integrated in once piece, kind of like the Commodore 64. Mine had a whopping

16Kb of RAM. I forget the speed of the processor, but I don’t think it was over


There was a cartridge slot on the front that you could use to

play games with. You could attach a joystick to it. For external storage your

basic choice was a cassette recorder.

(Yes, like the kind you record voice on.) To get any real work done however, you needed

to drop several hundred dollars on an expansion kit that would take you to a

phenomenal 64K and could host full height floppy drives. We never got that.

The first computer I purchased with my own money was a Tandy

1000. The Tandy 1000 was Radio Shack’s first successful IBM compatible. Its predecessor, the Tandy 2000, was actually

more advanced than the IBM PC at the time but wasn’t compatible enough and

died a slow lingering death.

The Tandy 1000, shown below, was actually a clone of the

ill-fated PCjr. As such, it ran all of

the regular programs for the IBM PC, but had an enhanced sound chip and better

graphics than the basic IBM PC. You could run 16 colors at 320x200 where the

basic IBM CGA graphics limited you to 4 colors. It wouldn’t be until the mid

1980’s when EGA became more popular that you could run that many colors on an

IBM compatible.

Tandy 1000

I went ahead and bought some of the extras for it. An

internal 300 baud modem ($175 – 1200 baud was just TOO fast and TOO

expensive). A 2d half-height 360K Floppy

drive ($150 – no FULL height floppy drives like those PCs). I didn’t

immediately get the color monitor - I stuck with a green screen.

I also didn’t get the extra memory at first. The Tandy came with 128K of memory which displayed in

giant numbers when you booted the machine. My roommate who was a Computer

Science major took a look at it the first time it started up and said “128K?!

What are you going to do with THAT much memory?”.

Actually – nothing. You could do hardly anything in 128K with

a PC-compatible. The first thing I did to buy an expansion board to


it to 640K. Then I got an external 10Mb hard drive. And a color

monitor. When I outgrew the 10Mb hard drive, I put an internal 40Mb in

it which is still there.

My last major purchase for the computer was a 286 accelerator board for it that sped it up

about 6 times. The card had an 8Mhz 80286 with a ribbon cable on it. You’d disconnect

the 8088 CPU that came with the computer and plug the cable in. Then you’d put

the card in an available slot, load the DOS device driver in CONFIG.SYS and

zoom… off you went.

I still have my old Tandy 1000. It’s sitting on my desk in my

home office. It’s a great little machine and it still works. I also use it as a

baseline to remember how things used to be and as a measure against modern day


For example – I have a copy of Windows 2.03 installed on it. I

can turn on the Tandy, have it go through its startup routines and boot

DOS and Windows 2.03 before my 3.0Ghz Dell here at the office boots Windows

XP. How’s that for 20 years of progress?