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Thread: PC-9821 / PC-9801 Primer

  1. #1
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    PC-9821 / PC-9801 Primer

    Someone needs to get the ball rolling in these forums, so I thought I would start.

    I will write and add / edit this over the next few weeks...

    The PC-88 series was a fairly powerful Z80 based machine but NEC wanted to push into the 16bit business PC market and made the PC-9801 series in 1982. These machines ran a NEC made 8086 and had a 640x400 mode in 8 colouirs with later machines using a V30 and offering 16 colours from a palette of 4096 colours and then the 286, 386 and 486 series chips up until the eraly 90s. These machines were more speced then the original IBM PC but were not PC compatable, although they were MS-DOS compatable so well behaved programs that used MS-DOS calls rather then hitting the hardware directly would run. The early PC-9801 machines

    The NEC-9821 was NEC attempt at a machine that was PC-9801 compatable, still not PC compatable but had more Windows compatabilty and more PC features, for example IDE drives were supported rather then the clunkcy SCSI drives of the 9801 series. You can run most PC-9801 software quite happily and you could run a special version of Windows 98 and Windows NT on it, there are versions of Direct X (up to 5) that will work on it so you could play early Windows 98 games on it qutie happily.

    Generally if you are going to buy a PC-98 series machine there is no reason to get anything other then a PC-9821 series PC. You also have a choice of two flavours desktop and notebook PCs (which are called Lavie, although later machines also carried this name and are standard Windows PCs....)

    Desktop machines

    Advantages

    Easier to expand, so if you feel the need to plug in the NEC PC-FX card then you can.
    Can use any of the sound cards.
    Easier to upgrade as it uses fairly standard parts
    Some have the monitor built into the system
    Fitting 5.25 drives is quite easy and you will find machines with dual 5.25 and 3.5 inch drives
    Disavantages
    Most way a ton, so they will cost a lot to ship from Japan.
    More likely to be damaged on way from Japan.
    Only the later cards / machines had VGA ports so you may need an adapter or import a monitor to use the machine.
    You will need to make sure you have a Keyboard and a mouse as they do not use standard ports.
    Notebooks

    Advantages
    Machines are lighter so are cheaper to post
    They have 16bit PCMCIA card slots so you can transfer software easier using CF card readers.
    This also means you can get Network, USB (requires Windows 98SE and you can only use mice and keyboards once the machine has booted up) and even WiFi (only b though), these generally on Windows and require PC-98 drivers.
    They used standard IDE 2.5" drives so it is easier to swap them around so you can multiboot OSes without having to reconfigure or try to partition the drive.
    Has nice TTF displays
    Later machines have dual voltage PSUs

    Disavantages
    Early machines do not standard VGA ports so you need an adapter or just the internal montor
    Machines had a 640x480 or 800x600 display, so DOS based games will have black borders on 800x600 dispaly and Windows looks like arse on 640x480 based machines
    Most machines have one slot for a CD-ROM or Floppy Disc module, but expanders existed so you could use both.
    Later machines only had Windows Sound System so DOS based PC-98 games would be silent.
    You do need the Hard Drive caddy to swap hard drives.
    Attaching 5.25 drives is more difficult (although not impossible)
    Not all machines have TTF displays so you could get a DSTN display which looks washed out.
    Earlier machines have 100V only PSUs...

    The PC-98 does run a version of MS-DOS, so you do need to write basic CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files for the CD-ROM to work and for the machine to load drivers for hardware you have. Running Windows means you can not run a lot of MS-DOS based software easily.

    The PC-98 series does have a lot more adult software then the FM Towns and X68000 series machines and it does have less arcade based software then it's rivals but there are games out there, however there are good games out there.

    Transfering software from emulator sites to the PC-98 is quite easy depending on your set up. I have for example ran Windows 98 on a 32mb PC-9821 Lavie NR-266 machine and connected to the internet using a ethernet network card, downloaded the floppy image files, used a program to convert them to floppy files and wrote them directly to disc.

    However a USB floppy drive on a Windows PC is enough for you, and the FORMAT command in a command prompt (even on Windows 7) and two programs is enough for you to write floppy images, you can even back up your discs this way too. I did this.

    Once I get my machines out, I will write some more on this...
    Like anyone reads the rubbish in the signature.

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    Just a point to add to disadvantages of a notebook:
    - lack of expansion slots for things like the PC-FXGA or sound card (MIDI or 86 board with controller ports)


    One reason not to get a 9821 is that some games run too fast. Arcus III and Atlantia come to mind.

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    Although it does lack expansion ports, PCMCIA cards do exist for MIDI and controller ports although these are a lot harder to find. especially with DOS drivers. Controllers also exist that plug into the keyboard port (as I have said controller).

    Regarding the fast games, TSR programs exist to slow games down and you can run Arcus III at a reasonable speed even on a 266Mhz Pentium based PC-9821. :D
    Last edited by Jamtex; 03-12-2012 at 05:45 AM.
    Like anyone reads the rubbish in the signature.

