NEC PC-6001mkII

This is another system I had initially decided I didn’t want to get. As I mentioned before, I didn’t want the NEC PC-6001, because I’d tried the PC-6601SR, which was supposedly the top of the top of the PC60/66 group, and I wasn’t especially interested in it (although in retrospect, I could have tried harder). But the quirkiness and frankly the cheapness of the PC-6001 won me over. All of the cost-saving measures they put into the machine made it a unique experience. Despite, or perhaps because of, its ugly green background and peculiarly designed keyboard, I ended up liking it quite a bit.

The reason I didn’t want this machine, the PC-6001mkII, was that I saw it as making the original PC-6001 redundant. Why bother having the original if I have the mkII, which can do everything the original can do, do it better, and do much more? I didn’t want to phase out my quirky little 6001. But I ran into an incredible deal on the mkII, essentially free as an extra item in the Mercari listing where I got my Oasys. And ultimately this PC-6001mkII did push out the original once I started running low on room. But I’ve found this solution satisfying.

So here’s the PC-6001mkII, a slick device that offers an improved typing and text-displaying experience over the original, with quadruple the memory (64KB). The keyboard is much more like a standard keyboard, with full key travel and more responsive typing. In BASIC, hazy light green on dark green (or light orange on dark orange) is replaced with white on black, and you can customize your text/background colors to your liking. Thanks to the big memory bump, it can generally run much more sophisticated games. It boasts an excellent port of Dig Dug, one of the nicest versions I’ve seen yet.

When you turn on the device, you have five options to choose from. The first two are N60BASIC (16KB or 32KB), the next two are N60 Extended BASIC (16KB or 32KB) and the final is N60m BASIC (64KB). The 16KB options are simulations of the original machine, and the 32KB options are simulations of the original machine with the 16KB memory expansion cartridge plugged in. I believe the last option is the “native” mode of this machine.

Not only is the display over composite improved, but the mkII also offers the option to display over digital RGB. This results in a huge increase in clarity, but also led to inaccurate color output. Look at the pictures of Dig Dug. The colors are as they should be in composite, where each score in the high score chart is a distinct color, and the bottom layer of dirt and the rocks are brown. But using digital RGB, there is color overlap in the high score chart, and the dirt and rocks that should be brown are magenta.

But when it comes to text-based applications, digital-RGB is the clear-cut winner. Fortunately, my PC-TV455 has both composite and digital RGB inputs, so switching back and forth is not much work at all. I assume it is clear based on the descriptions, but just to make sure, in all pairs of photos in the group above and below, composite is on the left, and digital RGB is on the right.

Using this machine, I also learned an important technique in vintage computing – loading programs by playing back .wav files on my smartphone. Just put the white connector from my CMT cable into my headphone jack, tell it to load on the computer, and press play in a .wav file playing sound application. Actually, the hardest thing was finding something that played .wav files without throwing ads at me. But Google Play Music does this okay. So I have a decent library of software I can play on this machine.

Getting an X68000 Expert (the hard way)

This post turned out very differently from my intention. I just wanted to introduce the X68000 hardware that I currently have. But that will happen later. Once I started typing this out, I realized I wanted to find out one thing – the bottom line. So while I don’t usually talk about exact prices on this blog, this is an exception.

Last summer, I went back to the US to visit my family and friends. One stop on the list of places to go was my friend Chris’s house. I had been sending him pieces to get his own X68000 system, but they had only passed through my hands in transit, I’d never even plugged the system in. Of course, I had interest, but I didn’t pursue it. So when I visited his house, I saw the whole setup, and boy was it impressive.

When I got back home, I had the general sense I was going to get one, myself, but no solid plan. Then one day I saw an auction on Yahoo ending in about two hours. It was an X68000 Pro sitting at 10000 yen with very little time remaining. Operating condition was unknown. I took a risk and got it for 15000 yen. When I received it, I could only confirm that it displayed video, because I had no mouse, keyboard, or software (well, my X1 mouse actually works with it, and the mouse can conjure up a software keyboard, so I was technically just in need of software). This began a convoluted journey to where I am now.

