The PC-9801 (ピーシー・キュウハチゼロイチPici KyuHachiZeroIti), which stands for NEC Personal computers, is a 16/32-bit Japanese personal computer system launched by NEC in 1982. It was the most successful home computer platform in Japan and one of the best-selling computer systems of the 20th century. It has a very large video game library with thousands of titles, the majority of which were never released outside Japan.
PC-98 is a series of 16/32-bit Japanese personal computers, designed by NEC, but also licensed to other companies. In contrast to its PC-88 predecessor, the PC-98 was initially created as a business machine, but over time it eventually became popular with game developers. The PC-98 is based around Intel 8086 and compatible processors, but the design is proprietary, and it is not compatible with the IBM PC or clones, although versions of DOS and Windows were ported to it.
The system has a very large library of video games, consisting of more than 4,000 commercial titles and countless more doujin (indie) titles. The games and system are difficult to find outside of Japan, even on eBay. There are a few sites however that sell the games and systems.
When the PC-98 was launched in 1982, it was initially priced at ¥298,000 (about $1400 in 1982 dollars, equivalent to about $3400 in 2012 dollars). The PC-98 computer platform eventually went on to sell more than 18 million units in Japan by 1999, rivalling the Commodore 64 (17 million units) as one of the best-selling home computer systems of the 20th century.
Laptop versions of the PC-9801 were also being sold in the late 1980s. The first was the PC-98 LT, one of the first mass-market laptops, released in 1986. It is considered the world's first major laptop PC. The world's first notebook computer was released in 1989, NEC's UltraLite. By 1990, the 32-bit PC-9801 NC model became the world's first laptop/notebook computer with a colour TFT LCD display.
NEC APC and rivalry with IBM PC overseas
The PC-9801 was initially more advanced than Western computer platforms. In the early 1980s, the PC-98 had already featured a 16-bit CPU, higher VGA display resolutions (initially up to 640x475 pixels, then up to 1024x1024 in 1983, and then up to 1120x750 pixels by 1985) in order to more accurately display Japanese text, a wider color palette (16 colors displayed out of a 4096 color palette), Yamaha FM synthesis sound chips for higher-quality audio, and a modem for online internet access.
NEC attempted to introduce the NEC PC-9801 in North America, where it was re-branded as the NEC APC in 1982. NEC, the largest semiconductor company of the 1980s, marketed the APC III as the most powerful computer on the market and more reliable machine than leading competitor IBM's PC platform, with the APC III offering twice as much speed (8 MHz), storage (720 KB floppy disks) and resolution (640x400 pixels) at around the same price. Despite the superior hardware compared to its competitors, the APC III eventually failed to make in impact in North America, largely due to the rise of IBM PC clones, which also negatively impacted IBM's share of the North American PC market.
Rivalry with Sharp X68000 and FM Towns in Japan
The PC-98 was later technically surpassed by fellow Japanese rivals Sharp and Fujitsu when they launched their own more powerful 16/32-bit computers, the Sharp X68000 and FM Towns, in 1987 and 1989, respectively.
In response, the PC-98 began using 32-bit Intel CPU processors from 1987 and supported the CD-ROM format from 1989. While both rival computers were capable of more advanced, arcade quality graphics (especially in the X68000's case) and/or greater multimedia features (in the FM Towns' case), neither computer platform was able to dethrone the PC-98 as the Japanese computer market leader.
3D graphics cards and rivaly with IBM-compatible PC's in Japan
Just as IBM-compatible PC's were on the rise in the mid-1990s, NEC came back by releasing the first 3D graphics accelerator cards on the market, initially for the PC-98. In 1995, NEC released the first 3D graphics card, the PC-FXGA (PC-FX Game Accelerator), exclusively for the PC-98. This allowed the PC-98 to produce the most advanced 3D graphics seen on a home system up until that time, with a polygon rendering performance surpassing the PlayStation console and even rivalling the then upcoming Nintendo 64; in contrast, rival early 1996 3D graphics accelerators for IBM PC clones, such as Creative Labs' 3D Blaster and NVIDIA's NV1, were unable to rival the PlayStation's 3D graphics. The PC-FXGA was originally intended for both the PC-98 computer and the PC-FX console, with as a homebrew development kit for the PC-FX console, allowing the PC-98 to play PC-FX games. However, the PC-FX console lacked the 3D graphical capabilities of the PC-FXGA card, due to the FXGA's HuC6273 graphics chip (originally intended for the PC-FX) never actually being used by the PC-FX console.
The PC-FXGA was the most powerful 3D graphics card on the market up until it was surpassed by NEC's successor, the PowerVR, in early 1996. Unlike the PC-FXGA, the succeeding PowerVR was no longer exclusive to the PC-98, but supported both the PC-98 and IBM-compatible PC's. The PowerVR was able to produce near arcade quality 3D graphics, demonstrated by a near arcade quality port of Namco's Rave Racer, though this PowerVR port was later cancelled. The PowerVR would not be rivaled until the arrival of the 3dfx Voodoo graphics card for IBM-compatible PC's in late 1996. Though both the PowerVR and Voodoo were more or less evenly matched when it came to 3D capabilities, it was the Voodoo that became the most popular graphics card line-up of the late 1990s, due to the PowerVR's lack of third-party software support. Besides the PowerVR, the PC-98 very few other 3D graphics cards supported the PC-98.
The PC-98 would continue to dominate the Japanese computer market until the late 1990s, when the arrival of Microsoft Windows 95 made it possible for IBM-compatible PC's to accurately output Japanese text, leading to the rise of IBM-compatible PC's in Japan and marking the end of the 'Golden Age' of Japanese computer gaming.
By the end of the 1990s, the PC-98's dwindling market share as well as NEC's greater support for the growing IBM PC market eventually led to the PC-98 slowly losing ground to IBM-compatible PC's. In 1997, the PC-98 NX became one of the first computer platforms produced in line with the PC97 System Design Guide standard, which would later become the worldwide standard for IBM-compatible PC's. As a result, PC-98 standards eventually merged with IBM-compatible PC standards, bringing an end to the traditional PC-98 platform by the early 2000s, succeeded by IBM-compatible PC-98 NX computers which are still manufactured through to the present day.
- List of NEC PC-9801 games
- List of NEC PC-9801 games (Category Version)
- List of NEC PC-9801 peripherals
- Graphics processing unit
- Instructions per second
- List of best-selling PC video games
- Sound chip