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back to article MSX: The Japanese are coming! The Japanese are coming!

MSX: three initials that struck fear into the heart of Britain’s nascent home computer industry. The Japanese were coming, and the UK’s technology pioneers were anxious about what that might mean. Far Eastern firms like Sony, JVC, Sanyo and Pioneer had put paid to Britain’s mass-market hi-fi makers, and others had killed the …

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I loved them.

I had a Mitsubishi version. Penguin adventure, Nemisis, Nemesis II, Knitemare, Knitemare II, Salamander - which I got as a runner up prize in C&VG. I wanted the Yamaha CX(?) though for the keyboard. Great days.

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Re: I loved them.

Yamaha CX-5m...I had one of those very professional looking grey boxes. Thought myself quite the Jan Hammer when I was using it, but was likely more tool-like than anticipated. My Atari ST which arrived a few Christmases later was the nail in its coffin.

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Stop

shurly some mishtake

"The platform Spectravideo came up with, and which was later refined by Nishi and his Japanese hardware partners, comprised the popular buy ageing 8-bit Z80A processor clocked to fractionally less than 3.6GHz."

3.6Ghz in the 1980's?? almost Twenty years before its time, and in some cases latter.

I've only managed to overclock a C2D to under 3Ghz for a while before giving it up as a bad idea and fell back to 2.13Ghz.

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Re: shurly some mishtake

ack, you beat me to it.

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Re: shurly some mishtake

Whats a couple of powers of ten between friends eh?

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Ahh memories

Toshiba HX-10 here... only got rid the other year, only thing wrong with it was one of the pins on the joystick port had snapped off.

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There was a british camera industry?

Just asking.

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Re: There was a british camera industry?

Not really.

Cameras have traditionally been German or Swiss here - with many German makes marketed as Swiss post 1945 for reasons of actually wanting to sell some.

At the low low end, they were American and at the "enthusiast" end, well, a good friend of mine still makes her own pinhole cameras and takes some remarkable pictures.

http://slowlight.net/ - see for yourself.

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Re: There was a british camera industry?

Er, yes indeed.

Loads of UK makers of both cameras and lenses from the turn of the 20th century and earlier; names like the Houghton Butcher, Wray, Ross were common and Micro Precision was making military cameras through the second world war - and press cameras in 4*5 after it. My Micro Precision Press still gets regular use sixty years after it was made... and let us not forget that sole survivor of the UK's celluloid/silver film industry: Ilford.

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Sinclair Loki

Oddly enough the alleged specification of the Loki 'Super Spectrum' looks pretty similar on paper to the MSX2.

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No mention of great games like kings valley or time pilot? And wasn't the orginal MSG released on the MSX? Burnt out the CPU fan playing gaunlet.

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Burnt out the CPU fan playing gaunlet.

There were no CPU fans back then. Really. There weren't even fans for the transformers and rectifiers inside those little boxes.

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>And wasn't the orginal MSG released on the MSX?

Mono Sodium Glutamate? Don't worry, we know you meant MGS! :) Metal Gear, and Metal Gear II: Solid Snake were on MSX-2, Metal Gear Solid was on Playstation.

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I am not sure which model of MSX I had, I didn't see any photos of it in the article but there was defintely a fan inside and after a few years it started to shut itself down because it was overheating.

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I love articles like this on the Reg.

I have a well loved Panasonic MSX 2 at home on my desk, mainly for the ability to play the original Metal Gear games. I think it was one of the few that was actually sold in the UK as it comes with a UK plug and works without a stepdown.

It is one of my most prized possessions, not because of its rarity but because of its unassuming charm.

Can we have more articles like this please El Reg?

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Me too

They have done a number of look backs at old stuff im too young to know about over the years, quite often when some iconic bit of gear or software reaches a 10, 20 or 30 year birthday - I think its time they created a dedicated "old stuff covered in cobwebs" section on the site so that we can find them all easily!

Could call it, "El Reg's shed" or "Take me up the loft hatch!"

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Indeed.

I think anyone who gets a little bit excited when they read about things like the Psion NetBook or the Commodore CDTV would get a lot out of this.

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Boffin

Metal Gear!

I have a well loved Panasonic MSX 2 at home on my desk, mainly for the ability to play the original Metal Gear games.

