PC-9800 series

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NEC PC-9801 RX Personal Computer.jpg
PC-9801RX with the Intel 80286
TypePersonal computer
Release dateOctober 1982; 36 years ago (1982-10) (PC-9801) November 1992; 26 years ago (1992-11) (PC-9821)
Introductory price¥298,000
Operating systemCP/M-86, MS-DOS, OS/2, Windows
CPU8086 @ 5 MHz and higher
Memory128 kilobytes and higher
PredecessorPC-8800 Series

The PC-9800 series (Japanese: PC-9800シリーズ, Hepburn: Pī Sī Kyūsen Happyaku Shirīzu), commonly shortened to PC-98, is a lineup of Japanese 16-bit and 32-bit personal computers manufactured by NEC from 1982 through 2000. The platform established NEC's dominance in the Japanese personal computer market, and by 1999, more than 18 million PC-98 units had been sold.[2]


PC-9801F motherboard

The first model, the PC-9801, was launched on October 1982,[3] and employed an 8086 CPU. It ran at a clock speed of 5 MHz, with two µPD7220 display controllers (one for text, the other for video graphics), and shipped with 128 KB of RAM, expandable to 640 KB. Its 8-color display had a maximum resolution of 640×400 pixels. Its successor, the PC-9801E, which appeared in 1983, employed an 8086-2 CPU, which could selectively run at a speed of either 5 or 8 MHz. The NEC PC-9801VM used NEC V30 CPU.

When the PC-9801 was launched in 1982, it was initially priced at 298,000 yen (about US$1,200 in 1982 dollars).

While NEC did not market these specific machines in the West, it did sell the NEC APC III, which has similar hardware as early PC-98 models.[4]

In the 1980s and early 1990s, NEC dominated the Japan domestic PC market with more than 60% of the PCs sold as PC-9801 or PC-8801. In 1990, IBM Japan introduced the DOS/V operating system which enabled displaying Japanese text on standard IBM PC/AT VGA adapters. After that, the decline of the PC-98 began. The PC-9801's last successor was the Celeron-based PC-9821Ra43 (with a clock frequency of 433 MHz, using a 440FX chipset-based motherboard design from 1998), which appeared in 2000.

NEC kept much of its hardware and platform proprietary or under license, so while it had a virtual monopoly in the Japanese market, later IBM PC clones with DOS/V and Windows from companies such as Hitachi and Panasonic that did not require such license fees (like Epson's 98 clones) flooded the market and displaced NEC.[citation needed]


The PC-98 is different from the IBM PC in many ways; for instance, it uses its own 16-bit C-Bus (Cバス) instead of the ISA bus; BIOS, I/O port addressing, memory management, and graphics output are also different. However, localized MS-DOS or Windows will still run on PC-9801s.

Expansion bus[edit]

Expansion slot (C-Bus)

All PC-98 desktop models use a 100-pin expansion slot. It has the 16 data and 24 address lines. The bus frequency is fixed at 5, 8 or 10 MHz. PC-H98 and PC-9821A Series use a proprietary 32-bit Local Bus slot and existing 16-bit slot. The 16-bit expansion bus were also called C-Bus (Compatible Bus). The PC-9821Xf introduced in 1994 shipped with C-Bus slots and PCI slots on the motherboard, replacing Local Bus.


4 MB memory board for C-Bus

Many PC-9801 models could increase system memory by expansion boards, daughterboards, or proprietary SIMMs. They were limited to 14.6 MB, due to 24-bit address pins and reserve space. EMS memory boards for C-Bus were also available. The PC-9821Af introduced in 1993 shipped with standard 72-pin SIMMs, broke 14.6 MB barrier and supported memory up to 79.6 MB. Later desktop models shipped with standard SIMM or DIMM memory.


Early PC-9801 models supported 1232 KB 8-inch floppy drives and/or 640 KB 5¼-inch floppy drives. Each used different IRQ lines and I/O ports. Later models supported both interfaces. 5¼-inch and 3½-inch HD floppy disks used the same logical format and data rate with 1232 KB 8-inch floppy disks. They became a non-standard format while formats brought by IBM PC/AT and PS/2 became industrial standard.

