PC-9800 series

  (Redirected from PC-98)

The PC-9800 series (Japanese: PC-9800シリーズ, Hepburn: Pī Shī Kyūsen Happyaku Shirīzu), commonly shortened to PC-98 or 98 (キューハチ, Kyū-hachi),[3] 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.[4]

NEC PC-9801UV11.jpg
PC-9801UV11 (1988)
ManufacturerNippon Electric (NEC)
TypePersonal computer
Release dateOctober 1982; 37 years ago (1982-10) (PC-9801)
November 1992; 27 years ago (1992-11) (PC-9821)
Introductory price¥298,000
Units shipped18.3 million[2]
Operating systemN88-BASIC(86), CP/M-86, MS-DOS, Windows, OS/2, PC-UX
CPU8086 @ 5 MHz and higher
Memory128 kilobytes and higher
PredecessorPC-8800 Series



NEC had developed mainframes since the 1950s. By 1976, the company had the 4th largest mainframes sales (10.4%) in Japan, after IBM (29.6%), Fujitsu (20.1%) and Hitachi (15.8%).[5] NEC didn't have a presence in the consumer market, and its subsidiary, New Nippon Electric (later NEC Home Electronics), had limited success in consumer products. However, the Electronic Device Sales Division developed the microprocessor evaluation kit TK-80, and it became unexpectedly popular among hobbyists. Tomio Gotō (後藤 富雄), a developer of the TK-80, watched the rise of personal computers at the 1977 West Coast Computer Faire. Computer manufacturers had not developed personal computers because they assumed microprocessors were not suitable for computing, as they suffered from a lack of performance and reliability. The division decided to develop a personal computer despite criticism from the Information Processing Group, which developed mainframes, that they were making toys. The division only had a small distribution network of electronic parts stores, so they asked New Nippon Electric to sell the personal computers through their consumer distribution network.[6]

The Electronic Device Sales Division launched the PC-8001 in 1979, and it dominated 40% of the Japanese personal computer market in 1981.[7] The vice president of NEC, Atsuyoshi Ōuchi (大内 淳義) thought "It is sure that we cannot deny contributions of Electronic Devices Group as a parent of the personal computer. However, if personal computers are considered computers, Information Processing Group should handle them in NEC. Also, if personal computers are considered home electronics, we cannot deny a proposal from New Nippon Electric.".[8] In April 1981, NEC decided to expand personal computer lines into three groups, New Nippon Electric did 8-bit home computers (PC-6000 series), Information Processing Group did 16-bit business personal computers, and Electronic Devices Group did other personal computers (PC-8000 series, PC-8800 series and PC-100 series).


Advert of NEC personal computers in 1982. From upper left, PC-6001, PC-8001, PC-8801, N5200, and PC-9801. The headline says "New release but useful soon."

In the Information Processing Small Systems Division, Shunzō Hamada (浜田 俊三) directed the project, and Noboru Ozawa (小澤 昇) did the product planning. The development team initially planned the new personal computer as a small version of the business computer line which originated from the NEAC System 100 (NEACシステム100) of 1973. Kazuya Watanabe (渡邊 和也), who directed the development of PC-8001, criticized that the personal computer must have Microsoft BASIC, provided peripheral devices compatible with previous NEC PCs, and disclosed specifications of its expansion slot. In September 1981, Hamada requested ASCII's Kazuhiko Nishi to rewrite the N88-BASIC to run on the Intel 8086 processor. Nishi responded he wanted to talk with Bill Gates. Three months later, Nishi rejected his request because Microsoft was busy with developing GW-BASIC. Hamada wavered between two choices because the possibilities of Watanabe's plan was uncertain. While they were visiting software companies to collect and research applications for PC-8001 and PC-8801, they discovered that the consumer market wanted a 16-bit machine compatible with both PCs. Hamada decided to adopt two plans for different markets. In April 1982, the small business personal computer became the NEC System 20 model 15 (NECシステム20/15) which used a proprietary 16-bit microprocessor. The machine was introduced as a new model of traditional business computers, so it wasn't notable.[6]

