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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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    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.

    1. PaulyV

      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.

  2. Michael Habel Silver badge
    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.

    1. James 51 Silver badge

      Re: shurly some mishtake

      ack, you beat me to it.

      1. Matthew 25

        Re: shurly some mishtake

        Whats a couple of powers of ten between friends eh?

  3. thesykes
    Thumb Up

    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.

  4. Volker Hett

    There was a british camera industry?

    Just asking.

    1. dogged

      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.

    2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      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.

  5. cheveron

    Sinclair Loki

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

  6. James 51 Silver badge

    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.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      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.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        >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.

      2. James 51 Silver badge

        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.

  7. 1Rafayal
    Thumb Up

    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?

    1. LinkOfHyrule

      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!"

      1. 1Rafayal
        Thumb Up

        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.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        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.

    2. Daniel B.
      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!

  8. Chewi
    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. (-;

  9. The Jon

    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.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    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.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      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.

  11. Tchou
    Thumb Up

    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.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge

      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.

  12. Irongut

    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.

  13. h3

    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).

  14. Andy 70

    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? ;)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      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.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
    2. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

      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.

  15. Sinical
    Thumb Up

    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.

    1. Sinical

      Re: I wasn't the only British owner then

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

  16. reno79

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

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "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!"

  17. Paul Shirley

    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.

  18. Gene Cash Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    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.

  19. xperroni
    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...

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      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.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    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.

  22. Brian 59

    Error

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

    1. Alan Johnson

      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.

      1. Jemma Silver badge

        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...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          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...

        2. Dinky Carter

          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.

          1. Jemma Silver badge

            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..

      2. Paul Shirley

        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.

  23. YouStupidBoy
    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 :)

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      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.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: It was training in autism.

        "Much later did I realize that, had those editors not been clueless brats they would have included error-detection and possibly correction codes." - one of the Acorn magazines (Acorn User?) included some sort of checking method to see if you made any typos. As a sufferer of dyscalculia, this was in itself a deterrent against making errors, what with a column of scary-looking hex beside each line of code...

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          Re: It was training in autism.

          Micro User - *xs to checksum each line of the program in memory, and you compared it with the listed checksums published with the listings.

        2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
          Happy

          Re: It was training in autism.

          But Acorn User also produced a barcode scanner for the BBC, and printed their programmes as barcodes as well as listings that could be scanned in, complete with checksumming.

          They had special yellow pages in the middle of the magazine so that you could find them easily.

        3. JQW

          Re: It was training in autism.

          Ah, yes, page after page of hex-dumps of machine code and/or data to POKE into RAM.

          Your Computer was particularly prone to listings like this. Initially these were printed without any form of checking. Eventually they had the bright idea of including a simple check-sum after every 32 hex characters, and also produced a small BASIC program for each platform to check this checksum and POKE in the hex. Unfortunately the initial version of this program they listed for the ZX Spectrum, although appearing to run fine, didn't write the hex into memory properly due to a subtle off-by-one error!

  24. Dick Kennedy

    MSX Computing and What MSX? did not publish in alternate months. What MSX? was bi-monthly but MSX Computing was a monthly. I only know because I worked on the damn thing.

  25. MajorTom

    Girl in the Sony ad

    Seiko Matsuda, really popular Japanese celebrity in the 80s. Haven't seen her face since about 1988, thanks for the face from the past.

    1. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Girl in the Sony ad

      Yeah, and you can tell the mentality of the people the advert is aimed at.

      Cute girl - HUGE FACE SHOT. Computer? Product? Something? Kind of small and down in a corner. Look at the girl. Look at the girl. Look. At. The. GIRL.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: Girl in the Sony ad

        Please go on....

  26. All names Taken
    Paris Hilton

    Moto GP

    And in Moto GP:

    The Chinese are coming!

    The Chinese are coming!

    Is it not great and wonderful that evolution happens such?

  27. heyrick Silver badge

    Too late to the party?

