NEC PC-9800 series

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NEC PC-9800 series
PC98RS.jpg
Developer NEC Home Electronics
Type Home computer
Release date 1982
Discontinued 2000
Predecessor PC-8800
Emulated

The NEC PC-9800, also known as the PC-98, were a family of computers made by NEC throughout 1982 to 2000. Despite using Intel x86 chips, MS-DOS and Windows OS, and many other superficial similarities, the series is not IBM compatible. Some PC-98 software may work on an IBM or vice versa, but this is very YMMV[1]. In fact, the introduction of a native Japanese version of standard MS-DOS in the early 90s and subsequent entry of cheaper foreign IBM clones in the Japanese market was the nail in the coffin for the PC-98. They were not released or marketed outside of Japan (besides few attempts such as APC-III and PC-9801FC), but still useful for playing early visual novels and Touhou games.

Emulators

Name Platform(s) Latest Version libretro Accuracy FLOSS Active Recommended
PC / x86
Neko Project 21/W Windows v0.86 rev87 High
Neko Project II kai Windows Linux macOS [N 1] git High ~
Neko Project II Windows Linux macOS (PPC/Intel) 0.86 Mid
Anex86 Windows e1 Low-Mid
MAME Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD 0.249 Low
SL9821 Windows macOS 0.4.0.3 High ~
DOSBox-X Windows Linux macOS FreeBSD 0.84.3 Low ~
ePC-9801 Windows 11/17/2022 Mid-Low ~
QEMU/9821 Windows Snapshot 8/20/2012 Low
Mobile / ARM
Neko Project II kai Android iOS [N 1] git High ~
Neko Project II Android 20120217 Low
J98 Android J98-b Low
  1. 1.0 1.1 Only available as a libretro core outside of Windows and Linux.

Comparisons

Neko Project II
The best PC-98 emulator out there but went inactive since March 2016. Its major drawback is the non-remappable controls.
Neko Project 21/W
Based on Neko Project II but with a focus on PC-9821 series with enhanced options (CPUs, memory sizes, sound sources) as well as support for LAN board, PCI bus, CD-DA, windows accelerators, fmgen and so on.
Neko Project II kai
A more libretro-focused fork, which has also merged several improvements from 21/W.
Anex86
Another decent PC-98 emulator, which emulates EPSON PC-286/386/486 series which is a series of PC-98 clone computers made by EPSON Corporation rather than PC-98 series made by NEC. older and less powerful. It allows key rebinding. Some programs may have trouble running on this emulator due to so-called "EPSON protection" that prevents them from running on EPSON clones.
DOSBox-X
A very active fork of DOSBox that, among other things, adds support for the PC-98 as a target system. While it's very easy to set up, its PC-98 system is not yet complete.
MAME
It has drivers for various revisions but as of version 0.189, all of them are reported as Not Working. Support for the first batch or so of PC-98 games have started to be added to MAME in 0.201 (Aug 2018).
SL9821
Yet another PC-98 emulator that has quite high accuracy. Requires extra ROM files for BIOS and other subsystems (sound card, IDE controller, etc.) of the hardware. Floppy disks and HDD images have to be converted to either proprietary *.slf/*.slh files or *.bin raw images.
ePC-9801
Emulator focusing on PC-9801 series. The only emulator that supports 1120x750 high-resolution mode presented in some models. Requires extra ROM files for BIOS and other subsystems (sound card, IDE controller, etc.) of the hardware. Emulation for each model is released as individual exes which are designed to emulate that specific model, which disallows adjusting options such as RAM size and mix-and-matching peripherals. Accuracy seems still a lot to be improved.
QEMU/9821
A fork of QEMU that supports PC-9800 architecture. No longer maintained. Able to boot MS-DOS, Windows 98 and Windows 2000, but software compatibility is hit or miss.

Capabilities Comparisons

Graphics

For more information about the graphics subsystem of PC-98, Reference to this documentation.

Most of the games won't require graphics subsystems that are more advanced than EGC, and basically, all emulators have achieved full emulation of EGC, so whether an emulator could emulate more advanced graphic systems doesn't really bug.

