On Tuesday, exactly forty years ago, the MSX standard saw the light of day. On June 27, 1983, the standard was announced at a press conference by a consortium of Japanese companies, including Sony, Canon, Panasonic, and Yamaha, in collaboration with Microsoft and ASCII Corporation. Later that year, the first compatible devices appeared and other manufacturers, such as Philips, joined in.
The companies behind the MSX standard promise full hardware and software compatibility for all computers. This was unique at the time, because almost every computer standard was a closed system, such as the Commodore 64, Apple II, and Atari 400/800. The standard was created by Kazuhiko Nishi of the Japanese ASCII company and Microsoft Corporation.
The hardware of the MSX benchmark was inspired by the Spectravideo SV-318 and SV-328 computers, released in June 1983. The benchmark used affordable chips that were widely available, such as the Zilog Z80A processor, and the Texas Instruments TMS9918 graphics chip, which delivered a 256-bit resolution. x 192 pixels with 16 colors, Yamaha YM2149 sound chip, also known as AY-3-8910, 16 to 64 KB of RAM. The machines were equipped with a fairly wide model of Basic, made by Microsoft, and for floppy disks there was MSX-DOS, a variant of MS-DOS. The devices in the devices could be expanded via two cartridge slots, which popped all sorts of peripherals, including modems and external drives.
In retrospect, the timing of the introduction wasn’t ideal. With the exception of a few machines, most MSX computers didn’t appear until 1984, when the home computer crisis was about to reach its climax. Those turbulent times were marked by fierce competition, an oversupply of various computer systems, and a sharp drop in prices. It proved difficult to gain market share in the United Kingdom and the United States, and subsequently many computers were dumped into other markets. MSX machines have become particularly popular in the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil and South Korea.
The MSX standard was the birthplace of some of the most popular video games of the 1980s, with titles such as Metal Gear, which would become one of the most popular, as well as Final Fantasy, Aleste and Ys, and Gradius (Nemesis). Many MSX titles have continued on other platforms, such as Nintendo(S)NES, Sega Megadrive, Sony PlayStation, and PC.
In 1985, the MSX2 standard appeared, which brought important improvements, such as the Yamaha V9938 graphics chip that offered higher resolution and could display more colors (256 by 212 pixels with 256 colors and 512 by 212 pixels with 16 by 512 colors). Support has also been added for the optional FM 2413 FM Synthesizer (OPLL) chip. Many later MSX2 machines were equipped with a 3.5-inch -720k fdd. At that time, the first 16-bit computers appeared separately from the IBM PC, such as the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST, with which the MSX2 could not compete in terms of hardware.
In anticipation of the MSX3, the MSX2+ appeared in 1988, which was only released in Japan by Sony, Panasonic, and Sanyo. It had a Yamaha V9958 graphics chip with support for 19,268 colors and hardware pass-through, as well as OPLL audio and MSX Music (YM2413). In 1990 and 1991, Panasonic released the last two MSX machines under the name Turbo R. They were equipped with the R800-16bit chip next to the Z80, with a clock frequency of 14.32MHz and from 256 to 512KB of RAM. Meanwhile, IBM PCs were becoming increasingly popular, thanks in part to their affordable clones. This system also featured an open hardware architecture, expandability via plug-in cards and a wide range of software. This x86 eventually became the world standard, with the exception of the Apple Macintosh.
In 1993, the Turbo R was finally discontinued, but that wasn’t quite the end for the MSX. The following years saw the release of the Moonsound OPL4 sound card and the Sunrise GFX9000 graphics card. The latter is equipped with a Yamaha V9990 graphics chip. It was based on the unreleased V9978, which was supposed to be in MSX3, but wasn’t out in time. In 2005, the One-Chip-MSX appeared, a minicomputer with the entire MSX on a single FPGA chip, which made it easy to use MSX software with modern peripherals, such as an external keyboard and SD card. To this day, new MSX software and sometimes hardware are still being released to a fervent group of retro enthusiasts.
In total, an estimated nine million MSX computers were sold worldwide, from 22 different manufacturers.
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