    The mid-late eighties (85-87) was wild. Old clunky eight bit hardware won't do any longer. The BBC Micro became in 1981, and just four short years later the Amiga made its debut, along with the Atari ST. We'd transitioned from an eight bit world to a 16/32 bit world. Perhaps more importantly we'd transitioned from hardware with limited addressing capabilities (in the order of 64K direct) to hardware with much more generous amounts of memory on board. The Acorn Archimedes, the first true 32 bit machine, arrived in '87. So wanting to promote the bigger better MSX take-two for Christmas '87 seems a bit... um... well, look at the competition. Sure, these bigger better machines weren't cheap (and as an owner of an Archimedes, I know they were amazingly expensive) but what they were in comparison to the cheap kit was not something that could be answered by looking at hardware specs. I got a lot out of my Beeb. I briefly owned a Speccy which I used to play games, and in the end I gave it to a friend who used it to play games until he got an Amiga. My Beeb was used for coding, and lots of fun with Econet. As for the Archimedes, I'm still with RISC OS today, albeit on something very different and raspberry-flavoured.

    tl;dr: Just look at the dates mentioned here and then do some research. The MSX was going to come and blow away the dross of the scattered home computer market. Only, by the time it arrived, the home computer market (still scattered!) blew them away. We'd moved on. And how. T'was a good idea though, software compatibility, and and idea that would be revisited in style with the birth of the PC market, which was also starting to make waves in the same time frame.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: Too late to the party?

      The article mentions that everyone saw 16 bit as the wave of the future (of the time.)

      So why did MSX decide to standardise on an 8 bit architecture? Seems odd.

  28. altrr
    Thumb Up

    Speaking of MSX in soviet Russia

    What a nostalgic article. I think my fingers still remember how to pass first few levels of Zanac :)

    In USSR, which for some reason had quite a few Yamaha MSX classes set up in schools, MSX story didn't completely end in 1990. About that time I was expelled from school (too much heavy music and too many away trips for Dynamo Moscow I guess) and my computers teacher convinced Moscow Institute of Digital Machines to employ a 17 years old hacker in a lab, which was developing soviet gaming and schools computers ("not worse than theirs" as the Party instructed :) ).

    In the next few years we ported MSX standard, with minor changes due to the limits of the available hardware, to 8080 chips based new gaming computer PK8002. Unfortunately it went only in a limited production just before the soviet collapse, which rendered the whole industry irrelevant there. Various bits and pieces were also used in a popular gaming PC Vector from Moldova and PK8020's basic and MicroDOS which was installed in tens of thousands schools in USSR.

    My "unofficial" part of work was porting games from MSX to those soviet computers, mostly Konami's, for which factories and shops paid very well, and that's where my MSX-emulation skills as well as a worn copy of the Red Book were very useful.

    Good old days...

  29. Mayor McCheese

    Pretty good article

    But you missed out the MSX 2+.

    In my opinion, the reason it all went wrong in the UK was that programmers here never figured out you could put multiple sprites on top of each other in order to make a multicoloured sprite. They must have taken one look at the specs and assumed it was just another Spectrum. A load of sloppy Speccie conversions followed, in some cases even with the stripey loading screen lines. And those of us who were used to Konami's quality as a bench mark couldn't believe what a load of crap the British software was.

    Anyway, happy days. I still remember the glow of the LEDs on my VG-8235. The feel of the keyboard on my NMS-8280. Proper, decent, stylish computers with decent cursor keys. Sniff.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pretty good article

      It wasn't that the coders didn't work out they could layer sprites. It was the economics of it meant that the MSX received straight Spectrum ports.

      Games would be coded for the Spectrum and then versions made for the other Z80 machines.

      The CPC version of R-Type is a good example. It was converted from the Spectrum in just 2 weeks by one person with no concessions at all to the extra hardware capability. It took until 2012 for some people to code a proper version of the game. Just look at the difference:

      Original version - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5mijRjvDkc

      2012 remake - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kHH1V-zOlZk

      That's the problem. Software houses going to the least effort possible to get a game onto a system.

  30. ManuelBilderbeek
    Thumb Up

    Join us!

    For all people who have stories from those times, especially people who worked on things, please share your stories on the very active MSX forum on MSX Resource Center! Surf to http://www.msx.org/ Hope to see you there!