However, some games do make use of more advanced graphics subsystems, such as some AliceSoft's adult games which support 256 color mode of IO-DATA's GA-1024A, and games originating from IBM PC such as Doom, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, etc. may make use of PEGC due to its similarities with VGA graphics.

Specifically, it's possible to install a totally out-of-spec graphic card, such as Nvidia GeForce FX 5700LE on later PC-98 models with PCI bus, but such scenarios are quite obscure and no emulators support such cases.

Notice that an emulator supporting a graphic subsystem doesn't necessarily mean such an emulator is mature enough for programs that make use of it to work properly.

Name GRCG GRCG + PC-9801-24 EGC PEGC GA (CL-GD54XX) HiRes
Neko Project 21/W
Neko Project II
Anex86
SL9821 ? ?
DOSBox-X
ePC-9801/E/U/VF
ePC-9801VM/VX/RA ?
ePC-98XA/XL/RL

Sounds

Most of the DOS games make use PC-9801-26(K) which provides 3 channels of FM, 3 channels of PSG, or PC-9801-86 which provides 6 channels of FM, 3 channels of PSG, and PCM recording & playback.

For Windows, PC-9801-118 provides support for both FM and PCM playback as a PnP & Windows Sound System compatible card, but not fully backward compatible with PC-9801-86 under MS-DOS. Q-Vision WaveStar is yet another PnP card for Windows but is fully backward compatible.

Alternatively, games originating from IBM PC such as Doom may have the option to make use of Sound Blaster 16.

Other sound options such as PC-9801-14 exist, but are not commonly used.

When it comes to MIDI, most of the emulators are capable of redirecting PC-98's MIDI output (MPU-PC98) to MIDI devices on the host computer, including the built-in GS Synthesizer in Windows. Dosbox-x also provides extra emulation for Roland MT-32.

Name 26(K) 86 118 SB16 WaveStar 14 MIDI
Neko Project 21/W
Neko Project II
Anex86
SL9821
DOSBox-X
ePC-9801

Keyboard and mouse

PC-98 keyboard layout presents keys that aren't available on IBM PC keyboards. Most of the emulators will map them to other keys on IBM PC keyboards, but only Anex86 and SL9821 support manually remapping these keys.

Just like IBM PC keyboards, the Later PC-98 keyboard also introduced Windows and Context keys alongside the introduction of Windows 95. Only Neko Project 21/W, and Dosbox-x support emulation of Windows and Context key.

There are also other keyboard layouts for PC-98, such as PC-9801-114 (for PC-PTOS), PC-9801-116 (IBM PC layout for PC-98), and PC-9801-98-S02 (for using with some kind of word processor). These keyboards are rarely supported even on actual PC-98 and no emulator supports emulating these layouts yet.

Most of the emulators are capable of emulating the mouse interface and mouse on PC-98.

Some late models of PC-98 come with USB keyboard and mouse (and surprisingly, they are still supported by modern versions of Windows), but no emulator supports emulation of USB bus yet.

CD-ROM

Neko Project 21/W, Neko Project II, SL9821, and Dosbox-x support emulation of CD-ROM drive attached to IDE bus. SL9821 also supports using a physical optical drive.

Just like IBM PCs, MSCDEX is required to access CD-ROM under MS-DOS.

ROM-BASIC

PC-98 series have N88-BASIC interpreter built into the system ROM, despite not many programs being written in BASIC or bare-metal assembly running under N88-BASIC.

Neko Project 21/W, Neko Project II, SL9821, and ePC-9801 supports ROM-BASIC. Specifically, Neko Project 21/W and Neko Project II require an extra BIOS.rom file in order to enter ROM-BASIC.

Simply remove all HDD and FDDs then power on to enter ROM-BASIC.

Networking

Neko Project 21/W supports the emulation of the Buffalo LGY-98 LAN adapter. A TAP virtual network adapter driver is required to be installed on the host machine in order to connect the emulator to the host machine in host-only mode by default. Bridged and NAT-enabled Internet access is also available by setting up the TAP virtual network adapter on the host machine.

It's unknown whether the emulation of the Novell NE2000 adapter provided by Dosbox-x works under PC-98 mode.