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    I have one of those keyboard emu pads for my 88 and just don't find it works as good as a normal pad which plugs into an Atari style port.

    Can you link me to one of these slowdown programs? I've got a Pentium in my 9821 too. Would be really interested in a slowdown program for Atlantia.

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    This is some useful info, Thanks Jamtex! I've only played around with emulators but not actual hardware for these systems and considering their obscurity, this is really good.

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    Ugh, I'd love to know how music was written and programmed for this.

    The PC-98 has amazing music,and i'd love to become proficient someday in writing music for it(As a personal goal. I'm terrible with Trackers. I attribute that to it being before my time. I've only worked with Music making methods pertaining to current professional/real-time recordings and MIDI)

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    Some games use MML (Music Macro Language), that's one way to create music for the PC-88/98 but there are also programs for the PC-88 though I haven't used them myself.

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    Still need to dig out and power up my PC9821 laptops...

    The PC-98x1 series had a number of different sound cards and sound outputs, much like the IBM PC compatables had. Here are the main cards and outputs... the bus of the 98x1 series was called C-Bus

    Originally like the IBM PC, the PC-9801 went beep with a single channel beeper.

    The first proper sound card was the PC-9801-14, which used a rather unique Texas Instuments TMS-3631 chip, this offers SSG like sound in 8 octaves and 6 channels. A number of early games supported it but fell out of favour soon after.

    It fell out of favour when NEC released the PC-9801-26, which used a YM2203 chip which offered 3 FM voices and the 3 SSG channels of the YM2149F (AY-3-891x) sound chip. The only difference between the 9801-26 and the 9801-26K is that the 26 only works on 8086 and V30 based machines.

    The next sound card was the highly specced 9801-73, which used a YM-2608B sound chip which offered 6 Channel FM, 3 SSG Channels (as above), 6 Rhythm channels and 1 Channel ADPCM. The card also featured a DSP. The card was compatable with music and sound written for the 26 board, however it did not sell very well due to it's high price of 90,000 yen (the 26K was around Y25,000 at the time...).

    If the 26 was the Adlib sound card of the 98 series then the 9801-86 was the Soundblaster. This also used the YM-2608B like the 73 but as it lacked onboard RAM it did not offer the ADPCM channel, it did have a PCM chip which was 16bit and stereo but this was powered by the computer. It was compatable with sound and music written for the 26 sound card and the FM part of the 73 sound card but could not play ADPCM parts, conversely the 73 sound card did not play PCM parts of the 86 card (Although a third party card existed to make the 73 card fully compatable). THe 86 sold well as it was it was cheaper at 25,000 yen...

    The 26, 73 and 86 all had at least one 9 pin D-Type joystick port too.

    In the Windows 95 days, NEC released the PC-9801-118, which used the YMF-288 compatable chip, however although offering the same features as the 86 card, it did not work very well under DOS so a number of these games would have no sound. Generally once you get to the Windows 95 era, NEC generally made soundcards that would offer Windows Sound System output so Windows programs would work at the expense of sound for the old DOS based games. It also had a standard 15 Pin D-Type MIDI and Analogue joystick port.

    Talking of Soundblaster, creative labs did release a C-Bus version of the Soundblaster 16 which did use the OPL3 chip, software allowed it to be compatible with the 26 card. However not many games used the soundblaster as a full sound card, mainly IBM PC games that were translated to the PC-9801 did. It also had a 15 pin MIDI and joystick port.

    A number of third parties including Buffalo, Idol Japan and QVision all made 26 and 86 compatable sound cards.

    Roland also made MIDI interface and MIDI synthesis cards for the 9801, they were MPU-401 comptable cards. A number of games were written so they could drive Roland MT-32, CM-64 and SC-55 sound generators directly.

    There are a few dedicated Roland sound cards, the LAPC-N which was a MIDI Card with a CM-32L sound generator and the GPPC-N / GPPC - NA which was a MIDI card that featured a SC-55 sound generator (CM-300).

    Notebooks on the other hand have 4 simple choices, the early ones will go beep and not do much else. The PC-9821 lavie notebooks will with have Windows Sound System PCM sound and/or 86 compatable sound. The only other option is a PCMCIA midi card and a sound generator, there is a dedicated SC-55 PCMCIA sound card but for most purposes this is not going to be a realistic option...
    Last edited by Jamtex; 03-25-2012 at 10:36 AM.
    Like anyone reads the rubbish in the signature.

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    Wow,that's some good info to know. Thanks a lot Jamtex

    "Roland also made MIDI interface and MIDI synthesis cards for the 9801, they were MPU-401 comptable cards. A number of games were written so they could drive Roland MT-32, CM-64 and SC-55 sound generators directly."
    Didn't the SharpX68k do something similar to this? I recall some games supporting various sound systems like Akumajo Dracula. Which also supported the MT-32 and SC-55 as well as the FM Synthesis.
    Last edited by Vosse; 05-08-2012 at 01:20 AM.

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