Some time ago, I saw somebody post pictures of their machine that had a built-in plasma screen. I was pretty smitten and I kept my eye out for one and came across this. It wasn’t super cheap but the screen was really nice and the price wasn’t that bad, either.
First thing I did after firing it up is to snoop around the contents of the hard drive. What a mess! Nearly everything was dumped into the root of the C drive. It runs on MS DOS 3.1, which was installed to c:\. There is a menu system, conveniently located in c:\. There was a game’s installation files copied to c:\, and c:\ was where it was installed. You might think it was CP/M, but no, it was MS DOS. MS DOS has commands for working with directories, you know!
The game it came with was Igo, pronounced “eego”, which is the game Go, the ancient Chinese game. It isn’t a favorite or anything, but after trying about 10 different executables that ended up being different facets of the menu system, it was nice to see some graphics on this thing!
By the way, it’s not so easy to capture the real color of this screen. I think these Igo pictures are probably the most accurate. It’s a deep orange color.
Under the hood, it’s a 386@20MHz with 2MB of RAM and a 100MB hard drive. Pretty similar to the specs of my FM Towns until I upped the RAM recently, but this machine loses in the multimedia department. No CD ROM drive and no sound capabilities beyond the internal speaker. There is one expansion slot available, but I haven’t opened it up to check out what kind of expansion card it accepts and what my options are.
It came with a custom bag branded as Toshiba, in which it fits snugly. I checked all the pockets and I found the original disk of Igo, and a bonus, almost unbelievably, a copied disk containing Shanghai. This is the fourth system that I’ve had this game for, because in addition to being fun, it’s cheap. In fact, it kind of seems to be following me around!
When I got it, the bag was in pretty nasty shape. I washed it in the washer, and then I washed it again, and after that, it smelled good and it had cleaned up a bit, but there was some deep-lying grime. I tried mold killer, but it didn’t seem to help. Finally I tried a green scouring pad, the kind I use to clean my bathtub, and bathtub cleaner, the kind I use to clean my bathtub, and it finally penetrated. I ran it through the washer one more time to get it rinsed out thoroughly and now it’s definitely in keep-worthy condition.
The Pasopia by Toshiba seems not to be as famous as others like the PC-6001, MZ-700, X1, or FM-7. But cool, it’s a road a little less traveled. Mine’s a little banged up, but overall pretty clean.
I got it on Mercari for a song, it was listed at an already reasonable price but I got a little discount by making an offer. When I received it, I saw that there were two options for output – composite (black and white) and digital RGB (color). For convenience, I started with composite and I was pleased when it powered on and displayed without difficulty.
Well… I was pleased at first, anyway.. It seems that the RIFA capacitor in the PSU shorted out and popped after about 15 minutes. It let out quite a bit of smoke, as you can see. It was the first time I’ve had quite that experience, which is pretty impressive considering the number of computers that have come through my hands. People complain about the peculiar smell of a popped RIFA cap, but I thought it smelled a little like roasted marshmallows. 8/10, would let explode in my room again.
In retrospect, I love that this happened after I typed “do something cool”. It was a class-act effort. Apparently that capacitor wasn’t terribly important. After I explained the situation, I was told by a handful of people that it is just used for filtering out noise and the computer would operate fine without it. I removed the cap and pulled out the soldering pad in the process, so I sure hope it’s not necessary. The computer is working fine.
One thing that is kind of surprising, or perhaps I should say inaccurate, is that it somehow manages to display some color over the black and white composite output port. It doesn’t display color *correctly*, but it does display color, at least, in some instances. You can compare the monochrome composite on the left with the digital RGB on the right. In the first image of each pair it’s displaying in black and white and the second image is in color, as they should be. Everything as expected.
One program on Toshiba’s demo tape for the machine displayed with color. Again, “monochrome” composite on the left. First it displayed splotches of red and blue, then it switched to a more colorful display. If you compare to the digital RGB on the right, you’ll see how those colors are incorrect. But why color at all? Having no real fundamental understanding of electrical components, the only straws my brain can grasp at are that somehow the signal for the digital RGB is bleeding into the monochrome composite output.
And sometimes some third-party games display this behavior suddenly after drawing a screen. I haven’t quite figured out the pattern yet but it might be related to the cable or the TV, instead or as well.
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.
Some games that run at 15kHz (Syvalion is the only one that comes to mind right now; most 15kHz games didn’t have this problem) were too wide on my monitor. The edges of the game were not visible. I thought I would just adjust the horizontal size, but of the kajillion buttons under the front panel, not one of them adjusts horizontal size. So I took it apart (something I loathe doing with CRTs because of the risk of death if you’re not careful, and frankly I’m not always careful, although I suspect I’m more careful than usual with an open CRT) and looked for the horizontal size pot on the inside.
Well, I can’t say with certainty that it wasn’t there, because there are a kajillion billion more pots on the inside. But the clearly labeled ones were not related to horizontal size. They are all for controlling color – if you look at the pots from the front (brown side of the board), left to right, there’s red bias, green bias, blue bias, red drive, and blue drive. That info was handy later as I needed to adjust something a bit on a different monitor, but in the end I couldn’t adjust the horizontal size.
While I had it apart, though, I took the opportunity to give the big outer shell a shower. I didn’t think about potential damage to the sticker, but fortunately it wasn’t especially problematic.
Dried it off and it’s back in action, beautiful as always!