In February 1982, the software development team started the reverse engineering of N88-BASIC and the design of N88-BASIC(86). After the schedule estimation finished at the end of March 1982, the development of PC-9801, named N-10 Project, had started. The prototype of PC-9801 was completed at the end of July 1982. The code of N88-BASIC(86) was completely written from scratch, but Nishi pointed the bytecode matched Microsoft's. It was unclear that the copyright could apply to the bytecode. Nishi proposed to Hamada that NEC must have purchased the same amount of Microsoft's product corresponded to the license fee, and N88-BASIC(86) must show copyright notification of both Microsoft and NEC. Hamada approved it. The team considered third-party developers were very important for spreading the market. They provided 50-100 prototypes and technical information for independent companies without a fee.[6]

In the Information Processing Group, the Terminal Units Division also launched a personal computer series N5200 [ja] in 1981, branded as the personal terminal. It used an 8086 processor and a µPD7220 display controller. Its architecture was similar to PC-98, but it mostly ran a proprietary operating system PTOS. The series was considered as an intelligent terminal or a workstation, and it was distinguished with personal computer lines.[2] For this market, Fujitsu released the FACOM 9450 [ja] in 1981, and IBM Japan released the Multistation 5550 in 1983.

Release and growingEdit

PC-9801F motherboard

The first model, the PC-9801, was launched in October 1982,[9] 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.

When the PC-9801 was launched in 1982, it was initially priced at 298,000 yen (about US$1,200 in 1982 dollars). This model required an expensive 8-inch floppy disk drive or smaller capacity of 320 KB 5¼-inch floppy drive. The basic system only had the ability to display JIS X 0201 characters including numbers, English alphabets, and half-width kana, so most users added an optional kanji ROM board for using a Japanese word processor. Its successor, the PC-9801F employed an 8086-2 CPU, which could selectively run at a speed of either 5 or 8 MHz. The F2 model contained two 640 KB 5¼-inch 2DD (QD) floppy drives, JIS level 1 kanji (2965 characters) font ROM, and was priced at 398,000 yen (about US$1,700 in 1983). It received a positive reception from engineers and businesses.[10]

The Electronic Devices Group launched the PC-100 in October 1983, and attempted to present a GUI as well as the Apple Lisa. The machine didn't sell well due to its time and high cost. Moreover, the marketing competed with the PC-98 of the Information Processing Group, and it bothered distributors. In December 1983, Ouchi decided that NEC consolidated personal computer business into two divisions; NEC Home Electronics dealt with the 8-bit home computer line, and Nippon Electric's Information Processing Group dealt with the 16-bit personal computer line. The Electronic Device Group spun off personal computer business into NEC Home Electronics.[8][11]

Fujitsu released the FM-16β [ja] in December 1984. It had an Intel 80186 CPU at 8 MHz and a 1.2 MB 5¼-inch 2HD (HD) floppy drive. The FM-16β failed because it bundled the CP/M-86, not MS-DOS, and was marketed by Fujitsu's Electronic Devices department instead of the Computers department. They modified their policies in mid-1985, but it was too late.[12] In another opinion, Fujitsu bundled a business software package with the FM-11 (predecessor to FM-16β), it discouraged users from purchasing third-party software, and forced a specific purpose of use. As a result, Fujitsu failed to expand their platform.[13]

PC-9801VM (1985)

Against the release of FM-16β, NEC introduced the PC-9801M2 that had two 5¼-inch 2HD floppy drives. This model couldn't read a 2DD floppy disk. The PC-9801VM used NEC V30 CPU clocked at 10 MHz, and was released in July 1985. The VM2 model shipped with two 5¼-inch 2HD floppy drives, and supported both 2DD and 2HD floppy disks.[14] It became the best-selling computer in Japan, with annual sales of 210,000 units.[15]

