When you screw up like Texas-Instruments in the ’80s with the TI-88, what do you do to recover? You reheat your leftovers and serve it along with some namasu-kiri for a fresher taste (膾). Flashback: five years after the release of the TI-59, Texas-Instruments woke up and decided to refresh its aging calculator line, hoping to compete with the remarkable HP-41 system by Hewlett-Packard. In essence, drop the old red LED display and the doorstopper form factor, and slimdown, use an LCD while conserving the original machine’s spirit. The TI-57 LCD is the archetype of this transformation. But, where the 57 LCD was a success and had a long life, the 59’s replacement, the TI-88, never reached the stores. Which makes it one of the most expensive and sought-after prototypes in the collector ring.
I recall considering buying the infamous 88 to upgrade my PC-1211. It seems that Texas-Instruments was so late in the game with the 88, that it realized it wouldn’t have a chance competing against the Japanese BASIC-programmable pocket computers. But TI failed again with its next response: The Compact-Computer or CC-40. I presented this computer here.
So, to stay in the game, TI launched the TI-66 in 1983. This calculator, designed and manufactured by Toshiba – using all Toshiba parts – is conceptually a reheated 58C (the constant-memory version of the 58, less powerful than the 59). The calculator lost its LED display for a tilted and, therefore, easy-to-read LCD screen. The other main innovation is the landscape layout, similar to the Voyager line by Hewlett-Packard. I appreciate this format very much. Other changes vs. the 58C: exit the ROM modules – too bad, that was a plus for TI –, a noticeable performance drop, and a unique expansion option: the PC 200 printer (a refreshed version of the PC-100 – presented here). Regardless, for $70, it is hard to compete with this calculator. With 170 scientific and statistical functions, it is complete. It uses the direct algebraic notation and can be key-stroke programmed (500 steps, ten registers, 72 labels, and six levels of subprogram). Not bad at all, and dirt cheap. Because the 66 had a moderate market success, and because it has some historical value in the TI product lines – besides the fact that is is really a Toshiba calculator –, it worth collecting. So, when I found one in NOS condition, I pulled the trigger.
To conclude today’s port, I have an amusing anecdote about the 66. A good friend of mine had a 66 in the early ’80s, and I recall wondering, from a distance and the first time I’ve seen him using the calculator, what was the purpose of the blue-red indicator on the top of the machine? A memory use indicator, a temperature gauge? As often in life, the reality is disappointing: it is the on-off switch. Enjoy your WE!