Something I’ve wanted to do for a while but I didn’t realize I already possessed everything I needed to do so. I have installed Towns OS 2.1 (for FM Towns) on an external SCSI hard disk drive.
First, and I’ll preface this by saying I didn’t have to and have not yet tried creating partitions, but I’ll at least point you in the right direction until I do it myself. From the settings menu (設定) in image 1, choose partitions (区画設定).
Image 2 is the parition manager. You can perform the following actions: delete the partition (click the number) rename a partition or create a new partition (click the name field), choose the file system (click the current file system), choose the boot partition (click the checkbox), and resize the partition (click the current size). Press execute (実行) when you are finished. Press cancel (取消) to back out.
Of course, you edit your partitions at your own peril, data loss will occur if you delete or resize a partition. In fact, it might wipe the data off your smart phone and desktop computer just to spite you.
Now for the meaty stuff. My hard drive already had partitions, so what I needed to do was get the OS to see them. This was really like back when I was just learning how to use a PC. I didn’t read the manual and I didn’t use Google, I just looked around from directory to directory until I found things that looked potentially helpful. Found a setup utility and its drive assignment menu, then a tool on the CD that installed the OS onto the drive.
First order of business was dropping to a command prompt and running “setup.exe” from the “exe” directory (you can also do this from the Towns Menu, I later discovered, but perhaps I’ll add that info later). It should take you to the screen in image 3 . The first option in the list is where drive letter assignment is performed. Press enter to see the current configuration. If it is your first time adding a hard drive and you have two floppy drives, it should look like image 4.
Using the up/down arrow keys, go down to the first available drive, which is probably going to be D if this is your first hard drive. Press enter to activate the action menu, and use the left/right arrow keys to choose the second option – hard disk drive as in image 5. Press enter and it will ask you for a device number 0-4. This may depend on your SCSI settings but I used 0. Press enter and your new drive should be registered in the D row. Repeat this process for every partition you want to access. Mine had three so in image 7, there are now three partitions registered as drives D, E, and F. When you have finished, use the up/down arrow keys to navigate to the bottom option, which is “finish”, as in image 8 and press enter.
You are now back at the main menu screen. The settings have been prepared but are not yet saved. Use the up/down arrow keys to navigate to the bottom, which is “finish”, as in image 9 and press enter. It will ask you if you want to write the configuration, choose the first option as in image 10, press enter and you will be returned to the command prompt. To get back to the Towns OS menu, first return to the root directory and type “tmenu”, as in the final image.
If I recall correctly, you have to reboot for the drives to show up. Going under the assumption that there’s nothing on your hard drive, you’ll need to boot from CD again. If you boot to Towns OS 2.1 L51, click on “tools” (the top-right wrench-like icon in image 1), which will open a window that has a “HD install” icon as seen in image 2. Double-click to start.
All of the menus displayed in images 3-8 contain two action buttons: 実行(execute) or 取消 (cancel) (actually, image 3 button two is 終了 (end), but it’s essentially the same in this situation). Feel free to cancel anytime you might want to go back if you’re not confident you’ve made the correct decision.
Depending on your available free memory, it may offer you the choice of installing Towns OS 2.1 or Windows 3.1 as in image 3. You need setup disks to install Windows 3.1, so if you can track those down, it sure might be interesting to see if you can dual-boot the system or other unique configuration ideas, but for now let’s just pursue Towns OS 2.1 installation.
Image 4 asks you if you want to perform a new installation (top option) or an upgrade (bottom option). If you don’t need to worry about the data on the partition, we might as well give your Towns a fresh start, so I go with the new installation when possible. Choose and press execute.
At image 5 we choose the location (partition) you wish to install on. That should probably be drive D, which we already set up via the setup.exe utility above. Click on the bottom option and then ensure D is selected, then press execute.
We can customize our installation with the menu on image 6. The defaults are probably fine, but I chose to install everything because I like to explore what options it comes with, and it’s not as if I’ll be storing tons of data on this system, so I might as well fill up that hard drive with what I can. Press execute.
Image 7 confirms the details of our installation and informs us that our drive will be formatted, press execute. Image 8 tells us that formatting the drive means losing all data on the drive. Wait, what?! Oh, we already knew that. Press execute.
Now it’s all up to FM Towns for a while, and if yours is a 386-16MHz like mine, it is indeed rather a while, perhaps 15 minutes. We’re in no hurry. Sit down and watch the progress bar move.
“Woah, hang on a minutes there, I have a question!” you say. Why did the color scheme change between 33% and 90%? And why did 1.5 days pass? I thought you said it was about 15 minutes! Actually, I retook all of these photos on the day I wrote this blog entry. I forgot to take an early-progress installation photo so you get the original version of that. My battery doesn’t work so the clock resets sometimes.
Now for post-installation setup. In images 1 and 2, it asks many details about your configuration over two pages. Basically, you can ignore these. It is mostly about peripherals, expansion cards, fonts, and text entry. If you want, you can set your monitor on the second page. It’s not that there aren’t *any* other useful settings, but that’s not the purpose of this post. All of this is configurable later, so there’s no need to worry about leaving something behind. Click execute. Image 3 tells you that the settings will take effect after restarting, confirm. Image 4 tells you that the installation was successful, confirm.
You’re done! Remove your CD and restart from your fresh-out-of-’92-or-so Towns OS installation.