Usage share of personal computers at home as of 1989, 509 Japanese businessmen answered
Usage share of 36165 personal computers in 937 Japanese companies as of 1989[16]

NEC permitted software companies to bundle a subset of the MS-DOS 2.11 without a license fee between 1983 and 1987. ASCII and Microsoft allowed it to gain the market and compete with the CP/M-86.[17] It also lets users buy an application package which is complete in itself.[18] NEC dominated half of the Japanese personal computer market at the end of 1983. As of March 1984, 700 software packages were available for PC-98. In 1987, NEC announced one million PC-98s were shipped, and about 3,000 software packages were available. Masayoshi Son (a founder of SoftBank) recalled in 1985 that:[19]

The gap in share of the personal computer market is growing. Even though the start was not limited to NEC only, why did this gap cause? It can be said that NEC has taken a positive attitude towards disclosing hardware and operating systems since the early period, and free for third parties to develop software and peripherals. While the competitors adopted the same Microsoft's BASIC, they didn't disclose them. This difference in attitude is reflected in today's share.

NEC was very careful to maintain compatibility and inheritance. The PC-9801VM could select a clock frequency from 8 and 10 MHz. The machine also offered an optional 8086 card because the V30 had different instruction cycles.[14] The V30 had unique instructions which were not implemented in Intel x86 processors. Some PC-98 applications used them, so the PC-9801VX (1986) was designed to run Intel 80286 and V30 selectively. The PC-9801RA (1988) had an Intel 80386 with a V30. The PC-9801DA (1990) didn't, but its clock speed was selectable.[2]

NEC spent a huge amount of money on advertisements and exhibitions. The marketing budget was around one billion yen in 1970s, but it had largely increased since 1979. In 1985, more than 25 billion yen was spent on it.[20]

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.[21] However, NEC began selling an IBM compatible PC (APC IV) outside Japan in 1986.[22]

Race with laptops and PC-98 clonesEdit

PC-9801LS (1988)

Toshiba had developed laptop computers since fall 1983, while their desktops were a failure in the Japan PC market. In October 1986, they introduced the J-3100 [ja] which modified the T3100 to handle Japanese text. NEC didn't expect it became the first successful laptop computer in Japan. In the same month, NEC introduced the PC-98LT laptop computer.[23] This model had poor compatibility with the PC-9801, so it couldn't gain a significant success. They understood PC-98 needed a new custom chipset to make the motherboard smaller, but it was hard.[24]

In March 1987, Epson announced the first PC-98 clone desktop computer, named PC-286 series. NEC verified it and sued Epson that its BIOS infringed their copyright. Epson canceled PC-286 model 1-4, and released the PC-286 model 0 whose BIOS made by another team of a clean room design. It didn't have a built-in BASIC interpreter. NEC responded the PC-286 model 0 lacked compatibility with PC-98. It seemed NEC wouldn't prevent it. In November 1987, considering the damage caused to its reputation, they agreed that Epson should pay money to NEC to dismiss the claim.[22]

Advert in ASCII August 1987 issue. The headline says "Offices know the real thing."

The PC-286 model 0 employed an Intel 80286 processor operating at 10 MHz, which was 20% faster than NEC's mainstream model PC-9801VX using the same CPU at 8 MHz. In June 1987, NEC released a 10 MHz version of PC-9801VX (VX01, VX21 and VX41 models). They added a BIOS signature check to their operating systems (Disk versions of BASIC and MS-DOS 3.3 - 5.0), that prevented non-NEC machines from booting. It was commonly called "EPSON check". In September 1987, Epson introduced the PC-286V, the PC-286U, and released the BASIC Support ROM for adding a BASIC interpreter. Also, Epson bundled the Software Installation Program which was a patch kit to remove the EPSON check. Both machines received a good reception due to reasonable prices and better compatibility.[22] In 1988, Epson made annual sales of 200,000, and successfully established PC-98 clones in the Japan PC market.[25]