The PC-98 supports up to four floppy drives. If the system is booted from a floppy drive, MS-DOS assigns letters to all of the floppy drives before considering hard drives; if booted from a hard drive, it will do the opposite. If the OS was installed on the hard drive, MS-DOS would assign the hard drive as drive "A:" and the floppy as drive "B:"; this would cause incompatibility among Windows PC applications, although it can be resolved with the SETUP command in Windows 95, turning on the "/AT" switch to assign the Windows system drive to the standard "C:" drive.

The PC-98 used several different interfaces of hard drives. Early models used Shugart Associates System Interface (SASI), and later models used SCSI or IDE drives.


Drawing 8 color characters and 16 color background.

A standard PC-98 has two µPD7220 display controllers (a master and a slave) with 12 KB main memory and 256 KB of video RAM respectively. The master display controller handles font ROM, displaying JIS X 0201 (7x13 pixels) and JIS X 0208 (15x16 pixels) characters. Each character had a variety of display options, including bits for secret, blinking, reverse, underline and three intensity bits (grayscale or RGB). The other display controller is set to slave mode and connected to 256 KB of planar video memory, allowing it to display 640 x 400 pixel graphics with 16 colors out of a palette of 4096. The video RAM is divided into pages (2 pages x 4 planes x 32 KB in 640x400 16 colour mode), and the programmer can control which page is written to and which page is output.


PC-9801-26 Sound Board

The first generation of PC-9801s, E, F, and M models, only had an internal buzzer. PC-9801U2 and later models could change the sound frequency by controlling the programmable interval timer, like the PC speaker. The PC-8801mkIISR home computer, introduced in 1985, had a Yamaha YM2203 sound chip, a Atari joystick port, and BASIC sound commands. The optional PC-9801-26 sound card was based around these features, although in some PC-9801 models it is integrated with the motherboard. It became the most common sound card for playing in-game music on the PC-98.[5]

It was superseded by the PC-9801-73 (1991) and PC-9801-86 (1993) sound card, which employed the YM2608 and added support for 16-bit stereo sampling. Due to lack of DMA support and poor sound drivers, however, it often had issues in Windows, creating popping and clicking sounds.[6] The PC-9801-118 sound card and later PC-9821 models uses the Crystal Semiconductor's WSS audio codec to resolve this, but the newer sound chip was not compatible with the older conventional sound cards.[7]

Roland released the MPU-401 MIDI interface card for PC-98 computers.


Typical PC-98 keyboard

The first PC-9801 model had the same keyboard layout with PC-8801's except the conversion key XFER was added. Later models had some minor changes; NFER, 15 function keys, LED status indicators replacing SHIFT toggle keys.[8]


The bus mouse and interface card kit was introduced for PC-98 in 1983. The PC-9801F3 and later models had a mouse interface. Although the PS/2 port became popular among IBM PC clones in 1990s, the bus mouse had been used until the end of PC-98.


Seiko Epson manufactured PC-9801 clones, as well as compatible peripherals.[9]


The PC-98 was primarily used for business in Japan from 1980s to mid-1990s. As of September 1992, out of 16,000 PC-98s in use, 60% were primarily for corporate business software, 10% for operating systems and development tools, 10% for educational software, with the rest being a mix of graphic design, networking, word processing, and games.[10] The Nikkei Personal Computing journal published in 1993 reported that most home users purchased PCs for completing their office work at home. The publisher sent a questionnaire to 2000 readers, and out of 1227 readers who answered, 82% of users were using it for word processing, 72% for spreadsheets, 47% used it as a database, and 43% for games.[11]

One of the PC-98's killer applications, Ichitaro; a Japanese word processor, was released in 1985.[12] It was ported to other machines in 1987. A Japanese version of Lotus 1-2-3 was also ported to PC-98 first in 1986.[13] Ichitaro (all versions) shipped 1 million copies by 1991,[14] and Lotus 1-2-3 a half-million copies.[15]

Software for the PC-98 generally ran from program and data disks (Disk 0 & 1 or A & B). For example, Ichitaro's system disk contained a runtime version of MS-DOS, main programs, an input method editor (ATOK), and its dictionary data file. It used the entire space of a 1.2 MB floppy disk.[12] In 1980s, most machines only had two floppy drives because HDDs were an expensive additional feature for PCs.

