FM Towns Memory Upgrade

I’d been watching with mild annoyance as this guy dropped his price 100 yen per day for a couple of months to keep his items at the top of the search list in Mercari (or whatever reason he had). It was kind of annoying because the machine itself is pretty banged up, and with a starting price of 20000 yen, it seemed like it would take forever to finally sell so I wouldn’t have to look at the listing anymore.

Then a couple of days ago, when it hit around 15000 yen, he started dropping it by 500 yen per day. Cool! It’ll be sold soon, I thought.

And today it sold! To me. I wasn’t planning on buying it, but I felt compelled to look a little more closely today. I noticed that it was fully-populated with RAM and despite being a first-gen Towns, it has a 486 CPU. I sent him an offer of 11000 and he accepted. Not a super bargain, I suppose, but finding RAM that is ready to go with an FM Towns has been pretty elusive, and I haven’t even been able to find much in terms of 1 or 2MB sticks that I could get converted to work with Towns, so I thought perhaps this could be my opportunity. I didn’t know the size of the RAM sticks, but even if they were all 1MB, that would still be 2.5x more than my current 2MB. It arrived today.

A little scuffed, but not nearly as bad as I’d imagined based on the images from the Mercari listing.

The mystery RAM was three SIMMs totaling 5MB, so when I put it into my main Towns system, I came to the grand sum of 7MB, 3.5x more than my original configuration. Despite the non-matched pairs (there is 2MB on-board RAM, and slot 0 is 1MB, slot 1 and 2 have 2MB each), everything worked nicely together.

At first I thought the extra memory was making it boot faster from the hard drive, but that’s either not true or only maybe one or two seconds of improvement.

But there are definitely some benefits. The most obvious is that I can now do things that I wasn’t able to do before.

Starting with the OS, using 2.1 L51, I was unable to use quite a few applications that were built into the OS with my default 2MB. Most noteworthy, I can now use the Paint/Lite and text editor applications (no, I wasn’t able to launch the text editor with 2MB!). A handful of other applications that I couldn’t open before now open correctly, too, but fail along the way because I either lack equipment (telopper) or need some other media (Oasys). But anyway, whereas 2.1 definitely seemed beyond my system’s abilities before, now it seems comfortable.

And the biggest win, I can now play a couple of games that I couldn’t before: Super Street Fighter II and SimCity 2000. But just because you *can* do something doesn’t mean you *should*. SSF2 works pretty well, despite using only my 386. SC2K, on the other hand, is sooo laggy, and in addition to that, it throws up video glitches frequently (but the glitches are always the same) and I would venture to say the music isn’t playing correctly, although I don’t know for sure what it’s *supposed* to sound like. But I could play it enough to make a small beginning of a city.

There are also a couple more subtle wins that I noticed. The game that I play most, Amaranth 3, doesn’t seem to care, but King’s Quest V uses the extra memory to save more screen data. While the stock 2MB can only store about 4 or 5 screens of data before it has to go back to loading from CD, with 7MB I could walk freely through the whole initial area (about 12 screens) without accessing the CD, and potentially more.

And my Towns OS experience has become much more multi-taking (at least it feels that way, in the way Windows 3.1 also felt multi-tasking). I can load several applications at the same time and slip in and out between the apps and the OS, whereas with 2MB it would close down the launcher interface to start the selected app and when I closed that app it would restart the launcher.

PC-6001 Demo Tape

This is NEC’s official demonstration tape for the PC-6001, which offers the user a glimpse into what is possible with their new computer.

It begins with a simple program that loads from tape in about five seconds, called “color”. It just shows off how many colors your computer can display (eight, although BASIC can only access them in terrible ways), and shows a couple of simple images that make use of these colors. The second picture shows that this cheap computer is just as capable as all of the expensive computers you can’t afford, as long as you sink a small fortune into expansions and peripherals. Motivating!

The second program shows some graphic capabilities. You can make graphs and charts and propel your career forward. If I recall correctly, the fifth image in this batch is from the third program, which shows off the audio capabilities of the machine, which are primitive, but still certainly add to the ambiance of a game.