In October 1987, Epson released the PC-286L which was a PC-98 compatible laptop before NEC developed.[26] In March 1988, NEC finally released the PC-9801LV which was a 100% PC-98 compatible laptop PC. It was accomplished by three custom VLSI chips.[27] These chipsets were also used in other desktops such as the PC-9801UV11 and the PC-9801RA.[28]

In July 1989, Toshiba released the J-3100SS branded as DynaBook, a true laptop computer which was light and battery operable.[29] It made annual sales of 170,000 units. Four months later, NEC released the PC-9801N branded as 98NOTE.[30] The DynaBook made a good start, but the 98NOTE exceeded it in 1990.[31]

Microsoft and other PC manufacturers developed the AX specification in 1987. It allowed IBM PC clones to handle Japanese text by using special video chips, the Japanese keyboard and software written for it. However, the AX couldn't break into the Japanese PC market due to its cost and less available software.

As a PC game platformEdit

Japanese domestic PC shipments by bit designs from 1983 to 1993[32]

In the early 1980s, home users chose 8-bit machines rather than 16-bit machines because 16-bit systems were expensive and exclusively for business. By the mid-1980s, the Japanese home computer market was being dominated by NEC PC-88, Fujitsu FM-7 and Sharp X1. In this era, a simulation game was the most popular genre for PC-98, which took advantage of higher clock speed and plenty of memory. Especially, Daisenryaku and Romance of the Three Kingdoms won popularity, and they established PC-98 as a PC game platform.[13]

Towards the end of the 1980s, the Japanese PC game platform slowly shifted from PC-88 to PC-98, besides X68000 and FM TOWNS had a niche market. In the 1990s, many computer role-playing games were developed for PC-98 or imported from other platforms, such as Brandish, Dungeon Master and classic Alone in the Dark series. The higher display resolution and higher storage capacity allowed better graphics, but drawing animations on PC-98 was hard. In this limitation, adult dating sims and visual novels appeared as a revival of 1980's adventure games, and they were getting popular such as Dōkyūsei and YU-NO. After the PC-98 declined, many Japanese PC game developers shifted the game platform to video game consoles, except eroge games distributed by computer stores.[33]

Price war with DOS/V PCsEdit

PC-9821Ap (1993)

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.[34] In 1990, IBM Japan introduced the DOS/V operating system which enabled displaying Japanese text on standard IBM PC/AT VGA adapters. Other Japanese PC manufacturers joined the PC Open Architecture Developer Group (OADG) organized by IBM Japan and Microsoft. In October 1992, Compaq released a DOS/V computer priced at 128,000 yen compared to the lowest price of PC-98 was 248,000 yen. This introduction caused a price war in the Japanese PC market.[35] In 1993, Toshiba introduced DOS/V computers, Epson founded Epson Direct Corporation to sell DOS/V computers, and Fujitsu started selling DOS/V computers branded as FMV.

"Which is the PC you want to buy next?" (May 1993)[36]

In November 1992, NEC introduced a mid-range Windows PC, the PC-9821 which contained Intel 386SX processor, a CD-ROM drive, 16-bit PCM audio playback, MS-DOS 5.0A and Windows 3.0A. In January 1993, PC-98 desktops were expanded into three lines, a high performance Windows machine named 98MATE, a low-priced MS-DOS machine named 98FELLOW, and an all-in-one desktop named 98MULTi. PC-98s were still popular among Japanese users because they had large numbers of Japanese applications.[36]

NEC managed to adopt industrial standards and reduce cost. From 1993 to 1995, the PC-98 adopted 72-pin SIMMs, 3.5-inch 1.44 MB floppy format, IDE storage drives, 640×480 pixels DOS screen mode, 2D GUI acceleration GPUs, Windows Sound System, PCI and PCMCIA card slots.[37] NEC had outsourced manufacturing of motherboards to Taiwanese companies such as ECS and GVC (acquired by Lite-On).[38]


Aside from other Japanese domestic platforms which had disappeared, Windows 95 over-turned the dominance of the PC-98. The difference in the architecture was not only ineffective for platform-independent environments but also increasing development resources to adopt them.[39] In 1997, NEC introduced the PC98-NX series as a main personal computer line, which conformed to the PC System Design Guide and removed PC-98 compatibility.[37] 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 announced that the PC-98 would be discontinued in 2003. 18.3 million of PC-98s shipped by the end of shipments in March 2004.[2]

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, Unix, OS/2, or Windows will still run on PC-9801s.