So the next step in the rabbit hole was getting a mouse and keyboard and some games. I found another X68000 (first generation) that also was in unknown operating condition. It was a little more expensive, but it came with a mouse and keyboard, so for 22000, that is considered a pretty decent deal on this usually expensive system.

The X68000 didn’t work, but the mouse and keyboard were fine. They were gray and my Pro was black, so it was a bit of a mismatch, but it got the job done. I also picked up Shanghai at Beep in Akihabara so I could test if it loaded or not. Basically, the X68000 Pro worked fine, but one of my disk drives put scratches in disks. I cleaned it and it got better, but still put minor scratches in disks.

To prevent further damage to disks, I used my HxC emulator. It doesn’t support a lot of games, though, so I kinda hobbled by on whatever it would load for a while. There were some fun games, like Pac-Mania, Dig-Dug, and Columns (a personal favorite from my past), but most major titles for this system like Akumajo Dracula and Daimakai Mura (Castlevania and Ghouls n’ Ghosts in the western world, respectively) didn’t work.

Eventually I picked up a third machine – another X68000 first gen. It was the ying to my yang, a gray system with a black keyboard and mouse! This was expensive at 50000 yen, but it basically worked. As a bonus, it even came with an X68000 Expert box. One drive didn’t work at all, but non-working first gen to the rescue! I put one of the drives from the non-working X68000 first gen into the new one. Bingo! A fully working system. Unfortunately, it doesn’t support the HxC emulator at all and I just couldn’t come to grips with buying the usually expensive software.

So I started selling stuff off. I sold off the broken first gen and the working first gen, superfluous keyboards, mice, and even the X68000 Expert box. I was able to recover most of the money I’d spent, and had a working Pro with matching black keyboard and mouse, and the only limitation was the disk scratching drive, which I avoided by only playing on the HxC emulator.

Then suddenly I happened to luck into good deals on two large batches of games. Suddenly I had 41 original titles on my hands. Using them on the X68000 Pro with it’s scratch-prone drive was problematic, though. Had I known this one was coming, I wouldn’t have sold that working first gen.

Fourth time’s the charm? I bought my most expensive X68000 to date – a fully maintained and working X68000 Expert, guaranteed to work for five days after delivery. It cost a whopping 62000 yen. But I’ve always got some plan brewing in the back of my mind. It came with an extra mouse, a keyboard adapter and PS/2 keyboard, manuals, and a pretty nice joycard. The mouse was a bit broken, but it’s still fairly valuable. The keyboard adapters are pretty valuable. The joycard is nice but I can sell another one and keep this as a small upgrade. And most importantly, I can sell the X68000 Pro. To transition to this machine will not be so expensive

It’s been working super smoothly, and even if I give it a bad disk, the drives themselves are not negatively impacted and don’t need to be disassembled and re-adjusted. It just works. Peace of mind. Almost all of the original games work. So this is the X68000 hardware I currently own. If all goes well, I don’t need to buy another one!

So how much have I put into this system and how much have I received back? Let’s see them numbers:
I bought:
15000 – X68000 Pro
22000 – X68000 first gen (gray, with gray keyboard and mouse)
50000 – X68000 first gen (gray, with black keyboard and mouse and Expert box)
62000 – X68000 Expert (black, with broken mouse, keyboard adapter, and controller)
149000 – Total

I sold:
7500 – X68000 first gen (broken)
43500 – X68000 first gen (working)
31500 – X68000 Pro
14000 – gray keyboard
7500 – gray mouse
5300 – keyboard adapter
6300 – black mouse (broken)
2400 – joycard
3400 – X68000 Expert Box (came with my second first-gen)
121400 – Total

Of course, Yahoo wants their cut. Minus 8.8% to leave me with 110,000. It puts the cost of my X68000 system, including keyboard and mouse, right around 39000 yen. In working order, these systems fetch between about 30000 and 150000 (depending on model and physical condition), so I’d say I didn’t do too bad.

