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Sony MSX, Model HitBit-10-P
Type Home computer
Release date 1983 (MSX)
Discontinued 1995 (MSXturboR)
Operating system MSX-DOS / MSX BASIC
CPU Zilog Z80
Memory 16 KB ~ 512 KB

MSX was the name of a standardized home computer architecture in the 1980s. It was a Microsoft-led attempt to create unified standards among hardware makers, conceived by one-time Microsoft Japan executive Kazuhiko Nishi. Despite Microsoft's involvement, MSX-based machines were seldom seen in the United States and Britain, but they were popular in other markets. Eventually 5 million MSX-based units were sold world-wide.

Nishi proposed MSX as an attempt to create a single industry standard for home computers. Inspired by the success of VHS as a standard for video cassette recorders, many Japanese electronic manufacturers along with GoldStar, Philips and Spectravideo built and promoted MSX computers. Any piece of hardware or software with the MSX logo on it was compatible with MSX products of other manufacturers. In particular, the expansion cartridge form and function were part of the standard; any MSX expansion or game cartridge would work in any MSX computer.

Nishi's standard consisted primarily of several off-the-shelf parts; the main CPU was a 3.58 MHz Zilog Z80, the graphics chip a Texas Instruments TMS9918 with 16 KB (KiB) of dedicated VRAM, the sound and partial I/O support was provided by the AY-3-8910 chip manufactured by General Instrument (GI), and an Intel 8255 Programmable Peripheral Interface chip was used for the parallel I/O such as the keyboard. This was a choice of components that was shared by many other home computers and games consoles of the period, such as the ColecoVision home computer (an emulator was later available with which MSX systems could run some of its software), and the Sega SG-1000 video game system. Most MSX systems soon started to integrate the common glue logic components, the Z80 CPU, the sound chip, the 8255 PIO and the Video Display Processor into a single chip, called an MSX-Engine chip. This simplified a MSX system down to a MSX-Engine chip and some ROM and RAM chips, greatly reducing production costs. However, almost all MSX systems used a professional keyboard instead of a chiclet keyboard, driving the price up again. Consequently, these components alongside Microsoft's MSX BASIC made the MSX a competitive, though somewhat expensive, home computer package.

The system MSX most closely resembled was the Spectravideo SV-328 home computer (Spectravideo even claimed to be "MSX compatible" in advertisements before the actual launch of MSX systems), but it was in fact not completely compatible with it. This led to a new and short-lived kind of software cracking: converting. Since the MSX games were unplayable on the SV-328 computer, SV-328 crackers developed a method of modifying the (MSX) games to make them work on the SV-328. In most cases this included downloading the MSX BIOS to the SV-328 from tape or floppy disk. Spectravideo later launched the SV-728 which completely adhered to the MSX standard.

Before the appearance and great success of the Nintendo Famicom, MSX was the platform for which major Japanese game studios, such as Konami and Hudson Soft, produced their titles. The Metal Gear series was originally written for MSX hardware. [1]


[edit] History

The Canon V-20 had 64K of RAM while its little brother, the V-10, had 16K.

In the 1980s Japan was in the midst of an economic awakening. [2] Large Japanese electronics firms might have been successful in the early computer market had they made a concerted effort in the late 1970s. Their combined design and manufacturing power could have allowed them to produce competitive machines, but they initially ignored the home computer market and appear to have been hesitant to do business in a market where no industry standard existed. [3]

The MSX was formally announced during a press-conference in June 27, 1983 (a date that is considered the birthday of the MSX standard) and a slew of big Japanese firms declared their plans to introduce machines. This set off a wave of panic in the U.S. and UK industry resulting in instant animosity toward MSX. [4] However, the Japanese companies avoided the intensely competitive U.S. home computer market, which was in the throes of a Commodore-led price war. Only Spectravideo and Yamaha briefly marketed MSX machines in the U.S. Spectravideo's MSX enjoyed very little success, and Yamaha's CX5M model, built to interface with various types of MIDI equipment, was billed more as a digital music tool than a standard personal computer.

During the 1980s Europe became the largest computer games (as opposed to console games) market in the world, and the extremely popular Commodore 64 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum computers dominated. By the time the MSX launched in Europe several more popular 8-bit home computers had also arrived, and it was far too late to capture the extremely crowded European 8-bit computer market.

