Philippe Michiels delivers the verdict on the latest Texas micro.
Increasing concern about industry-wide standards has meant that big manufacturers – including IBM and Digital – have begun producing hardware running on systems like MS-DOS and CP/M-86. Texas Instruments has now joined the drive for standardised software with the TI Professional.
Texas Instruments selected the Intel 8088 processor in favour of its own 9900 for this very reason, and the result is the Professional – a hardware package that will run much of the industry’s bestselling software.
The unit is supplied with all the necessary hardware and documentation, right down to the plug, but since it is capable of running more than one operating system, the latter is not included in the basic price. This leaves users with the choice of running their favourite software.
The operating instructions are well laid out in five sections, with a particularly clear guide to setting up the system.
Adequate information is provided for adjusting the display and positioning the separate units for comfortable use.
Diskette handling instructions are well explained, and the use of each key on the keyboard is well documented.
Once the system is set up the diagnostic diskette (which is supplied as standard) runs a comprehensive diagnostic test right down to testing each key.
The Professional itself comes in three parts – the system unit. the keyboard and the monitor. The system unit is large for a desk-top, measuring 48 x 43 x 14.5cm. It is metal-cased, and feels heavy and solid.
There is a large illuminated power switch at the side of the case, but there are no other controls, and there is no external fuse or reset switch.
The unit is fan-cooled, but the fan is excessively noisy.
Inside the Professional: the huge PSU dwarfs the disk drives at the top. On the right are the expansion slots.
Removing the top cover – by means of two screws – reveals a sealed power supply, two 5.25in disk drives and the motherboard. The motherboard has a video controller card installed in one of the expansion slots. The review machine also had an expansion RAM card installed. The construction was of a high standard, and all interconnecting cables were neatly tucked away. All connections are made at the rear.
The motherboard contains the Intel 8088 microprocessor running at 5MHz the floppy disk controller, capable of controlling four drives; 64K of single bit parity checked memory; the keyboard
interface; a parallel Centronics printer interface and the expansion interface.
To the rear – on the right are blanked off slots for interface cables/ Video output is the only one present here.
Although there are six expansion slots on the motherboard only five may be used for peripheral expansion. The sixth slot may only be used for RAM expansion.
The review machine was installed with a 192K card, but a 512K card is planned.
One of the expansion slots is required for the video interface card, and this is available in a number of configurations. The minimum configuration is a text card and contains no graphics capability. This card may be expanded to full colour graphics by means of a ‘piggyback’ card.
The review machine also had the full colour graphics option and with this in place the TI Professional still has room for four expansion cards.
Our machine Screen also had a National Panasonic colour monitor. When the monitor was placed on top of the system unit, which is the most desirable position, the display was unsteady. When it was placed away from the system it gave a perfectly acceptable display.
Texas Instruments says this was because it was a US monitor, and that production units certainly will not suffer from this problem.
Controls are provided for brightness and horizontal centring and the screen had good anti-glare properties.
The graphics resolution is 720 pixels horizontally and 300 vertically, with a maximum of eight colours, or eight grey levels on a black and white monitor.
The keyboard is connected at the rear of the system unit by a rather thick coiled cable. It has a tilt adjustment but when used on smooth surfaces tended to slip.
The keys themselves have a positive action and are pleasant to use, although I thought their travel was too great. The keys are switchless and should provide trouble-free operation for a long time.
The machine has a low-profile sculptured keyboard, well laid out with 12 programmable function keys, and separate numeric and cursor control cluster.
The MS-Basic supplied with the review machine had some interesting features. When Basic is started the function keys are loaded with reserved words allowing single key program entry. The ALT key allowed single-key reserved word entry.
Program editing was relatively easy since Basic allows you to place the cursor on any visible portion of text for rapid re-entry using the ENTER key.
The function keys INSERT and DELETE may also be used to edit text lines. The Basic has powerful inbuilt graphic commands. PALETTE allows any of the eight colours to be instantly redefined.
The commands CIRCLE and LINE allow circles, lines and blocks to be drawn by one command. Circle drawing is not as fast as one would expect from an 8088, but pie-charts can be drawn at acceptable speeds.
The commands GET and PUT allow the program to fetch a graphics object from the screen memory and then redisplay it at any other location on the screen.
The command PAINT is used to fill in graphic objects with a particular colour.
Basic allows the keyboard to be redefined using the KEY function and can be used to program the function keys with user information.
MS-DOS, CP/M-86, Concurrent CP/M-86 and UCSD P-system all run on the TI Professional. Hardware options include CP/M-80, additional floppy disk drives and the TI Winchester drive offering up to five megabytes of storage space. A speech input/output card will be available later.
The TI Professional is a good looking, albeit slightly bulky, desktop machine with impressive colour graphics at a reasonable price. The choice of two of the most popular operating systems means that many software packages will be available for it, and it already has Easy Writer and MultiPlan implemented for MS-DOS.
The documentation for the system and software is well presented and the inclusion of section tabs and clear indexing makes it easy to use.
Overall, I would say this robust machine is well worth the price.
- Price: £2,075
- Processor: 8088, 5MHz
- RAM memory: 64-256K
- ROM memory: 8-16K
- Text screen: 80 x 25
- Graphics screen: 720 x 300
- Keyboard: full travel, 97 keys, 16 function keys
- Interfaces: Centronics, others optional
- Storage: 320K double-density. double-sided disks
- OS/Language: MS-DOS and MS-Basic
- Others: Cobol, Fortran, Pascal
- Distributor: Texas Instruments
- Software supplied: none (user selected)
First published in Personal Computer News, 1st April 1983