Heh, the only reason I even know about the MSX computers is precisely because of Metal Gear! Somewhere among my backups I have an MSX2 emulator which I originally got only to play the first two Metal Gear games (somehow, I got hold of a fan translated version of Metal Gear 2!) but I later started monkeying around with MSX-BASIC itself. It was definitely impressive what these computers were able to do, taking into account they're from the late 80's!

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Could call it, "El Reg's shed" or "Take me up the loft hatch!"

These two are quite good...

old-computers.com

obsoletecomputermuseum.org

Pretty good info but nowhere near up to the level of the Reg articles.

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Linux

Snatched from the cradle

A Toshiba HX-10, my first computer, albeit a little late to the MSX party in 1989. I was 6 years old. You could say that Microsoft snatched me from the cradle. Luckily, I escaped. (-;

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F1-11

The only time I saw an MSX was in publicity shots for atrocious post punk band Sigue Sigue Sputnik in the early 80s. IIRC each member had an item of new technology including a Sony Watchman, a Keytar and an MSX.

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Anonymous Coward

Mine was the one with Hit Bit written on it

Bought because, let's face it, the Japanese weren't in the habit of failing. Oops. Loved the Konami games though.

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Re: Mine was the one with Hit Bit written on it

Hell yes, it's amazing what Konami and a large ROM cassette could do with that crappy TI graphics thing (on an 8-pixel wide strip, chose two colours, no more!) and the Z80.

"Penguin Adventure II" and "Nemesis" ... back then I thought the graphics were amazing.

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Makes me miss my beloved Atari 1040 STf, 1Mo RAM, 8Mhz...

I run an emulator these days, but i does not feel the same... G'd old times... these computers had SOULS.

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I don't think it was the computers that had souls, but the people using them.

Any old pleb can buy an xbox or ps3 or wii these days. In the old days, you had to be committed.

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I remember seeing adverts for MSX and my father may have printed those Haymarket magazines, we printed a lot of their titles at the time. I think they marketed themselves poorly in the UK because I thought they were business machines and had no idea there were games available for them. In the UK home computer market of the time you needed to be able to compete with Sinclair & Commodore for number of games available or you were dead in the water.

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D4 Enterprises are probably the best company to do emulation stuff for anybody. The fact that they did this in the way they did really just shows that they know what they are doing.

(The Wii Neo Geo is spot on compared to any of the rest. The odd game an extremely minor glitch (Other than it being stuck at 50hz without using something like Triforce).

The X68000 was brilliant for games at the time it was in use in Japan.

Like for Ghouls and Ghosts (Arcade).

The best ports were X68000>PC Engine>Megadrive

(Think most of the games the X68000 has that are multiplatform are by far and away the best home versions).

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same here, only I flew the flag for amigas. i just remember seeing an A500 demo in dixons probably about 1986/7 and my head exploded. kiddie pester power and one arrived a good while later.

i think my parents skipped a mortgage payment or two for it - AND a monitor. none of this TV modulator rubbish ;)

i used to just look at it and go "wow" with the imagined possibilities.

nothing out there these days gives me that buzz anymore. or am i just a broken down cynical old man now? ;)

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Pint

The Amiga monitor was a refurbished Philips/Magnavox TV, wasn't it?

(Btw.... I remember an advertisement for a whole video manipulation set by Sony meant to be used with the Sony MSX 2 - never saw it anywhere in any store.)

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Nope...

"same here, only I flew the flag for amigas. i just remember seeing an A500 demo in dixons probably about 1986/7 and my head exploded. kiddie pester power and one arrived a good while later."

,,,,

"nothing out there these days gives me that buzz anymore. or am i just a broken down cynical old man now? ;)"

Well, here's the thing.. I remember seeing the Amiga demo and being amazed. Then, some nutter actually managed to port the Amiga demo *to run on an 8-bit Atari*. That amazed.

Now? I see two big issues that curb my enthusiasm.

1) Some technologies advance so fast that it's just hard to be amazed every time something comes out. I mean, look at 3D graphics -- if I had a reasonably recent 3D graphics card (I don't, but for sake of argument..), it could churn out video in real time that it took a movie effects company long time on a rack of computers to do 5 or 10 years ago. When photo realistic realtime 3D is possible, it's hard to be amazed by slightly higher framerate or slightly more realistic realtime 3D.