Cassette

It's possible to add a cassette interface (PC-9801-13) to some early models of PC-98 and use it in ROM-BASIC, despite this cassette interface is rarely used.

Only ePC-9801 supports emulation of cassette interface.

Usage

Note: This tutorial was adapted from this resource.

The PC-9800 series of personal computers had floppy disk drives (FDD) and hard drives (HDD) which contained the actual games and software to be loaded. Besides the emulator, you'll need a set of floppy disk images (FDI, FDM, NFD, D88...) or a hard disk image (HDI, HDM, NHD...).

You'll need a font if you want text characters to display properly in most cases. It can be downloaded here. Put it in the same directory as the emulator executable, and select it (Emulate/Font for Neko Project II, or Config/Font for Anex86).

You'll need to configure the emulator as well. In NP2's case, you want to go with the recommended configuration here:

  • Emulate/Configure/CPU: Number of cores to something like 32.
  • Emulate/Configure/Sound: Rate to 44k or 88k for better sound quality.
  • Device/Memory: 13.6MB
  • Screen/Screen Option: Check "Use skipline revisions", and change Ratio to 255. This gets rid of the existing scan line implementation, in case you want a better one with shaders from external programs. Keep in mind PC-98 games, more than any other system, are often graphically designed with scanlines in mind.

To play the games:

  • If using a floppy disk based game: Plug the first disk (FDI) into FDD1, and the second disk (FDI) into FDD2.
  • If using a hard drive based game: Plug the hard drive (HDI) into Harddisk/IDE #0 (if using Anex86, use the HDD1 and HDD2 fields and check the box HDD>FDD).

Then restart the machine (not emulator), and most games automatically launch from there.

Neko Project II's controls are not remappable. They're 2, 4, 6, and 8 on the numpad, arrow keys, enter, space, ctrl, z, and x. For games using the mouse, hit F12 to enable or disable mouse input. Use programs like Joy2Key to rebind other keys.

Hardware variations and spin-offs

APC-III

The APC-III is basically rebranded the original PC-9801, targeted at the western market.

No emulator specifically emulates this model, and it's unknown whether APC-III software could be run on regular PC-98 hardware, or otherwise.

PC-9801FC

A PC-9801F with Chinese character ROM replaced its Japanese Kanji ROM and addressed in a different scheme, targeted at the Chinese market.

Despite no emulators specifically emulating this model, PC-9801FC software could run on regular PC-98, hence it's possible to run them with regular PC-98 emulators, but all non-ASCII text strings will become gibberish as their character ROMs are encoded in different schemes unless feeding in the character ROM of PC-9801FC either as ROM file or character mapping image into the emulator, which is not yet in public.

PC-9801LT

NEC's first attempt at mobilizing PC-98 which is not so successful, ended up with a machine with 3.8kg of weight and not fully compatible with the regular PC-98 series.

Only MAME and ePC-98LT provide emulation of this model and both are in preliminary stages.

PC-98HA (Handy98)

A handheld-sized PC-98, which is still not fully compatible with the regular PC-98 series as it's more similar to PC-9801LT in architecture.

Only MAME and eHANDY98 provide emulation of this model and both are in preliminary stages.

N5200

Despite N5200 being a different series of computers of NEC in the beginning, later N5200 models are just Hyper98 computer hardware with different BIOS.

No emulators provide emulation of N5200 yet.

iNHERITOR II-A

iNHERITOR II-A is an emulation box manufactured by ZUKEN ELMIC, which the purpose is to replace PC-98s used in industrial devices in order to keep them running long after the demise of PC-98 series.

iNHERITOR II-A is an IBM PC powered by Intel Core i7 processor, running Windows Embedded 2009 and a customized PC-98 emulator (which seems to be a fork of Neko Project II judging from its menu bar), and equipped with a special PCI card and C-bus breakout board that could redirect actual PC-98 floppy drive, serial port and C-bus devices to the emulator, which makes it possible to control industrial devices relying on PC-98 via IBM PCs.

There is little to no information about the technical details of its customized PC-98 emulator and related hardware.

Resources

References