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Useful Notes / PC-88

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In the 1980s, Western personal computers were scarce in the Japanese market, in large part because they weren't equipped to handle Japanese characters. Instead, Japanese electronics companies like Sharp and Fujitsu marketed their own brands of higher-resolution personal computers, and many others sold the MSX. But NEC, the company which later developed the TurboGrafx-16 console, dominated the market with its PC-8801 series. Introduced in 1981, the PC-88 (as the system is commonly known) held sway until the 16-bit NEC PC-9801 gradually displaced it in the late 1980s.

Over a dozen different models of the PC-8801 were made. The PC-88VA/VA2/VA3 deserves special mention: it was a 16-bit machine which tried to bridge the gap between the PC-8801 and PC-9801, and also appeal to gamers with graphical capabilities superior to both. However, the NEC PC Engine console, introduced the same year, took away a lot of interest (confusingly, "PC-Engine" was also the name of the PC-88VA's operating system), and the PC-88VA failed to catch on as Japanese gamers looking for a more powerful 16-bit system generally preferred the Sharp X68000.

Notable developers Enix, Squaresoft, Game Arts, Telenet Japan, Falcom and Koei all released their first games on the PC-88; the latter two were releasing new games for the system as late as 1992.



  • The PC-8801's CPU was a 4MHz NEC µPD780, which was updated in 1986 and later used an 8MHz µPD70008. Both were compatible with the Z80A found in the MSX.
  • The PC-88VA instead used an NEC µPD9002 (8MHz), a custom 16-bit processor compatible with both the Z80A and the V30 CPU which NEC was using in its PC-9801 models.


  • PC-8801: Starting from 64KB up to 192KB of RAM, and 48KB graphics VRAM (plus 4KB text VRAM in later models).
  • PC-88VA: 512KB RAM, 256KB VRAM


  • The PC-8801's V1 graphics mode could display 640×200 with 8 colors, or 640×400 monochrome. The higher resolution was useful for displaying Kanji characters.
  • V2 mode, found on the PC-8801mkII SR and other post-1985 models and used in most games, was similar to V1 mode, but colors could be selected from a palette of 512.
  • V3 mode was unique to the PC-88VA, offering 65536-color graphics in various resolutions, with hardware sprites and scrolling.


  • An internal speaker was all the sound that was available on pre-1985 models.
  • PC-8801mkII SR vastly improved the quality of music in PC-88 games with a Yamaha YM2203 sound chip (which was also used in many arcade machines) producing 3-channel FM synth. All later PC-88 models provided either this chip or a YM2680 producing 6-channel stereo synth plus mono ADPCM.


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