Sharp MZ-80B

This behemoth is already out of my collection, but it’s no fault of its own. It’s a lovely machine. I picked it up on Mercari and it worked perfectly. It was in beautiful condition and came with its original box and cover. It has a very cool APSS (automatic program search system) to navigate cassettes. And it’s got such a cool aesthetic!

But either it or my MZ-80K2 had to go because they’re so similar and both so big. This one would have required a complete reconfiguration of my computer rack in order to accommodate, and the box would have to go either way. In the end, the K2 was more practical. But the B will be remembered fondly. Side-by-side for comparison.

It took me a while to get BASIC to load. I found a tape image of BASIC fairly quickly, but there were some interesting hurdles. First, depending on the wav file, you can’t simply record the file to tape. It has to be played back at a 30% speed increase. Once I figured that out, I got BASIC to load, but there was a minor problem. Katakana characters appeared, but the order was totally different. This is due to there being a Japanese version and a European version of the machine. I had the European BASIC running on the Japanese machine. I could not find the Japanese version anywhere, but fortunately someone from a Facebook group I am on was kind enough to provide me with it. I was able to load BASIC and a few programs on it, including Pro Racer and Yume no Pro Yakyu.

One thing I kind of struggle to understand is why Sharp made these computer series, the MZ series, but made two separate branches of compatibility. I would think MZ would be one series and for example XZ another series, or MZ-80 series and for example MZ-5000 series, but in reality, there’s like, MZ-80A/B/C/K/K2/K2E as well as MZ-700/1500/1200/2200/etc. And it’s totally unintuitive which are compatible with each other. I guess it adds to part of the excitement?

Pasopia Goodies

There was a small bundle of items related to Toshiba Pasopia on Mercari for a while. The price would go down, then the seller would find some more related items, so the price would go up, and then back down. Eventually it hit a pretty sweet spot and the guy agreed to a small discount, so I bought it.

My Pasopia doesn’t get a whole lot of love because software is rare and expensive, and it doesn’t have much of a fanbase like its peers such as PC-8001 or (maybe?) FM-8, so even searching for software online is not a very fruitful endeavor. So this was a pretty unusual collection of treasure. It has two games: The Golf and Pro Racer, the original system demo tape, and a T-BASIC reference card.

Pro Racer is the only game that is actually completely new to me. The demo tape and The Golf I had already found online. Pro Racer is a very simple game that makes use of the primitive graphics available on the system. Still, fun to play around with once in a while.

NEC PC-6001mkIISR

Over the past year and a half or so, I’ve worked my way up from the PC-6001 to the PC-6001mkII, and now I’ve made it to the final stage in the series, the PC-6001mkIISR. I was not expecting to get this machine because it usually ends up around 25000 yen for just the machine, but here was a full set including box, manuals, and demo tapes, with the machine powered up and shows to be working to the main menu, for a good chunk less than that.

Actually, although it was shown in the auction to be working up to the above screen, the computer was not well at all. If you started in modes 2 or 4, the computer would fill up with corrupt graphics, a sign of bad RAM. In modes 1, 3, 5, or 6, it would look okay at first but fail to load games, and would still show the same corrupt graphics if you changed the current memory page. In addition, even if you thought you’d just poke around with BASIC a bit until the memory problem was solved, the PSU started making a horrible noise.

My friendly technician and patient friend Edoardo gave it proper treatment. He replaced the PSU with a new one, added ZIF sockets for the RAM and replaced the memory chips, and recapped the motherboard. When he brought it back to me, it was good as new. When he recaps a machine for me, it really helps cement its place as a permanent member of my collection. In addition, the machine is in amazing cosmetic condition. I mean, just look at it!

The box, manuals, and tapes were also in surprisingly good shape. I am not much of a box guy, being in Japan with limited space, and often see it as a mild deterrent to purchasing, but it sure does look pretty handsome. The manuals do show a bit of wear but not so bad

After getting it back, I threw Pac-Man at it. It runs in mode 5, which utilizes the full 64KB, and the game takes nearly 10 minutes to load from tape, so in my mind it’s a pretty thorough memory check but in reality I have no idea. In any event, it runs well and looks beautiful with its sharp digital RGB colors.

The main thing it’s missing that the PC-6001mkII had is composite output. Digital RGB is extra crisp, but composite sometimes outputs the “correct” colors. There are two main examples I can think of for this: Dig Dug and Eggy.

Dig Dug is a little bit subtle. It’s already a colorful game with some unnatural choices, so if you don’t pay much attention to it, it probably goes unnoticed. But the bottom layer of dirt and the rocks are brown over composite, but they’re magenta over digital RGB. The colors in the high score chart are also a distinct color for each entry in composite, but there is overlap in digital RGB because they’re being interpreted as the same color.

Eggy is a bit of a surprise. Actually, Eggy is essentially a black and white game, but it makes use of NTSC hacks to generate color. It’s really quite a feat because it looks very colorful! When you play it over digital RGB, while it does look crisp, it’s completely black and white!

Like the PC-8001mkIISR and PC-8801mkIISR, the main distinguishing feature between SR and non-SR models is advanced sound capabilities. It has almost everything the PC-6001mkII has, but adds an FM sound generator and includes two (male and female) digitized voices. They speak only in Japanese so it’s kinda cheating as there’s little challenge in pronunciation, but it’s an amusing extra.