A problem for some game software developers was that the method by which MSX-1 computers addressed their video ram (to draw a picture on the screen) could be quite slow compared to systems that gave direct access to the video memory. This, and the fact that the completely different features the MSX-1's video chip had to compensate for the slower video access were not efficiently used while porting (mostly Spectrum) software, made the MSX-1 to appear slower when running ported games. see: MSX Video access method

There were also some minor compatibility issues which plagued ported Spectrum games. Such as the Toshiba HX-10 machine being unable to read certain key combinations at the same time, (preventing the Spectrum-'standard' of Q,A, O,P steering) whereas machines by other manufacturers worked fine. Later (ported) games tended to use the MSX-1 joystick port or used MSX's official arrow keys and space bar, (or offered the option to choose other keys to control the program with) which solved the problem.

A larger problem was that the designers of the MSX standard bank switching protocol did not prescribe to hardware manufacturers in which banks the cartridges, but more important the RAM, should be found. And the MSX's BIOS did not provide this information either, thus requiring programmers to implement the complex routines to "find" these resources that were published in the official documentation from Microsoft. Often programmers did not bother, (or know) and just assumed that the RAM and cartridges would be available at an (imagined) "default" bank switch location. Which then lead to problems, because such "default" locations did not really exist, and in reality some systems had their RAM or cartridge slot(s) not at the "default" location, but on another bank switch location (which was completely allowed by the MSX specification). In those cases these sloppy written programs failed to run because they only "saw" 32K of the available memory, instead of the full 64K that almost all MSX-1 machines offered[5].

Consequently, partly due to all these perceived problems, MSX never became the worldwide standard that its makers had envisioned, mainly because it never took off in the United States and the UK. In Japan, South Korea and Brazil, MSX was the paramount home computer system in the 1980s. It was also quite popular in Europe (except in the UK). Especially in the Netherlands and Spain. Some Arab countries and in the Soviet Union there where classes of networked Yamaha MSX2 which were used for teaching informatics in school.

The Hotbit, developed by Sharp and marketed by Epcom, was a hit in Brazil.

The exact meaning of the 'MSX' abbreviation remains a matter of debate. At the time, most people seemed to agree it meant 'MicroSoft eXtended', referring to the built-in 'MicroSoft eXtended BASIC' (MSX-BASIC), specifically adapted by Microsoft for the MSX system. However, according to Kazuhiko Nishi during a visit to Tilburg in the Netherlands on the 21st of April 2001, MSX could also stand for 'Machines with Software eXchangeability'. Maybe because of aversives against the global player Microsoft, this version was welcomed by the MSX community. The MSX-DOS disk operating system had file system compatibility with CP/M and was similar to MS-DOS. In this way, Microsoft could promote MSX for home use while promoting MS-DOS based personal computers in office environments.

MSX spawned four generations: MSX (1983), MSX2 (1986), MSX2+ (1988) and MSXturboR (1990). The first three were 8-bit computers based on the Z80 microprocessor, while the MSXturboR was based on an enhanced Zilog Z800 known as the R800. The MSXturboR was introduced in 1990 but was unsuccessful due to a lack of support and the rise in popularity of the by then well-established IBM PC Compatible market. Production of the Turbo R ended in 1995.

In total, 5 million MSX computers were sold, which made it relatively popular but not the global standard it was intended to be. For a comparison with rival 8-bit computers, the Commodore 64 sold 17 million units worldwide in its lifetime, the Apple II sold 6 million units[6], the Amstrad CPC sold 3 million units, and the Tandy TRS-80 sold 250,000 units.

In the 80's, Sakhr (صخر) Computers (Developed by Al Alamyyeh a Kuwaiti company), started the production line of the first Arabian version of MSX computers. They started with a Yamaha AX100, but produced a few more models including an MSX2 and MSX2+ models. One of the most popular and affordable models was Sakhr MSX AX170. They were also the first to Arabize BASIC and LOGO for MSX.

Many MSX computers were used during 80's in Eastern European (former communist block) countries as a perfect tool for subtitling pirated films on VHS, or BETAMAX cassettes. The MSX computers were used for their simplicity and its ability to display prepared titles in real time as superimpose text on mastering tapes.