Up last is probably the most interesting program on the tape, which shows a series of squares being drawn in different colors, rotated slightly and drawn over the existing squares, in series until the overall shape looks increasingly like a colorful circle.

I think there were more programs on the second side, I forget. I actually took these photos a few months ago. Anyway, I think this is a sufficient sample to get the idea.

One thing to remember is that NEC wanted to show users the machines capabilities, but actually the machine is *far* more capable than what you see here. You may recall the PC-6001 port of Eggy I posted about recently, it does a far superior job of showing the machine’s true power. Commodore had the same situation. Their demo disk showed so little of what the computer could do. To really push the limits of the machines, you have to get it into the hands of serious game developers, musicians, and even business software developers. These demo tapes and disks are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Also, since I took these pictures, I have acquired a PC-6001mk2. The difference is unreal. Quadruple the memory, far more sophisticated graphic modes and capabilities, vastly improved audio. The difference is really comparable to going from a VIC-20 to a Commodore 64 (which is not to say the machines themselves are quite comparable to the VIC-20 and Commodore 64, but the difference realized is about as big). Hard to believe they slapped on the same model number and just referred it as a new version, when it offered so much more.

Fujitsu Oasys 30-SX401

I’ve always had a distant interest in Japanese word processors, but I had pretty much made up my mind not to get one. They’re big and bulky and it’s taking up a considerable amount of floor space in my room.

“Wait!”, you say. “You said you weren’t going to get one.” Well, here’s that story:

Back on Mercari. I saw an advertisement for a word processor. Not going to buy it, in fact, at 5000 yen, it’s a little expensive for what it is. But I do enjoy looking at them. Looked at the first three images, the system, a closeup shot of the model number, closeup shot of the keyboard.

Fourth image was a closeup of a model number, too, but it said NEC, not Fujitsu. What’s this? Fifth image, it’s an NEC data recorder AND a PC-6001mk2! Now that price seems totally reasonable! But the item title and description didn’t even mention these items. I had a few back-and-forth messages with the seller and he confirmed that the NEC items were included and he lowered the price down to 3500 yen, including shipping. What a fortuitous find!

The NEC will wait for another post, another day; this is about the Oasys. So I am happy to have the NEC and I feel my penance for that steal I got for the NEC is to find a good next home for the Oasys. First thing’s first, let’s see if I can sell it.

If I’m going to sell it, I have to get some photographs. So here is a quick look at the main system.

The next step was to power it on first and see if it works. This was moderately intimidating because I expected it was going to have a nasty degauss after not being used for 20+ years (imagine holding a sneeze for that long) and a big racket from the printer that has probably lost all of its lubrication. And that’s all fine, but there’s also the possibility that the whole thing is going to explode and burst into flames, and for that first second or two, you don’t know which you are hearing. But I did it. I turned it on and… nothing. I searched around to see if there was a secondary power switch somewhere, but nothing.

So I ignored it for a bit and opened up the PC-6001mk2, and suddenly three minutes later, the Oasys springs to life. Its white screen brightens up and reveals its demands: give me floppy disks.

Yeah, pal. Where am I going to find Oasys 30-SX401 floppy disks? That’s a wild goose chase if I ever… oh here are some. Right on Mercari. They’re not as much of a bargain as the machines I had just bought, but at about 1200 yen, it seemed the right next step. Since it can’t seem to find the hard drive, or the floppy drive belts might already be bad, or there may be gunk on the disks, I don’t assume everything will magically work just by having the floppy disks, but at least the next owner won’t have to search them down.

But to my surprise, actually, these floppy disks 100% fixed the problem. I plopped the disk in the “system” drive, and like five seconds later it displayed its opening screen. There is no hard drive, it just wanted the floppy disks so it could boot! Already, I’m quite taken by the unique appearance of the black and white, high-res monitor. I quickly tested out the keyboard and poked around a couple of the simple options that were included. I also found a useful menu with system utilities.