2) Uniformity. In the 1980s, systems varied greatly in capability, in form factor, in the types of OSes on them, and so on. Now? I had a professor in college say Microsoft has set back computer science at least 10 years, and I believe it. PCs kept getting faster all along, but interesting design developments (new form factors, new architectural designs, and so on) that a company would have gone ahead and run with in a market like in the 1980s, in the 1990s or 2000s they didn't because they insisted it had to run Windows or else. Luckily this is now going by the wayside, and hopefully not by just replacing dull PCs with dull tablets.

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I wasn't the only British owner then

Ahhhh happy days. I had the Mitsubishi MLF-80. Much of my early teenage years were wasted thanks to my Parodius cartridge. There were very few companies publishing carts, luckily Konami was one of them. I also had a light pen attachment, which needed both cart slots, but was a thing of joy and wonder.

And in response to an earlier post, yes, Metal Gear Solid did start on MSX, although it was MSX-2.

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Re: I wasn't the only British owner then

Ooops that should be Metal Gear, not Metal Gear Solid (which was the later incarnation).

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I'm gonna go home and watch Micro Men now. Such a good documentary.

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"Games! Games! Everywhere I go, games! Is this what my lifetime of achievement has been reduced to? Clive Sinclair the man who brought you Jet Set fucking Willy!"

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more presence in magazines than on the streets

They were tempting as gaming consoles on paper when announced but it was just a serial screwup from then on.

In an age when every new pc shipped a minimum of 6months late they were more than a year late.

.then when they did ship the price was outrageously uncompetitive

..when they got remaindered down to decent prices MSX was obsolete and there were newer toys to buy.

And then the same thing happened with MSX-2!

It's a miracle any sold over here. I don't remember ever being asked to write anything for MSX either.

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Not much MSX in the US

I'd heard of it, but we didn't know what it was (a standard, not really a particular machine) and that it was maybe some sort of a Japanese version of the IBM PC. This is the first article to ever nail down what MSX was. I didn't even know Yamaha sold computers in the US.

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Gimp

Fond memories

I was 9 when I was given me first computer, an MSX assembled by Brazilian company Gradiente. Really loved the thing – though at my teens, disillusioned with the platform's fall, I had the temerity of selling it over. Talk about mistakes of youth...

One thing I wish would come back, is the luggable, keyboard-integrated form factor of those machines. I would love to have a top-notch x86-64 machine that I could just just grab from my car, put it on a table on a friend's house / college laboratory, connect to the mains and a spare monitor and get working.

Alas, it's all bulky desktops or not-quite-top-notch notebooks today...

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Re: Fond memories

>Alas, it's all bulky desktops or not-quite-top-notch notebooks today...

There are 'net-tops' (i.e, PCs about the size of a Mac Mini) and the recent Intel reference platform for similar things... get some glue, some straps and some foam rubber and you might not be far off the thing you want.

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Headmaster

In Soviet Russia.....

From deepest Siberia, an Amstrad CPC clone with MSX compatibility:.

http://aleste520.narod.ru/aleste.html

It's utterly bizarre. From what I can gather, the people who made it liked the technical abilities of the CPC but couldn't get any software. For some reason MSX software was more easily available in Russia (all pirated obv) so they made it MSX compatible as well. They also stuck an MSX keyboard on it.

Obviously this was all unofficial like all of the Russian computer clones.

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Anonymous Coward

Had no appeal to us teens

I remember seeing MSX in the magazines of the 80s, and I've been wondering when a mention would come along on El Reg, with all this 30yr nostalgia.

Never even realised MS was behind it, now I've found out that little gem I'm (as someone resistant to their massive monopoly and dubious practices, despite being a happy Win user!) even more glad it all failed :)

But as a spotty teenager oik I was more than happy with my Speccy, and friends with their C-64s and BBC-Bs. We saw no appeal in the higher priced MSX whatsoever. Where were the blockbuster games titles? We knew it had no chance. A bit like that 3DO console (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3DO_Interactive_Multiplayer) that was "going to be massive" according to a bloke in a shop who we knew, but we knew it was doomed too, LOL

Product floggers : If it doesn't have hugely compelling features, at a great price point, there's no mass appeal and you can forget it.

