TI Hardware Developer
The German TI-er, Michael Becker, is certainly the best known non-commercial hardware developer in the TI community. He designed several peripheral cards for the TI Expansion System, mainly in co-operation with the TI programmer Harald Glaab. His products are made to the highest standards for construction, compatibility and user friendliness.
Michael's interest in the TI started in 1983. He was studying electrical engineering and saw the TI-99/4A at a friend’s home. After Texas Instruments quit the production of home computers and prices dropped, Michael purchased a TI console at the end of 1984. His first hardware was a standalone RS232 and a thermal printer. The TI Extended Basic module was expensive and was hard to find, so he bought one made by Mechatronics. A few months later he bought a bare PE Box with only the flat ‘firehose’ cable.
That’s how his hardware experiences started. First he devised a 32Kb memory extension for the console. The empty and therefore in fact unusable PEBox which he had bought gave him the stimulus to build TI PEB cards. He started to reconstruct and improve the RS232 card. When that succeeded, he organized in 1989 the project to build a new disk controller card. The BWG Disk controller got its name from the beginning letters of Michael Becker, Christopher Winter and Harald Glaab. With them a new group called SNUG (System-99 User Group) was set up. The cards were hand built and fully TI compatible. During the first production series Christopher Winter left the group; so BWG was changed to BwG. The production stopped because the main chip of the card became obsolete.
After the disk controller, SNUG interrupted their developments for two years. In that period the German firm Mechatronic brought a number of useful products to the TI-99 market, such as the 80 column sidecar and the PGRAM card. But when Mechatronic stopped producing TI stuff, there was still a large demand for 80 column cards. So SNUG developed the EVPC (Enhanced Video Processor Card) with the Yamaha 9938 and mouse control. Last year SNUG brought out two improved 80 column cards, one with the 9938 and the other with the 9958 video processor.
- In 1995 SNUG found it was time to put more of their own ideas into the development of TI PEB cards. The team of SNUG improved to a higher level. Michael’s knowledge of hardware had grown for that reason and Harald Glaab wrote better and better DSR’s. The group wanted, based on the concept of the TI Expansion Box, to develop a complete new computer with newly developed cards.
- The first step was the HSGPL card (High Speed Graphic Programming Language). This card with Flash-EPROM's made it possible to store several TI modules entirely addressable.
- The central role in the new SNUG computer concept is performed by the SGCPU-card (Second Generation CPU). This card brings the TI-99 computer inside the PE Box and replaces therefore the console. The card is compatible with the TI-99/4A and has an interface that connects an IBM keyboard.
- The SNUG version of the SCSI card was completed in 1999 and it got the name ASCSI card (Advanced SCSI). SNUG corrected the problems with the Western Horizon SCSI card and developed an additional print that has to be mounted on this card.
- At first SNUG had the intention to continue the use of the Horizon RAM-disk. But there were weak points, such as the power supply and a limited capacity. For this reason SNUG made several improvements. An internal cable on the SGCPU card made the RAM disk work on 16 bits. That gave the card the name HRD16 High Speed RAM disk. The DSR is still the original Horizon-DSR under license of OPA.
- In 2001 SNUG developed, mainly based on the interest of Michael himself, a speech card. The speech technology of TI had always intrigued him very much and when Dan Eicher sent him new words in TI speech format, the idea for the SPVMC (Speech and Voice Memory Card) was born. Since then Michael looks everywhere for speech files, for example, in toys, alarm clocks and kitchen equipment.
The cards of SNUG are highly appreciated by the TI community. Michael was honoured two times with the Jim Petersen Award for ‘Hardware’ and he received the John Birdwell Memorial Award. He won the European Edgar Mauk Award three times. The next project of SNUG is (maybe) a new IDE card based on the ASCSI card. But there are more possibilities. Michael is also very interested in the technology of the CC40 of TI with the Hexbus. He sees the Hexbus as a preamble of the USB interface in the current computers.
Michael Becker lives with his wife and three daughters in the German city of Mannheim. In the basement of his house you can find his TI workshop. He calls it ‘the magic basement’. Michael has an engineering job with a big German producer of rail equipment. The technology of Texas Instruments is his main hobby, but there are more. Another is playing with Fischertechnik. He states: ‘My hobby with the TI-99/4A has given me a lot of knowledge, much pleasure and many friends all over the world!’
Inducted into the TI99ers Hall of Fame on September 25, 2005