Sega SG-1000 II

There’s this guy that repeatedly posts wonderful items to Mercari at really low prices. For example, 4000 yen for a Commodore MAX Machine. Tape games for fairly uncommon systems at 500 yen each. The items are almost always snapped up in less than a minute. I always try to get in on this action, but it’s long gone before I have a chance.

And then, last Friday, I managed to snag something! I wasn’t even 100% sure what it was, and it didn’t turn out to be an amazing deal or anything. It’s all okay, I just wanted to win something from the guy! Still, this is an incredibly mint system. It’s a Sega SG-1000 II. More of a game console than a computer, but expanded to have computing capabilities, similar in concept to a Coleco Adam. It came incredibly well packaged, everything must have been carefully stored and very well taken care of. I believe the word “pristine” applies here.

It came with both controllers, two versions of BASIC, and a handful of games, too. Most of the games are not widely known, but there is one huge title – Zaxxon. Makes sense as that is a Sega game, too. Of the games I’ve tried so far, there seems to be a fairly good standard of quality. I’ll review a couple in greater detail in future posts.

I was told that the keyboard does not work, and indeed it did not when I first connected it. Clean the keyboard edge connector? But as immaculate as this machine is from the outside, how could it possibly be so dirty inside that it can’t receive input from the keyboard? But cleaning the connector was too easy, so I did it anyway. And then the keyboard started working! The keyboard connects by a little removable plate in the front left of the system. It’s probably the least elegant thing about this system.

The standard video output is limited to RF. Wow. I haven’t used RF in maybe 30 years? My option for connecting RF is limited to my two PC-TV series monitors. I didn’t find the process all that straightforward. In the US, I set my Atari 2600 to channel 3, my TV to channel 3, and magic happened. With this TV monitor, though, I had to go through quite a process to tune it to understand the signal. To be honest, I’m still not sure I’m doing it right, but I got it very usable for the time being.

I poked around a bit with BASIC. 40-column text over RF can be highly unreadable, so it is critical to choose the right color scheme. Usually, a bold color on black background seems to work decently. The first picture here, black on blue, is also pretty readable, but I don’t think my receiver was tuned properly at this point because it seems the default background color should be green.

As I mentioned, there are two versions of BASIC. One is BASIC Level II-B, which is what I used in the first three pictures. If I understand correctly, it just uses the system RAM, allowing only 2KB for your program! The other cartridge, used in the last picture, is BASIC SK-III, which comes with 32KB of RAM and supplies extra commands to the system.

So how are the games? Well, the three that I’ve tried are pretty fun. I’ll speak more about them later, but here are some sample screen shots from Monaco GP (picture 1), Zippy Race (pictures 2 and 3), and Zaxxon (pictures 4 and 5). For a fairly rudimentary system, the games seem quite well done. Monaco GP is a street car racing game. Zippy Race is a motorcycle race that, most interestingly to me, has you race in two different perspectives. And of course Zaxxon is a true classic. Fantastic!

Salamander

I’m not much of a shmup (shoot ’em up, a term I wouldn’t have known if not for my friend Chris, the shmup master) kind of guy, but starting with this game, the X68000 is starting to change my mind. When the title screen loaded, it was already a bit breathtaking, with its crisp display and vibrant colors.

And the game itself continued with that. It’s a very colorful and aesthetically pleasing game. But it’s also very engaging. The obstacles in your path are widely varied, forcing you to interact with the environment, not just the enemies and their shots. And the first boss fight was a nice challenge, nothing too aggressive and gives you a chance to get into the game and feel accomplished.

The second level suddenly tilts everything 90 degrees and you’re flying up instead of to the right. The third picture in the gallery below definitely crosses my comfort zone in terms of game intensity, but it was a fun challenge! This is about as far as I’ve got so far, dying at the boss of level 2. But I’ll be back for more!

This machine was made in 1987 and this game in 1988, but honestly, it seems a bit like cheating to call some of these vintage games. The X68000 is so sophisticated compared to most other consumer hardware of the time.

Eggy

I’d previously posted about this game for my Sharp X1. This is the PC-6001 version. Gameplay is the same, so it was mostly about seeing how the two ports compare. Considering how much more limited the PC-6001 is, I feel they did a great job in creating this version!