Expansion busEdit

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.

The PC-98XA (1985) and its successors, called high-resolution machine or simply hi-reso machine, were capable of 768 KB base memory, but I/O port and memory addressing was quite different from normal PC-98.


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) or ST506, 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.

The high-resolution machines (PC-98XA, XL, and PC-H98) offered 1120x750 display mode, and aimed for tasks such as CAD and word processing.

The PC-9801U (optional) and VM introduced a custom chipset GRCG (GRaphic CharGer) to access several planar memory in parallel. The PC-9801VX introduced a blitter chip called EGC (Enhanced Graphic Charger).[40] It had raster operations and bit shifting.

In 1993, NEC introduced a 2D Windows accelerator card for PC-98, that was called Window Accelerator Board, and employed S3's 86C928. Video cards for C-bus, local bus and PCI were also available from other manufacturers.[41] DirectX 7.0a was the last official supported version for PC-98.[42]


PC-9801-26K 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, an 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 was replaced by the PC-9801-26K to support the 80286 CPU. This became the most common sound card for playing in-game music on the PC-98.[43]

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.[44] The PC-9801-118 sound card and later PC-9821 models uses the Crystal Semiconductor's Windows Sound System audio codec to resolve this, but the newer sound chip was not compatible with the older conventional sound cards.[45]

Roland released the MPU-401 MIDI interface card for PC-98 computers. Creative Labs released a C-bus card of Sound Blaster 16.


Typical PC-98 keyboard

The first PC-9801 model had the same keyboard layout with PC-8801's except the conversion key XFER and 5 function keys were added. Later models had some minor changes; NFER, 15 function keys, LED status indicators replacing CAPS and Kana (カナ) alternate action switches.[46]


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 between 1987 and 1995, as well as compatible peripherals.[47]

AST Research Japan released the DualStation 386 SX/16 in 1990 which had both PC-9801 and IBM PC compatibilities,[48] but it failed because of poor marketing.[49]


Lotus 1-2-3 for PC-98

The PC-98 was primarily used for business and industry in Japan from 1980s to mid-1990s. As of September 1992, out of 16,000 PC-98 software, 60% of them were corporate business softwares (include CAD), 10% of them were operating systems and development tools, 10% of them were educational softwares, with the rest being a mix of graphic design, networking, word processing, and games.[50] 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.[36]

One of the PC-98's killer applications, Ichitaro; a Japanese word processor, was released in 1985.[51] 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.[18] Ichitaro (all versions) shipped 1 million copies by 1991,[52] and Lotus 1-2-3 a half-million copies.[53]

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 file. It used the entire space of a 1.2 MB floppy disk.[51] In 1980s, most machines only had two floppy drives because HDDs were an expensive additional feature for PCs.

NEC provided a variety of operating systems include CP/M-86, Concurrent CP/M, MS-DOS, PC-UX, OS/2, and Windows (discontinued after Windows 2000).[50][54] Localized versions of NetWare and FreeBSD were also available.