The PC-9801 had thousands of game titles designed for it, many of which made creative use of the system's limitations (it was originally designed as a business machine) to great commercial success. Despite having hardware specifications far inferior to the FM Towns and X68000, the massive install base and steady flow of game titles (in particular "dōjin" style dating sims and RPGs, as well as early games of Policenauts, YU-NO: A Girl Who Chants Love at the Bound of this World, Koutetsu no Kishi, Mayonaka no Tantei Nightwalker, MechWarrior, Rusty, Hiōden: Mamono-tachi tono Chikai, Shūjin e no Pert-em-Hru, Corpse Party, Slayers, J.B. Harold Murder Club, and Touhou Project kept it as the favored platform for PC game developers in Japan until the rise of the DOS/V clones.


Partial list of PC-98 models sold in the Japanese market (no 1992-2000 models, no notebook models, etc.).

Model CPU Year Features Other
PC-9801 8086 5 MHz 1982 RAM 128 KB, 6 slot C-bus 640×400 8 colors, 2 externals floppy drive 8" (optional)
PC-9801E 8086-2 5/8 MHz 1983 2 externals floppy drive 8" (optional)
PC-9801F 8086-2 5/8 MHz 1983 F1 and F2 with 128KB of RAM,
F3 256 KB of RAM and hard-disk 10 Mb
Internal floppy drive, 5" 2DD (640KB/720KB)
PC-9801M 8086-2 5/8 MHz[16] 1984 M1: 2 internal floppy drive, 5" 2HD (1MB/1.2MB); M2: 1 internal floppy and HD 20Mb
PC-9801VF NEC V30 8 MHz 1985 RAM 256 KB double 5" floppy-disk 2DD
resolution 640×400 with 8 colors (16 colors optional) chosen from among the 4096 available
PC-9801VM NEC V30 10 MHz 1985 RAM 384 KB double 5" floppy-disk 2HD/2DD
resolution 640×400 with 8 colors (16 colors optional) chosen from among the 4096 available
PC-9801VX 80286 8-10 MHz 1986 RAM 1 MByte resolution 640×400 with 16 colors chosen from among 4096
PC-9801U NEC V30 8 MHz 1985 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2DD
PC-9801UV NEC V30 10/8 MHz 1986 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801UX 80286 10 MHz 1987 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801RA 80386DX 16-20 MHz 1988 2 floppy-disk 5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801RS 80386SX 16 MHz 1989 2 floppy-disk 5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801RX 80286 12 MHz 1988 2 floppy-disk 5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801ES 80386SX 16 MHz 1989 ES2 no HD, ES5 HD 40MB 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801EX 80286 12 MHz 1989 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801DA,DA/U 80386DX/20 MHz 1990 /U means 3.5" floppy
No /U means 5" floppy
PC-9801DS,DS/U 80386SX/16 MHz 1990 /U means 3.5" floppy
No /U means 5" floppy
PC-9801DX,DX/U 80286 12 MHz 1991 /U means 3.5" floppy
No /U means 5" floppy
PC-9801FA,FA/U 80486SX/16 MHz 1992 F means "File slot", memory proprietary expansion slot
PC-9801FS,FS/U 80386DX/16 MHz 1992
PC-9801FX,FX/U 80386SX/16 MHz 1992
PC-9821 Intel 80386SX 1992 RAM 4 MByte, drive CD-ROM hard disk 40 MByte,
resolution 640×480 with 256 colors and SCSI interface, Windows 3.0 pre-installed
PC-9821Ce 80486SX 25 MHz 1993 Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Ce2,Cs2 80486SX 25 MHz (Ce2)/33 MHz (Cs2) 1994
PC-9821Cx 80486SX 33 MHz 1994 MS-DOS 5.2/Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Cf Pentium 60 MHz 1994 built-in TV tuner, MS-DOS 5.0/Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Cx2 Pentium 75 MHz 1995 CD-ROM 4x drive hard disk 850 MByte, built-in TV tuner, MS-DOS 6.2/Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Cx3 (98Multi Canbe) Pentium 100 MHz 1995 include Yamaha DB60XG Daughterboard Windows 95 pre-installed
PC-9821 Valuestar V Series V166-V233 Pentium MMX 166-233 MHz 1997 8x-20x CD-ROM, 2x CD-R, or DVD-ROM drive, 32 MB of RAM, Matrox Mystique 3D accelerator, Harddisk 3-6 GB, 2x USB ports Windows 95 OSR2.1 pre-installed
PC-9821 Cereb (C166-C233) Pentium MMX 166-233 MHz 1997 28 inch (in C200 Model) or optional 32 inch BS Hi-Vision TV Monitor, Harddisk 3-4GB, VideoLogic Apocalypse 3D 3D accelerator (in C166 Model), DVD and MPEG-2 Decoder (in C200/V and C233/V Model), built-in TV tuner, 13x CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive (read CD-ROM at 6x in C200/V Model and 8x in C233/V Model), 32 MB of RAM, 2x USB ports (in C233 Model) Windows 95 OSR2.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Ra43 Celeron 433 MHz 2000 24x CD-ROM drive, 32 MB of RAM, Harddisk 8GB, Last computer of series

