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1980s Computers Explanation of terms
Notes


The MSX Range


Toshiba HX10

Manufacturer

Various MSX licensees, mostly Japanese, including Sony, Sanyo, Toshiba, JVC, Goldstar, Panasonic, Canon, Philips, Spectravideo

Model

Various, including HB-75 Hit Bit, MPC 100, HX10 (illustrated above), HC-7GB, FC200, CF2700, V-20, VG-8000, SVI-738 in order from the manufacturers listed above

Date Launched

May 1984 in the UK
A few appeared in late 1983 in Japan.

Price

Around £280 to £300

Microprocessor type

Zilog Z80A or equivalent @ 3.579 MHz

ROM size

32 kilobytes

Standard RAM

Minimum 8 kilobytes to comply with MSX specification.
Most came with 64 KB.

Maximum RAM

1024 kilobytes using bank switching

Keyboard type

At least 70 keys, including 5 function keys and separate cursor keys, of typewriter quality.

Supplied language

Microsoft extended BASIC

Text resolution

40 x 24 characters

Graphics resolution

256 x 192 pixels

Colours available

16

Sound

3 channels

Cassette load speed

1200 or 2400 baud

Dimensions (mm)
Weight (grams)

390 x 250 x 65 (Sony HB-75)
Not known

Special features

32 graphics sprites
Ran an operating system called MSX DOS 1 which was very similar to MSDOS used on IBM compatibles.

Good points

Included a joystick and cartridge port.
In theory software written to the MSX standard would run on any MSX machine from any manufacturer.

Bad points

The specification was comparable to other home computers of the time but not exceptional.
The MSX range was relatively expensive compared to the likes of the Commodore 64, Atari 600, Oric Atmos and Sinclair Spectrum, all costing under £200.

How successful?

The makers of MSX machines predicted they would gain a third of the UK market in 1985 but in practice only modest numbers were sold.
The MSX standard was more popular in Japan and over the next few years improved versions known as MSX2, MSX2+ and MSX2 Turbo R appeared.

Comments

One of the weaknesses of the low-cost end of the home computer market in the early 1980s was that computers from different manufacturers, and often different machines from the same manufacturer, were incompatible with each other.
This meant a program written for one computer would not run on another without substantial modifications, even if the two machines used the same microprocessor and had similar graphics and sound abilities. This increased the cost of writing software and limited the range available on any one machine.

MSX was intended to solve the problem by defining a standard specification for hardware and a standard operating system. Various manufacturers could build machines to this specification and they would all be able to run the same programs. MSX was developed by Kazuhiko Nishi of the Japanese company ASCII, in collaboration with Microsoft, and was expected to sweep the home computer market.

Software compatibility was a sound idea in theory but in reality there were problems:

  • Computers like the Commodore 64 and Sinclair Spectrum had already sold a million or more and had created their own de-facto standards.
  • The MSX hardware specification was adequate but not outstanding and more advanced designs soon appeared. Standardisation was seen as likely to hinder progress, as some people think happened with the IBM PC/Windows standard.
  • The fact that the hardware was standardised made it difficult for the numerous manufacturers to distinguish their products. To provide a selling point they added extra hardware or firmware, such as control of a laserdisc player in Panasonic's model, improved audio in Yamaha's, a lightpen in Sanyo's, a built-in database program in Sony's. Of course any software which made use of these extra features would only run on that one model of MSX, and the advantage of the common standard was lost

MSX range
Some of the MSX computers on sale in 1984. Top row Hitachi, Teleton, Sanyo. Middle row Toshiba, Canon, Mitsubishi. Bottom Sony.



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