[edit] MSX Revival

  • In 2001, Kazuhiko Nishi initiated a 'MSX Revival' around an official MSX emulator called MSXPLAYer. This is the only official MSX emulator. All MSX copyrights are maintained by the MSX Association.
  • In 2004 Dutch company Bazix announced they had become the representatives of MSX Association in Europe, being the English contact for any questions regarding the MSX trademarks and copyrights (licensing).
  • On October 17, 2006, Bazix launched WOOMB.Net, a website selling MSX games (translated to English if necessary), with a selection of 14 games. In Japan, game sales began earlier, through Project EGG. WOOMB.Net is the English counterpart of this (and other) Japanese services offered by D4 Enterprise.
  • D4 Enterprise also announced (in August 2006) the launch of a new MSX2 compatible system called the "one chip-MSX", a system based on an Altera Cyclone EP1C12Q240C8 FPGA. The "one chip-MSX" is similar in concept to the C-One, a Commodore 64 clone also build on the basis of a single FPGA chip. The new MSX system is housed in a box made out of transparent blue plastic, and can be used with a standard monitor (or TV) and a PC keyboard. It has two MSX cartridge slots and supports the audio extensions MSX-MUSIC and SCC+. A SD/MMC-flashcard can be used as an external storage medium, emulating a disk drive and can be used to boot MSX-DOS. Due to its VHDL programmable hardware it is possible to give the device new hardware extensions simply by running a reconfiguration program under MSX-DOS. The "one chip-MSX" also has two USB connectors that can be used after adding some supporting VHDL code.
  • In 2006 Nintendo of Japan posted on its Virtual Console webpage that MSX games will be available for Wii's Virtual Console emulator. In February 2007, it was confirmed again and announced that the games would cost 700 Wii Points and will become available in the middle of 2007 (for Japan only, at least initially).
  • On the 7th of June 2008, the MSX Resource Center Foundation reported[7] that the MSX trademark had moved from MSX Association to the MSX Licensing Corporation, referring to a Benelux trademark register page [8] of MSX, which indeed names the MSX Licensing Corporation as entitled entity till 28-10-2013. At that time the website of the MSX Licensing Corporation that they linked to as source, had a text saying 'We are planning to revitalize MSX, the innovative computer platform.' on it. However, the website was later changed to contain only the logo of ITNY & Partners - True Think Tank in the IT Field, and a link to ITNY & Partners' English and Japanese websites and has no mention of the MSX Licensing Corporation at all. According to the Japanese wiki article on Kazuhiko Nishi, Nishi is ITNY's managing director.
  • On the 26th of June 2008, Bazix reported on their website's frontpage that they are no longer the representative of MSX Association, due to being unable to achieve their goals of "bringing about the commercial MSX Revival beyond the Japanese borders" and "the transfer of the MSX trademark from MSX Association to MSX Licensing Corporation" and "no outlook on any progress in the Western One Chip MSX project any time soon". As a result of this, WOOMB.Net is taken offline as well, with its website redirecting to the Bazix website, till "a solution free of MSX Association's contributions has been completed". According to their post, they will cooperate with D4 Enterprise and the MSX Licensing Corporation "in one or more retro gaming related projects".
  • On the 4th of July 2008, MSX Association's European contact website, which states to be the "only official contact place for MSX Association in Europe", reports that the MSX trademark and copyright has been under the MSX Licensing Corporation holding ever since 1983. It explains that MSX Association, chaired by Dr. Kazuhiko Nishi is the operational division of MSX Licensing Corporation which manages the trademarks, logo and copyrights for MSX.
    According to the same article, D4 Enterprise "refuse to pay royalties to MSX Association for the use of ESE Artists' Factory's work in 1chipMSX and the software licenses in Project Egg", thus they deal with Kazuhiko Nishi 'directly' through the MSX Licensing Corporation.
    The article mentions as well the ESE MSX System 3, on which the 1chipMSX (also known as One Chip MSX or OCM) is based.
  • On the 5th of July 2008, the MSX Association's Europe website posted an announcement[9] reporting that D4 Enterprise is selling the 1chipMSX illegally. In the same post it is stated that Bazix no longer is their representative in Europe, due to Bazix cutting off their relationship.

