Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The NEC PC-98 is alive!

I have a PC-FXGA card that plugs into the special "C bus" of NEC PC-98 computers, which were only released in Japan. The PC-FXGA is basically a card with the chipset for the NEC PC-FX game console, which was also only released in Japan, and allowed enthusiasts to develop their own games with the GMAKER or GMAKER/Plus SDK in addition to playing PC-FX games through the PC-98's CD-ROM drive. This caught my attention, since it's fairly rare for companies to provide end users with tools to write games for their consoles; usually these are covered under NDAs. (Incidentally, the PC-FX apparently didn't use any copy protection.) There was also a version of the PC-FXGA developed for DOS/V machines.

The PC-FX focused on doing high-quality full motion video, and not 3-D graphics, like the Playstation and the Nintendo 64 focused on. This turned out to be a bad decision by NEC, who got obliterated by Sony. The PC-FX had better FMV than any of its competitors -- but heavy use of FMV does not generally make for better games. Of course, I have an unhealthy fascination with failed game consoles, hence I found a PC-FXGA on ebay.

Anyway, since I had a PC-FXGA card that needs a NEC PC-98 computer, I bought a PC-9821 Cx2 via It didn't come with a hard drive, so I got an IDE-to-Compact Flash adapter to replace it. I found some hard drive images here:

In particular, it gave this download link: (542MB, so I wrote 542 on that CF card; it also came with a simpler 128MB image, so I wrote 128 on that CF card.)

The 542MB has apparently had a tool called CONV98AT applied to it that lets it be read and written to as an ordinary Window partition on a regular PC. Apparently this is NOT true of your usual PC-98 disk; trying to mount one on a Window machine without applying the CONV98AT tool can cause problems.

I ran into trouble since the 5V and 12V of the power connector on my IDE-to-CF adapter is swapped relative to the connector on the motherboard. Putting 12V into a 5V input on a CF card did not make the card very happy; it started to smell very bad and get very hot very quickly. I threw away any toasted cards. I also bought a 2nd adapter to use; the original is probably fine, but I figured I might as well get a new one to reduce variables while I sorted out the issue.

So now that I am not jamming 12V into the 5V input, the hard drive images boot OK instead of trying to catch on fire. Floppy disk drive seems to work fine. The CD-ROM drive opens and closes and spins up; I haven’t been able to read anything off it yet. I probably need to find the right driver or something. PC hardware configuration in the 80s and early 90s was always a pain. It turns out it’s much more of a pain when most of it is in Japanese.

Interestingly, the PC-FXGA allegedly has a 3-D graphics chip on it, the HuC6273 Aurora, which isn't present in the PC-FX.