The PC-98 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, larger DIN connector for keyboard 640×400 8 colors, 2 externals floppy drive 8" (optional)
PC-9801E 8086-2 5/8 MHz 1983 Essentially the same as PC-9801, integrated logical circuits into several ASICs, mini DIN keyboard connector 2 externals floppy drive 8" (optional)
PC-9801F 8086-2 5/8 MHz 1983 With display font of JIS level 1 kanji characters, 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[55] 1984 With bus mouse interface card M1: 2 internal floppy drive, 5" 2HD (1.2MB); M2: 1 internal floppy and HD 20Mb
PC-9801U NEC V30 8 MHz 1985 With display font of JIS level 1 and level 2 kanji characters 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2DD
PC-9801VF NEC V30 8 MHz 1985 RAM 256 KB, GRCG (Graphic Charger) 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, GRCG Double 5" floppy-disk 2HD/2DD
resolution 640×400 with 8 colors (16 colors optional) chosen from among the 4096 available
PC-9801UV NEC V30 10/8 MHz 1986 Onboard PC-9801-26 sound hardware, GRCG, UV2 (1986) with 384 KB of RAM, UV21 (1987) 640 KB of RAM, UV11 (1988) reduced 45% size of UV21's and 73% lower power consumption[27] 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801VX 80286 8-10 MHz 1986 RAM 640 KB, EGC (Enhanced Graphic Charger), VCCI compliance Resolution 640×400 with 16 colors chosen from among 4096, VX4/WN bundled MS-DOS 3.1 and Windows 1.0[56]
PC-9801UX 80286 10 MHz 1987 Onboard 26K sound, EGC 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801RA 80386DX 16-20 MHz 1988 Reduced 12% size of 9801VX's,[28] covered floppy drives to be quiet 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 40MByte 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801EX 80286 12 MHz 1989 Onboard 26K sound 2 floppy-disk 3.5" 2HD/2DD
PC-9801DA,DA/U 80386DX 20 MHz 1990 Onboard 26K sound, software menus replaced DIP switches /U means 3.5" floppy
No /U means 5" floppy
PC-9801DS,DS/U 80386SX 16 MHz 1990 Onboard 26K sound /U means 3.5" floppy
No /U means 5" floppy
PC-9801DX,DX/U 80286 12 MHz 1991 Onboard 26K sound /U means 3.5" floppy
No /U means 5" floppy
PC-9801FA,FA/U 80486SX 16 MHz 1992 Onboard 26K sound F means "File slot", memory proprietary expansion slot
PC-9801FS,FS/U 80386DX 16 MHz 1992 Onboard 26K sound
PC-9801FX,FX/U 80386SX 16 MHz 1992 Onboard 26K sound
PC-9821 Intel 80386SX 1992 3.6 MB of RAM, CD-ROM drive, onboard 86 sound hardware Hard disk 40 MByte,
resolution 640×480 with 256 colors, Windows 3.0A pre-installed
PC-9821Ap 80486DX2 66 MHz 1993 3.6 MB of RAM, onboard 86 sound, support 3.5" 1.44 MB floppy disk Hard disk none or 120-510 MB with IDE, resolution 640×480 with 256 colors, MS-DOS 5.0A-H pre-installed
PC-9801BA 80486DX 40 MHz 1993 1.6-3.6 MB of RAM, 86 sound card (optional), support 3.5" 1.44 MB floppy disk Hard disk none or 80 MB with IDE, MS-DOS 5.0A-H pre-installed
PC-9821Ce 80486SX 25 MHz 1993 Essentially the same as PC-9821 Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Af Pentium 60 MHz 1993 7.6 MB of RAM, broke 14.6 MB memory barrier,[50] JEDEC 72-pin SIMM, S3 928 2D accelerator Hard disk 510 MB, Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Cx 80486SX 33 MHz 1994 MS-DOS 6.2/Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Cf Pentium 60 MHz 1994 Built-in TV tuner, MS-DOS 5.0A-H/Windows 3.1 pre-installed
PC-9821Xa Pentium 90 MHz 1994 7.6 MB of RAM, 1x-4x CD-ROM, Matrox MGA-II, 2x PCI slots, Plug and Play C-bus, WSS audio Hard disk 270-1000 MB
PC-9821Cx2 Pentium 75 MHz 1995 CD-ROM 4x drive Hard disk 850 MB, 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




A journalist explained in 1988 that why NEC could have established the nation of Japanese personal computers.[12]

  • NEC responded quickly to arrival of the demand for business personal computers.
  • NEC was successful to draw many third-party suppliers, and dominated production and distribution of software.
  • NEC adopted Microsoft's MS-DOS as an operating system for the PC-98.

