NEC PC-8801 FH

I’ve seen this around on Yahoo Auctions occasionally. It commands a much higher price than it’s beige sibling. It certainly looks cool, I think the only PC-8801 model to have a black version (or anything besides beige, for that matter). If you manage to find one as a set of keyboard and system, it’s very expensive, and if you find only the keyboard or the system, there’s no telling how long it might take to get the complementary item, and it could potentially be more expensive anyway.

“The only way I’ll ever get one is if I can find it reasonably priced on Mercari, and good luck with that,” I thought. But suddenly one popped up! I was compulsively reloading Mercari and one moment it wasn’t there and the next moment it was, which in my mind, totally justifies my behavior. I received it and holy cow is this thing beautiful. There are a few light scuffs here and there but basically looks unbelievable for its age.

The main system has a couple of love taps but you really have to be looking for them.

Despite the low signs of wear, the keyboard managed to accumulate quite a bit of grime on it. I gave it my standard cleaning, and this is much better than when I got it, but looking at the closeup photos, I think each keycap probably needs to be taken off and cleaned from all sides. The curl-cable has a good springy feeling to it after all these years.

The three-volume manual collection is also in good shape, with pages still crisp to the touch and I didn’t spot any handwriting on my quick check. The floppy disks are clean and free of mold.

The great news is that it works. It displays and plays audio correctly, the keyboard responds smoothly to each press on the first time, and I tested it with the PC-8801 version of Archon and the included demo disk.

However, I don’t see myself getting rid of my PC-8801MA2, as it has the more advanced sound board and has been fully recapped by my expert repairperson. But the black FH is so beautiful and it also has a cassette port, which the MA2 doesn’t have. So much like my X1 Turbo Z and X1 D, they’re going to have to learn to put egos aside and live with each other.

NEC PC-8801MA2

I was a little hesitant about this one at first. I couldn’t tell if I had a few bad disks or if there was something wrong with a drive or the controller, but I’m growing a little more confident that the disks were at fault and the computer is fine.

This is another Yahoo Auctions purchase. The system itself is in fantastic shape, but it came with a yellowed keyboard, which I replaced with a much nicer looking one as soon as I could. Here is the system in its current state.

This evolution of the PC-8801 series keyboard is very interesting. It has some new keys that the PC-8801mkII didn’t have, most notably the PC key. We’ll see how that key is used later. But even more eye-popping, NEC decided to translate almost every key into Japanese.

It’s another Z80-based machine, but this one has a switch allowing it to run at either 4MHz or 8MHz. For games that I’ve seen thus far, they should all run at 4MHz, but I suppose applications would benefit from the 8MHz switch. It also comes with 192KB of RAM, two high-density floppy drives that can also operate on double-density disks, and a large kanji ROM for facilitating Japanese text. It’s quite a sophisticated 8-bit machine.

When I turn it on, it displays its graphic mode in large green letters and then has one of two options. The first is booting directly to internal BASIC on ROM, and the other is booting from floppy disk.

If we boot to BASIC, we are greeted with the “How many files?” prompt. Enter the number of files you think you will need to keep open simultaneously and proceed. I find that zero works well enough for most situations, certainly this one. Here I’ve booted into the monitor and pressed the “Help” key, which brings up this command screen.

I ran the memory test with the “tm” command. It provided a series of alarming garbage to populate the screen, but then it became kind of colorful and comforting as it seemed to pass through the test without issue.

If you choose to boot from disk, you should insert them before turning on the machine, because if you don’t it will eventually time out and ask you to put the disks in the drive. I’ve booted a couple of games I had lying around at the time – Nintendo Golf and Haja no Fuuin. The picture on the left is from the golf game.

So how do we tell the computer whether to boot from disk or ROM? Unlike previous versions of the PC-8801 series, you set it in a function similar to a modern PC’s BIOS. This is pretty interesting to me. When you want to access the BIOS, turn on the system while holding down the “PC” key on the keyboard. It offers four screens of configuration options and even responds to the help key, displaying a different help screen for each configuration screen.

One thing I haven’t quite figured out about this system is the lack of joystick port. I’ve seen someone on Yahoo Auctions plug a joystick into the mouse port, but I don’t think that’s correct. None of the ports on the back support a standard joystick. I know for PC-98 series machines, joysticks come in the form of piggyback-ready keyboard controllers, perhaps the same is true of the PC-8801 series, but I’ve never seen one!

Shanghai II

Taking a breather from the FM77AV20EX disks to post about Shanghai II. Yes, Shanghai II. Two! I was going to spill into a diatribe about how Activision managed to make a sequel to a 1980s video game based on a thousands-years-old puzzle game, but then I did the research to find out when Shanghai as a puzzle game got its start, only to learn that it began very recently and is basically relegated to the computer world. Well, it would be hell to set up the pieces each time, so I can understand why.

And actually, it’s a relatively good sequel. The tile graphics didn’t change, but they added several different board layouts, and compared to the silent original, this game has a different background tune for each board. Here is the menu to select the screen and the six layouts: Tiger, Scorpion, Monkey, Snake, Panther, Dragon.

Luck was on my side tonight, I managed to win (actually, twice in a row). I played the “monkey” layout because I felt it had fewer free tiles to start with, making it more challenging to win. So here is the progression of how my game went: full set of tiles (144), 75%, 50%, 25%, 12.5%, and last 2 tiles.

And the winner screen of Shanghai II:

Despite the improvements, I wouldn’t have bought this game, already having the original for my Sharp X1 Turbo Z, but I wanted to get a couple of cheap games so I could check that my PC-8801 MA2 system was working well, so I got this one and Relics from the same seller and got them shipped together.

I only noticed this yesterday, but the NEC PC-8801 MA2 doesn’t have a joystick port. This seems really strange to me. I am sure there must have been some solution because every major competitor had joysticks available. But in any event, the original Shanghai on my X1 had three options: joystick, keyboard and mouse. This game had three options, too – NEC mouse, serial mouse, or keyboard. I’d played it with the keyboard until last night, when I decided to try my FM Towns mouse in the NEC mouse port, and it worked a treat! But the X1 mouse was a little unhappy about having its mousepad usurped.

My friend has a PC-98 series game controller, and it plugs into his keyboard port, which provides pass-through to the keyboard so both can be connected at the same time. Perhaps I need something like this, but I’ve never seen such a controller for the PC-8801 series.


I picked up this game for my PC-8801 MA2. I normally don’t want boxed games unless they are in very good condition, but this one was cheap, and I wanted a couple of cheap games to feel a little more confident that my system was working properly. So I went with this one.

Despite the rough condition of the box, the packaging is pretty charming. Check out that Styrofoam holder!

Here are some captures from the introduction. The graphics are blue-heavy, to be certain, but it is full of detail.

The game has the potential to be fun, or at least intriguing. I’ve always enjoyed the bizarre, and this indeed appears to be bizarre. I played around with it a little bit and thought it might be worth reading the manual, so I opened it up and it said something to the effect of “we’re not telling you how to play this game, you must explore and discover for yourself.” So I went back to the game and did just that. You start out as a spirit, and you can take over other bodies to become more powerful. You pick up items and explore the world, and that’s about all I’ve worked out so far.