  31. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    alt-Speculation

    I'm currently toying with some PDP-11 code, and these article have set me wondering - what could have happened if the LSI-11 (PDP-11 as a single-chip CPU) had arrived a couple of years earlier and the Altair 8080 had used it instead, and CP/M had been written for the Altair 11, and 1970s hobbyist computers of the time had been PDP-11 based, and progressing to the early 1980s with a ZX-11, Spectrum-11, Amstrad CPC-11, etc. Would today's coders be crippled with the x86 model of programming instead of a neat orthogonal flat Rn register set?

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: alt-Speculation

      As much as I love the PDP-11 as an architecture, it would still have run out of steam in the late '80s. The problem was the memory model, and the mixed-endian nature of the system.

      Without further architectural evolution (which was the VAX-11 in 1978), the PDP-11 was limited to 64KB processes (unless you used overlays) mapped into an overall 22-bit (4MB) maximum address space.

      Don't get me wrong. It was a magic architecture, and because of the orthogonality of the ISA, I used to be able to decode PDP-11 machine code directly from octal dumps on paper. But it was a '70s architecture, not an '80s one.

      The '80s should have belonged to Motorola 68000, NS16032 or 32032 (a very nice instruction set), or possibly ARM, running UNIX derivatives.

      Just imagine if the IBM PC had had a 68000 with enough of a cut-down UNIX back in 1982. As soon as hard-disks became available (PC-XT time scales), we would have had multi-tasking full UNIX systems on the desktop, a bit like the AT&T 3B1.

      PDP-11s survive (even to the current day and into the future according to a recent El-Reg article) because they are fine industrial controllers for systems that do not need large amounts of code to perform their function.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: alt-Speculation

        Of course, I was referring to non-I&D PDP-11, which I think that the LSI-11 was. I think that the J-11 and F-11 may have been separate I&D machines, but that only allows you to double the process address space, and even then, with serious limitations (64KB text space and 64KB data).

    2. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: alt-Speculation

      The 68000 series would have stopped all that shit happening - more specifically the 68008, or even IBM's801 which was to be the original IBM-PC chip. IBM fucked up big time!

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: alt-Speculation

        Not sure that the 801 ROMP was really intended for PC machines. It was originally intended to be the CPU for a dedicated word-processor, but was picked up by the Advanced Workstation Team in IBM Austin to fill a niche as a technical workstation for education and engineering use. It was most successful as a CATIA workstation, either on it's own, or as a front-end to a mainframe using Distributed Services. It always had weak floating point performance until the advanced floating point processor was available late in it's life. It was an important stepping stone to the RS/6000, p Series and Power systems, and the PowerPC processor, though.

        Although the 6150 was originally marketed as a 6150 RT PC, it was never a PC per se. There is folk-law that suggests that it was going to be used as a PC, but looking at the reason why the 5150 was rushed out of the door as a quick-and-dirty temporary solution to stop the likes of Apple and various Z80 CP/M systems from dominating the market, it would never have been ready in the timescales required. That's why IBM used off-the-shelf components and a ready made OS and Basic for the system.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: alt-Speculation @Me

          That should have been Advanced Workstation Division (AWD) in Austin.

  32. albaleo

    NEC 9801

    With so much attention to Japanese companies, why no mention of NEC and its 9801 models. From the early 80s, this series completely dominated the Japanese PC market, and probably accounts for Japan's later weakness in the global computer business. I guess I'm missing something. But I know who Matsuda Seiko is.

  33. Mr C
    Happy

    Memories are made of this

    MSX was my 1st computer and while other kids where playing games i was making little basic programs.

    Everything i discovered i did on my own, just experimenting. No books, nothing.

    Just alot of friends with similar interest and huge phonebills from calling each other for hours and talking about new stuff we found out.

    I must've taken my machine over to friends houses countless times in what was then the predecessors of lan parties, except that there was no lan or any other kind of networking. Just sitting next to each other doing cool stuff.

    And then i grew up, had a family, and now think back with nostalgia to those years which, if i could them all over again, i would.

    The smiley can't begin to convey the host of emotions i feel every time if think of those years.

  34. Simon Rockman

    Hated them

    I worked on the Argus MSX magazine, which I remember as MSX User, but Argus titles tended to be called "computing" as in A&B Computing, Computing Today, Games Computing etc.

