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.

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.

骸骨は死の臭い – Skeletons Reek of Death

Sometimes, the artwork and title of a game really captures the imagination. Look at the box art. The title is “Skeletons Reek of Death”. It sounds like an epic role-playing game, or at least a good action game with fantasy baddies to fight off.

nope.

It is a breakout clone with a dancing skeleton on top. And the dancing animation was probably done in BASIC, because the arms disappear briefly as they move. I mean, I’m not going so far as to say it’s a terrible game, just… low effort and disappointing in comparison to the cover and title.

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.