[edit] Franchises established on the MSX

The most popular and famous MSX games were written by Japanese software-house Konami and several popular video game franchises were established on the MSX:

Others got various installments on the MSX, including some titles unique to the system or largely reworked versions of games on other formats:

[edit] Manufacturers of MSX computers

[edit] System specs

[edit] MSX

Philips MSX, Model VG-8020

[edit] MSX2

  • Processor: Zilog Z80A running at 3.58 MHz
  • ROM: 48 KB
    • BIOS + Extended BIOS (32 KB)
    • MSX BASIC V2.0 or V2.1 (16 KB)
    • DiskROM (16 KB) (optional, common)
    • MSX-Audio BIOS (32 KB) (optional, no machines are known with this BIOS built in)
  • RAM: 64 KB minimum, commonly 128 KB in Europe, 64 KB on Japanese computers, machines with up to 512 KB were made
    • Memory mapped (4 MB (MiB)/slot max) (optional)
      The effect of attribute clash when using the old 256x192 Highres mode of MSX 1, (which was less severe than for example the Spectrum, but still a nuisance). Later MSX models added new video modes without this problem
  • Video Display Processor: Yamaha V9938 (a.k.a. MSX-Video) Supports all MSX video modes plus:
    • Increased video RAM: 128 KB (sometimes 64 KB or 192 KB)
    • New text mode: 80×24
    • New video modes without the attribute clash of MSX 1, (a problem shared by several other home computers of the era). See the picture on the right showing an example of the attribute clash of MSX 1.
    • New resolutions: 512×212 (16 colours out of 512) and 256×212 (256 colours)
    • More and more advanced sprites: 32, 16 colours, max 8 per horizontal line
    • Hardware acceleration for copy, line, fill, etc.
    • Interlacing to double vertical resolution
    • A vertical scroll register
  • Sound chip: Yamaha YM2149 (PSG)
  • Clock chip: Ricoh RP5C01 (or compatible)
  • 3.5" Floppy disk drive is common

[edit] MSX2+

MSX2+ computer: a Panasonic FS-A1WSX.
  • Only officially released in Japan (available in Europe and Brazil via upgrades)
  • Processor: Zilog Z80 compatible running at 3.58 MHz or more (5.37 MHz versions were available)
  • ROM: 64 KB
    • BIOS + Extended BIOS (32 KB)
    • MSX BASIC V3.0 (16 KB)
    • DiskROM (16 KB) (optional, very common)
    • Kun-BASIC (16 KB) (optional)
    • Kanji ROM (optional)
  • RAM: commonly 64 KB (on Japanese computers)
    • Memory mapped (4 MB/slot max)
  • Video Display Processor: Yamaha V9958 (aka MSX-Video) All of MSX2's specifications plus:
    • The video RAM now always is 128 KB
    • a new 256×212 video mode with 19268 colors
    • a horizontal scroll register
  • Sound chip: Yamaha YM2149 (PSG)
  • Optional sound chip: Yamaha YM2413 (OPLL) (MSX-Music)
  • Clock chip RP5C01
  • 3.5" Floppy disk drive is very common

[edit] MSXturboR

  • Only released in Japan
  • Processor: R800 and Zilog Z80A compatible
    • R800 running at 7.16 MHz (instructions use about 4x less clock ticks than the Z80, so often quoted as 28.6 MHz when comparing with the Z80)
    • Zilog Z80A compatible (embedded in the T9769C MSX-Engine) running at 3.58 MHz for backwards compatibility
  • ROM: 96 KB
    • BIOS + Extended BIOS (48 KB)
    • MSX BASIC V4.0 (16 KB)
    • DiskROM (16 KB)
    • Kun-BASIC (16 KB)
    • Kanji ROM (256 KB)
    • Firmware (4 MB)
  • RAM: 256 KB (FS-A1ST) or 512 KB (FS-A1GT)
    • Memory mapped (4 MB/slot max)
    • Additionally 16 KB (FS-A1ST) or 32 KB (FS-A1GT) of SRAM (battery-powered)
  • Video Display Processor: Yamaha V9958 (aka MSX-Video) so the same possibilities as MSX2+
  • Sound chip: Yamaha YM2149 (PSG)
  • Sound chip: Yamaha YM2413 (OPLL) (MSX-Music)
  • Sound chip: PCM
    • 8-bit single channel (no DMA), 16 kHz max using BIOS routines.
    • Microphone built-in
  • Sound chip: MIDI in/out (FS-A1GT only)
  • Clock chip
  • 3.5" Floppy disk drive

[edit] Peripherals

[edit] Floppy disk drives

MSX systems generally did not have a built-in disk drive, so games were published mainly on cartridge and cassette tape. Floppy disk drives were available for MSX however, in the form of a cartridge containing the disk interface electronics and a BIOS extension ROM (the floppy disk drive interface), connected to an external case with the drive. In South-America, many of these systems used a 5¼" floppy disk drives, but in Europe, mostly the 3.5" drives were popular.