    I always thought MSX computers were underwhelming with rubbish sprites and the games poor.

    1. Mayor McCheese

      Re: Hated them

      Dude! Get an emulator, and fire up some Konami classics - Vampire Killer, Treasure of Usas, Metal Gear, Aleste...

  35. Stu

    This article would have been...

    ...so much more 'palatable' had it been on one page rather than six.

    Just sayin'.

    Still, rather good, it was.

    1. Toxteth O'Gravy
      Headmaster

      Re: This article would have been...

      You'll be wanting the 'print this article' view, then...

  36. TheOtherHobbes

    I almost

    finished an entire track with a Yamaha CX5 connected to a couple of synths and a drum machine.

    Epic sequencing power by 80s standards. You could add and remove notes anywhere in the track.

    What you couldn't do was play from anywhere in the track.

    So you had to listen from the start to hear an edit at the end.

    Every. Time.

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Will we be talking about Xbox in a similar fashion in 20 years time?

    The flawed system that quickly disappeared without a trace.

    1. Tchou
      Holmes

      Re: Will we be talking about Xbox in a similar fashion in 20 years time?

      No.

      Just as nobody keeps fond memories of a 486 running Win95.

      It's not only a matter of time. These old machines were fascinating, because we were struggling with the limited but fully available hardware. It was magic. It was programming. It was a lot of fun.

      I still remember my first program written at school on a Thomson MO5 (standard school equipment in France, 1988 or so...) I was like 7. It was drawing a scrolling night sky.

      I fondly remember the Wednesday afternoons on Amiga 500 at friend place.

      I fondly remember my Atari 1040 at home and the arguments about which platform was the best =D.

      Then I had a PC... pretty boring in comparison... then a Mac.... Then PC's again... I don't miss any of them.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Windows

        Re: Will we be talking about Xbox in a similar fashion in 20 years time?

        Hell yeah.

        > Get the latest Scientific American in snail-mail (quite a few were lost in transit, but that's another matter)

        > Flip to "Computer Recreations"

        > Mandelbrot Sets Explained with formulas and pretty pictures.

        > Can't wait for school to finish, if only the girls weren't so distracting.

        > Get home

        > Fire up that Sony machine

        > Fiddle around to get something working, only getting 20% of the math

        > A FORM appears on the screen. One pixel every 5 seconds.

        > Success!!??

        > It doesn't look right...

        > But at least there is something!

  38. Jim 59

    A Race

    How could the Japanese mega-corps fail so spectacularly ? The home computer market was a race to get stuff on the shelves, and this seems to have favoured smaller, faster-moving companies. But that doesn't really explain how the American mega-corps succeeded, eg Texas Instruments.

  39. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

    Spectravideo 328

    We had the SV328 - that was a nice machine, and I knew it was somehow related to MSX but never knew the details until now and it explains why there was no software of note (in New Zealand at least).

    My mate had a C64 and after a few rounds of Summer Games at this place I would go back and feverishly type out my own version, being sure to remove all the spaces in the MS Basic source so it would fit in the 60KB (80KB less about 18 for ROM).

    30 years later I'm still doing the same thing, just with more horsepower, bigger sprites and I get to keep the spaces. Go figure.

  40. BajanCherry

    My first computer ever was the Canon MSX which I bought along with my friend when we were visiting London. He had money, I did not. He bought Pascal and Assembler too. I wrote an assembly code, hand converted to opcode and fed to the memory using debug command. With this code, I made my copy of Pascal and Assembler tape. Piracy, I give you that. But still, my first useful code.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IBM compatible micros ..

    I realised that our IBM Basic would be the standard for business and that lots of manufacturers would make micros that were IBM compatible

    No one including IBM predicted the PC clone market ..

    --

    “We will never make a 32-bit operating system”, Bill Gates

  42. Timbo
    Coat

    "Far Eastern firms like Sony, JVC, Sanyo and Pioneer had put paid to Britain’s mass-market hi-fi makers..."

    I'd agree with three of those names....Sony, JVC and Pioneer...but SANYO???? They made a few pieces of kit that might be best called "audio" but they were never truly "hi-fi"....

    Better choices might have been the likes of Rotel, Technics and Akai who ONLY made hi-fi kit :-)

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