After I confirmed that things were basically working, I took on a bit more rigorous challenge – using the main system applications. I tested out the word processor, the spreadsheet program, the graphic generation program, and the address book application. A big part of the learning curve is the keyboard. Japanese text entry works quite a bit differently than it does on a modern PC. In fact, it’s even a bit confusing to get into English text entry. But I plodded on and created the following:

I also opened it up to check on the state of the battery. It wasn’t saving the date, so I was sure the battery was dead, but the fear is that it is spilling battery-guts all over the motherboard and its on its last legs. But the system all checked out clean. I’ll have to replace the battery at some point but it is okay for the time being.

There is a bit more expandability than I’d imagined. There are two card slots (not sure if they are actually PCMCIA or not, but at least along those lines). The side of the keyboard has two ports – one for a mouse and the other for a number pad extension. And in the back there are ports for an external printer, a “kaisen” (circuit? line?), a modem, and a paper feeder.

And I managed to find a game buried deep in the getting started menu. It’s a simple game where you guide a ship through a maze by typing key combinations that allow the ship to climb or descend. It’s tremendously exciting.

So I am now kind of happy with this system and I am not sure I want to sell it. And as for that NEC PC-6001mk2? It works, too!

Sharp X68000 Expert

Now I will take the opportunity to post about my X68000 Expert itself. As I mentioned in my previous post, which details the various stops along the way of getting an X68000, this was a serviced and guaranteed working system, meaning it was not cheap. But these are such problem-prone machines I wanted to have the best chance possible of continued operation.

The machine is in very good, but not perfect, cosmetic condition. All cosmetic flaws are easily overlooked by focusing on the unique and elegant design. There’s just nothing like this, past or present, and probably not in the future, either.

The official peripherals are also quite unique. There are many keys on this system that you won’t find on most other machines, and I’m not just talking about the Japanese entry keys. There are option keys and XF keys and other keys, many of which I still haven’t figured out the use for. I’ll need to spend some more time exploring this system, for sure. There are also a lot of keys that have status LEDs directly on the keys, which can make for a cool effect.

The mouse, too, is very clever. It has a mouse mode and a trackball mode. To switch into trackball mode, turn it over so the ball rolls to the top of the mouse’s body, and lock it in place by sliding the selector on the bottom from M to T. Then remove the cap from the top of the mouse. To put it back in mouse mode, just reverse the process. There are also two left buttons and two right buttons, one set on the top and one set on the sides. The mouse body can also be rotated 90 degrees, which I assume is for trackball mode should you want your buttons on the side instead of in front of the ball.

The underlying OS is called Human68k and certainly resembles DOS, although it appears to be different under the hood.

And much like MS-DOS has Windows, Human68k has SX-Window. It is not really multi-taking, just provides a simple GUI for common tasks. In a way, it reminds me more of GEOS for the Commodore 64. This is a basic version that is designed primarily to launch Gradius, but you can do things like copy files, make folders, set up the system timer, make notes, etc.

The software bundled with the system also includes a word processor, which, as far as I can tell, is called 日本語ワードプロセッサ, which translates to “Japanese Word Processor.” Clever name, fellas. It might be a bit under-featured for its time, but I guess the only thing I can compare it to is Word Perfect for DOS, which I suppose was ahead of its time, so perhaps this was the average? It’s a GUI-based WYSIWYG word processor, except I don’t think the WYSIWYG is 100%. Maybe 80-90%. Anyway, here it is, processing words.

The OS and productivity applications are interesting to me, but this system is about games, games, and more games! The X68000 is legendary for games. Famously, Capcom did their contemporary arcade game development on these machines, so the X68000 home versions might be identical to the coin-op version. Other companies also made stellar games because this system packs a serious graphics punch.

Here are some popular games in action: Gradius and Daimakai Mura (Ghouls n’ Ghosts, one of Capcom’s releases). As this isn’t a game introduction, I’m not going to explain much here, just a bit of showing off graphics. But look at the detail in the background of Daimakai Mura, it’s so meticulous!