Western computers lacked Japanese support due to its display resolution and speed, so they couldn't get into the Japanese PC market until the DOS/V and faster computers came out. In fact, IBM Japan sold the IBM 5550 instead of the IBM PC. Akihiko Hyodo, a programmer who developed the famous text editor, said an advantage of the PC-98 that it had kanji character memory and a non-interlaced monitor. Both provided users a more comfortable Japanese environment.[57] A senior vice president of Otsuka Shokai (a computer distributor for enterprises) recalled that "Early users such as Kao already had office automation with the PC-8000, but it lacked speed and kanji support. Then, the PC-9800 was released, and it was perfect, so distributors and users immediately switched to it.".[58]

Shunzo Hamada of NEC thought the biggest reason for the success of PC-98 was that NEC could get software companies to cooperate. He said, "Third-party suppliers of Japanese PCs had already grown up to a certain extent. However, it was not because they were organized. They were born by themselves, and hardware manufacturers didn't touch them. When we developed the PC-9800 series, we changed our method to make a conscious effort to grow them up.".[59]

Ichiran Kou, a computer consultant, pointed out that IBM influenced NEC's strategy. As of 1982, NEC had four personal computer lines, and they covered a wide price range. This style was similar to IBM's mainframe business. However, NEC's computers were poor backward compatibility, so it was criticized by users and software developers. After the reform of personal computer lines in 1983, NEC began expanding the PC-9801 series, and its number of models exceeded any competitors.[60]

NEC encouraged third-party developers as IBM did for the IBM PC. Also, the basic hardware of PC-98 was similar to the IBM PC, yet it was not an IBM compatible. Actually, NEC got other personal computers, and researched them, Hamada revealed.[59] Kou guessed that NEC avoided to release an IBM compatible PC because the company was proud of developing an original mainframe.[60]

Yasuhiro Uchida, a literature professor, wrote an essay titled "Users chose the most playable PC". He felt the PC-98 was an ordinary 16-bit personal computer, but it had a plenty of games because it didn't deny the playability. He guessed that Fujitsu considered 16-bit personal computers was not a game platform, and IBM JX handled games as minor importance. This made personal computers less attractive. He concluded that the actual value of personal computers must be found by not sellers but consumers.[13]


A writer of the ASCII magazine wrote that the Japanese input method and the Japanese video game industry were significantly developed in the PC-98 era. Because the PC-98 had a kanji character ROM, Japanese applications were developed for it, some Japanese input methods were developed for them, and competed with each other. Also, software companies who developed games for the PC-98 immediately expanded the video game business on the Famicom platform. He believed most programmers learned computer programming on the PC-98 at that time.[57]


In the late 1980s, competitors criticized the domination of NEC. Takayoshi Shina, a founder of Sord, said, "The Japanese PC market is suffocating because of one company's dominance. There is no freedom. This is why its prices are 3-4 times as expensive as American's. To fullfil the same international price as American's, we really need the era of clone computers.". Also, a software company complained, "Although there are few excellent engineers in Japan, the more incompatible machines appear, the more development resources are divided.".[22]

Contrary to the IBM PC and the Apple II, each Japanese personal computers had a short lifespan. NEC released a new model of the PC-98 every year. When PC-9801VX01/21/41 brought a new BASIC interpreter which supported the Enhanced Graphic Charger (EGC) chipset, most commercial software didn't use it because they were written in C. Also, many developers didn't follow it because they wanted to make their software less dependent on the specific platform. A software developer said, "Using the special one (EGC) goes against the trend. I don't want to use it if new machines come out so frequently.".[61]

See alsoEdit


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Further readingEdit

External linksEdit

Preceded by
PC-8800 Series
NEC Personal Computers Succeeded by