Timeline of PC-9801 models

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "PC-9800シリーズ受注終了のお知らせ" [PC-9800 Series Discontinuation Notification] (in Japanese). NEC. Retrieved June 7, 2016.
  2. ^ "Computing Japan". Computing Japan. LINC Japan. 54-59: 18. 1999. Retrieved 6 February 2012. ...its venerable PC 9800 series, which has sold more than 18 million units over the years, and is the reason why NEC has been the number one PC vendor in Japan for as long as anyone can remember.
  3. ^ John Szczepaniak. "Retro Japanese Computers: Gaming's Final Frontier". Hardcore Gaming 101. p. 2. Retrieved 2011-03-16. Reprinted from "Retro Japanese Computers: Gaming's Final Frontier", Retro Gamer (67), 2009
  4. ^ "Old-Computers.com". Archived from the original on April 23, 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  5. ^ "PC-9801めくるめく音源ボードの世界" [The world of sound boards for PC-9801]. 蘇るPC-9801伝説 永久保存版 第2弾 [Coming back the legend of PC-9801 Volume 2] (in Japanese). Ascii. 2007. ISBN 978-4-7561-4883-4.
  6. ^ 靖間, 誠. "PC-9801-118 / NEC". Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  7. ^ "質問 : PC-9801-118を使ってMS-DOS上でFM音源を鳴らしたい。" [Question: I want to play sound with FM synthesizer on MS-DOS using PC-9801-118.]. NEC PC Information Center ROBO (in Japanese). NEC. Archived from the original on 1997-06-10. Retrieved 2018-05-24.
  8. ^ yagura (2002-10-18). "PC-98 キーボード". nkmm the Metal. Retrieved 2018-01-08.
  9. ^ "EPSON PC`s DATABASE TOP PAGE" (in Japanese). Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  10. ^ "ソフトウェアにおける優位性はどこまで続くか". Oh! PC (in Japanese). Softbank. 12 (8): 155. 1993-09-15. ISSN 0910-7606.
  11. ^ "パソコンユーザー実態調査". 日経パソコン (in Japanese). Nikkei BP: 132–137. 1993-06-21. ISSN 0287-9506.
  12. ^ a b "「一太郎」が知っているPC-9801シリーズの軌跡" [The history of PC-9801 series traced by Ichitaro]. 蘇るPC-9801伝説 永久保存版 第1弾 [Coming back the legend of PC-9801 Volume 1] (in Japanese). Ascii. 2004. pp. 87–92. ISBN 4-7561-4419-5.
  13. ^ Edward Warner (1986-09-08). "Lotus Perseveres to Unveil Japanese Version of 1-2-3". InfoWorld. p. 9. Retrieved 2016-05-02.
  14. ^ "一太郎累計出荷本数". マイコン. 電波新聞社. 16 (2): 159. 1992. ISSN 0387-9593.
  15. ^ "ロータス、「1-2-3」強化版を発売。". Nikkei Sangyo Shimbun. 1991-07-06. p. 5.
  16. ^ "Photo of motherboard of PC-9801M".

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
PC-8800 Series
NEC Personal Computers Succeeded by