Later in the 1980s the MSX2 was released, which systems often (but not always) included a built-in 3.5" disk drive, and consequently the popular media for games and other software shifted to floppy disks.

The MSX 3.5" floppy disks are directly compatible with MS-DOS (although some details like file undeletion and boot sector code were different). Like MS-DOS 1, MSX disks (formatted) under MSX-DOS 1 have no support for subdirectories. [4]

[edit] MSX-Audio

  • Yamaha Y8950, also known as:
    • Panasonic: MSX-Audio (standard name)
    • Philips: Music Module (no MSX-Audio BIOS)
    • Toshiba: MSX FM-synthesizer Unit (no sample RAM, no MSX-Audio BIOS)
  • 9 channels FM or 6 channels FM + 5 drums
  • ADPCM record and play
  • 32 KB of sample RAM, which can be upgraded to 256 KB

[edit] MSX-Music

  • Yamaha YM2413 (OPLL), also known as:
    • MSX-Music (standard name)
    • Panasonic: FM-PAC
    • Zemina: Music Box
    • Checkmark: FM-Stereo-Pak
  • 9 channels FM or 6 channels FM + 5 drums
  • 15 pre-set instruments, 1 custom
  • Built-in in many MSX2+ computers and the MSXturboR

[edit] Emulation

MSX computers are one of the most emulated platforms today, (see List of computer system emulators) with versions for almost any platform, including mobile phones. Most MSX emulators are or were based on the code of the pioneer fMSX, (homepage) a portable MSX emulator by Marat Fayzullin. fMSX source code license isn't free and many emulators removed Fayzullin's Z80 emulation code entirely in later versions to avoid legal problems.

The official MSX emulator "MSXPLAYer" (Japanese) is produced by the MSX Association (Japanese), of which MSX standard inventor Kazuhiko Nishi is the president.

MSX is also emulated in the Nintendo Wii's Virtual Console, with games available for download officially (in Japan only, but it was also announced that North America will get MSX games someday too. It's unknown if Europe will receive MSX support).

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Kojima Productions History
  2. ^ Japan's economic miracle
  3. ^
  4. ^ Old Spectrum magazine "Crash" page as an example of the animosity toward MSX in Britain
  5. ^ With very few exceptions, except for a very early Phillips MSX-1 model, (the VG8000) and the SVI-318 almost all other mainstream MSX-1 machines offered at least the full 64K of RAM
  6. ^ Mac Daily News 5 to 6 million Apple IIs sold
  7. ^ MSX Resource Center Foundation about MSX trademark: [1]
  8. ^ Benelux trademark registration for the MSX trademark: [2]
  9. ^ Statement about D4 Enterprise illegally selling 1chipMSX on MSX Association's Europe website: [3]
  10. ^ Actually there are just 15 colour tints available, because, just like Sinclair spectrum there are two versions of black. Unlike the Spectrum however, one of the blacks is actually "transparent", so the MSX video picture could be overlayed on a another video signal, for example one from a video disk

[edit] External links

  • MSX Association (Japanese) — Current owner of the MSX trademark, Japanese distributor of MSXPlayer and the 1chipMSX.
  • MSX Association Europe — States to be the only official contact place for MSX Association in Europe.
  • D4 Enterprise (Japanese) — Japanese distributor of re-released MSX games.
  • Bazix — Partner of D4 Enterprise and former partner of MSX Association for business outside Japan.
  • Main English language MSX site
  • The MSX Files - English / Portuguese site, with news, new games, programs, game cheats and much more!
  • MSX-ALL — A server exclusively dedicated to MSX. Many important MSX Web Sites are freely hosted on the MSX-ALL Web Servers.
  • MSX History — A website containing interviews, MSX game conversions, like Tutankham, Montezuma´s Revenge and Pepper II, labels, covers and a lot of material for MSX.
  • ESE Artists' Factory Unofficial homepage — Unofficial page of the employees of the ESE Artists' Factory, which develops the ESE MSX System 3, also distributed as the 1chipMSX.
  • MSX at the Open Directory Project
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