It also comes with a “digital telopper” option, which prepares the output from the computer to be recorded. This is a feature usually reserved for the flagship computers such as the X1, FM77AV, or PC-8801’s upper-end models, so it’s pretty surprising to see it on this final iteration of NEC’s low-end line.

Sharp MZ-1500

Sharp is heavily represented in my collection, but there are a couple of reasons. They are divided into two groups: computer division (MZ series and the oddball PC-3100) and home electronics division (X1 and X68000), which I don’t think happened at any other manufacturer. Another is that they’re just so cool-looking.

And this MZ-1500 is no exception. It’s got a black and white with blue accents theme going on. The MZ-1500 is a successor to the MZ-700, with a few key differences: it comes with a PCG (programmable character generator) for improved graphics, has improved sound, and its Achilles’ heel, it replaced the integrated tape drive with a QuickDisk drive.

Let’s compare the Mz-700 version of Pac-Man and the MZ-1500 version of Pac-Man. The MZ-700 had no graphics mode and drew its games using large pixels or symbols from the built-in character ROM. The MZ-1500 has true graphics modes, and the difference is pretty clear. The MZ-700 has a PCG expansion option, but it is rare and expensive and my understanding is it doesn’t work as well as the MZ-1500’s built-in PCG.

The concept of the QuickDisk is pretty cool, it is a slick integration with the system much like the tape drive on the MZ-700. And now the QuickDisk is a boon to my collection because of its rarity. But the QuickDisk was supposedly a means of avoiding the more expensive emerging standard of 3.5″ floppy drives. Now it’s quite difficult to find QuickDisk media, and when you do manage to find any original games, they’re often terribly expensive. I was given a backup disk with my system, it contains BASIC. I also happened into an extra blank disk a short time later.

The disks are also only 128KB in capacity, making them about 2.5x smaller than the smallest-capacity 3.5″ floppy drives. They are at least a dramatic improvement over tape speeds.

The MZ-1500 is a Z-80 CPU-based machine with the main system memory weighing in at a fairly standard 64KB. But one outstanding feature is the dual-sound chip setup. It has two SN76489 chips, giving it six octaves and the capability of producing sound in stereo.

Fujitsu FM-8

This machine is a big beast that has always been hard to ignore. It pops up quite often on Yahoo Auctions and it stands out. It’s got a really unique aesthetic, with its bumpy-textured brown body and yellowish-orangish and white keys. When I first saw it, I thought it was terribly yellowed, but it was at least mostly by design. I grew to like it over time, and I finally got one on a super bargain-priced auction.

I bought it in a fixed-price auction coupled with an NEC PC-8001. It was a bit strange, an auction that appeared in a far-fetched category around 2 o’clock in the morning. The seller’s description mentioned “not needing a lot of money for them,” and saying he just wanted to practice selling on Yahoo Auctions. I was all too glad to help him fulfill his wish.

They were untested, but they both fired right up. Always a relief! It’s a fun keyboard to press keys on, which I am distinguishing a bit from typing on. The tactile response and resistance are nice, and there’s the slightest of clicks to them. And there are four LEDs, which is pretty good for a Japanese 80s keyboard.

It’s as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside, too.

It’s kind of slim-pickins for games. My friend had given me that archive of software, and it included FM-7 games, and some games for FM-7 were designed to work on FM-8 originally/as well. But determining which games are FM-8 compatible is a tedious task. I’ve found Black Jack and Lunar Lander so far.

Black Jack starts out with a long-winded drawing of each card, with a long pause between Queen and King to really ratchet up the tension, I guess. I won this hand skillfully and pocketed five 8-bit dollars, then quit while I was ahead. Before rebooting, I confirmed my suspicions that “How do you bet?” is not expecting an adverb.

And Lunar Lander, if that is your real name. I am bad captain, I agree fully. I neglected my duties so I could take photos for social media.

So I got it at a bargain, but if you think I let it go at that, you don’t know me very well. I’ve bought (and later resold) three or four more since then. One because it came with manuals and demo tape, one because it looked a little nicer than mine (but I didn’t like the keyboard as much, so I swapped them). And most interestingly, one came with bubble memory.

Bubble memory fits into the little tray under the top-right cover. The technology is completely different, but it’s sort of like a clunky 80s version of an SD card. It’s easy to switch out and take to another computer, provided that other computer has a bubble memory drive, which is highly unlikely!

The bubble memory appeared not to work at first, and troubleshooting was a nightmare. Seemingly someone had performed a mod with wires going into and coming out of practically everywhere. After a lot of red herrings, I came to the realization that my bubble memory did indeed work, but it required around 20 minutes to initialize.

I eventually decided to sell the system that the bubble memory came with, including the bubble memory itself. Now I have the standard FM-8 which was the nicest of the four or so that I’ve come across, and a nice set of manuals and matching demo tape.

One of the systems came with an unexpected treat – a full set of kanji ROMs. I took those out of the original system and put them into my own. Among the manuals is an appendix listing the in-ROM address of each kanji, so the symbols can be called from BASIC. I haven’t gotten very far yet, but I am trying to make a program that displays all of the kanji beginning with a selected syllable (which is how they are organized).

Right now it’s just hard-coded to display everything beginning with ヒ(hi). I’ll have to put everything into an array and make an interface for selecting the syllable.