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Error

The 8088 was 8 bit, it was the 8086 that was 16bit.

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Re: Error

The 8088 was not an 8 bit microprocessor.

The 8088 and 8086 had a 16 bit architecture - 16 bit registers, arithmetic, addressing etc.

The 8088 did have an 8 bit external interface, the 8086 had a 16 bit external interface.

They both had a nasty, badly designed architecture and the 8088 in paticular was dog slow for its generation.

What is sobering as engineers to realise is that of the first generation of sixteen bit processors: 68K, 8086, Z8000, 32K the 8086 was by far the worst yet by far the most successful.

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Re: Error

There is nothing, repeat nothing, more godawful than an RM Nimbus 80186. The most pointless dog slow pile of crap ever invented & we had a whole 'computer' lab full of them. I still shudder at the memory...

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Re: Error

Ahh, but you could play PC Elite on them and the 80186 had a bug which meant that the copy protection always asked for the same word number in the same page/paragraph of the manual. It was "incoming" if I recall correctly...

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Re: Error

At the time a friend described the 8086/8088 as 2 8080's badly stitched together and in many ways it literally was just that and as flaky as it sounds.

Saddening to think there were so many interesting and architecturally superior CPUs around at the time, all killed by Intels ability to throw a couple of billion transistors at the job of hiding the true horror of the x86 design. There are no x86 CPUs any longer, just a lot of silicon emulating them.

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Re: Error

Whaaaattt? The Nimbus PC186 was way ahead of 'real' PCs of the time. The graphics were great, as was the sound.

I assume that you were working in education. The problem was that not many people actually wrote software that exploited its capabilities, because the aforementioned graphics and sound were proprietary. Well, except for (ahem) yours truly, who knocked out some stunning (oh yes) titles such as Crystal Rain Forest, Space Mission Mada and Toby at the Seaside :-) written 100% in 80186 assembly and making full use of RM's superb sub-bios API to drive the graphics and sound.

The next Nimbus (the 286) was just a PC.

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Re: Error

Umm I was at school... and being able to learn a concise history of the peloponnesian war between switching on & the box actually being usable got tired fast..

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Pint

Nice article.

I remember being excited as could be xmas morning 85 when I got my first computer - the Toshiba HX-10. I must have spent literally years on that thing, either playing games (or typing them in).

I remember hating DATA statements with a passion. Large chunks of seemingly incomprehensible numbers where one digit wrong would wreck the show.

Social studies type question to ponder - how many kids (I was 6 when I got the machine) - so say 6 - 12 year olds would spend be willing to spend hours typing in a computer program to play a basic (in most senses of the word) game? And when it didn't work right, spend more hours going back through line by line trying to pinpoint the error. And then find out that it's not working due to a printing error in the book and you have no idea what the correct value should be?

When I got my spectrum +2A, I sold the MSX. Got a call a couple of hours later that it wouldn't load any of the cassette games. Went over there, tried for an hour to get something to load - fiddled with the volume control on the recorder, tried different games - nothing would work. Gave them the money back, bought it home and it worked immediately. I always figured it wanted to come home ;)

It's still up in the loft and continued to be used until the keyboard membrane stopped working on so many of the keys that it became impossible to use - the keys just wouldn't register.

Ah, for the days of LOAD"CAS:",R - just leave the ,R off so it doesn't automatically run, then go find the line that sets "available funds" or similar and set it to 99999999 :)

And now I can download pretty much everything that was ever written for it in far less than a minute over t'internet.

Sorry for the length of the post. I do tend to ramble on these trips down memory lane.

Beer - a toast to a machine that kept me entertained for more of my childhood than was probably healthy, but loved every second of it :)

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Mushroom

It was training in autism.

"And then find out that it's not working due to a printing error in the book and you have no idea what the correct value should be?"

This. Much later did I realize that, had those editors not been clueless brats they would have included error-detection and possibly correction codes.

To be fair, books about arcane things like coding theory were hard to come by, but I'm sure there must have been articles on this in IEEE Computer or CACM, which did arrive in the mailboxes even in Yurop.

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