Lexikon's History of Computing

MSX Microcomputer Technology

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Excerpted with permission from the MSX Web Site at:


Courtesy of Manuel Bilderbeek


MSX is an old Z80-based family of home computers which appeared in 1982 as an attempt to establish a single standard in home computing similar to VHS in video. They were popular in Asian (Korea, Japan) and South American (Brazil, Chile) countries as well as in Europe (Netherlands, France, Spain) and former Soviet Union, but they are virtually unknown in USA. Although MSX standard quietly died to year 1988, the world got to see MSX2, MSX2+ and TurboR extensions of it.

The MSX standard has been designed by a company called ASCII in Cooperation with Microsoft which provided a firmware version of its BASIC for the machine. Because this BASIC version was an extended version of MicroSoft Basic, it was called "MicroSoft eXtended BASIC". This explains the name "MSX". The system thanks his name to the built-in BASIC. The MSX machines were produced by such giants as Sony, Yamaha, Panasonic, Toshiba, Daewoo, and Philips. The only MSX model ever sold in USA appears to be an early SpectraVideo machine. (for an example of a Spectravideo, click here.)

In spite of its sad history, MSX is a very nice computer, especially useful for educational purposes which is clearly indicated by example of the Soviet Union. Russian Ministry of Education bought hundreds of MSXes (and later MSX2s) grouped into "computerized classroom systems" of 10-16 machines connected into a simple network.

Hardware-wise, MSX represents a hybrid of a videogame console and a generic CP/M-80 machine. The MSX machine is based on the Z80 CPU , running at 3.58MHz in the base model. The clock frequency has been doubled in the TurboR. The video subsystem is built around a TMS9918 or TMS9928 VDP chip also used in Texas Instruments' TI-99/4 computers, ColecoVision, and Coleco Adam. In the later MSX models this chip was been upgraded to V9938 (MSX2) and V9958 (MSX2+ and TurboR). The latest version of it is V9990. The audio system is handled by AY-3-8910 chip by General Instruments, same as the one used in Sinclair ZXSpectrum128 audio. AY-3-8910 provides 3 channels of synthesized sound, noise generation, and two general purpose parallel IO ports which are used for joysticks and some other things in the MSX design. Due to their hardware structure, MSX machines were perfectly suitable for games and there is a lot of good games either written or ported to them.

Nowadays, there exist a lot of expansions on the MSX system, such as the Moonsound card, based on OPL4, the GFX9000 card, SCSI interfaces, etc.

For further information, contacts, FAQs, etc., see the web site referenced above.


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