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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] X1 Twin

    Posted on May 22nd, 2009 keving 2 comments

    X1 Twin

    Maker: Sharp
    Release Date: December 1987 sometime
    Price: 99,800 yen

    A PC with Built-in PC

    x1t0NEC was, in the end, a personal computer company. As a result, the PC Engine scene is packed to the gills with hardware and accessories, to the point where that “PC” in the title wasn’t just bravado but likely reflected an effort on NEC’s part to make the console a cheap home computer in the Japanese marketplace.

    I’ve already discussed the “Core Concept” that drove the PCE in the beginning. It largely ended in failure, but also resulted in a few pieces of hardware that are rarer then hen’s teeth — which, I suppose, is part of the collector attraction for the system in the first place. This is one of those pieces.

    If you thought NEC was the only PC Engine hardware manufacturer, you’re in for a shock — apparently, as long as you got the license from NEC-HE, then any company could insert the PCE’s hardware into their own stuff and manufacture whatever the hell they wanted. Such compatible devices were called “HE-System Machines,” and there were only two third-party machines released in this line — Pioneer’s LaserActive in 1993, and this bugger, the X1 Twin from Sharp. (NEC themselves also released a PC monitor with a built-in PC Engine, and it says something about NEC’s marketing strategy that this arguably isn’t even the silliest PCE thing they released.)

    I, myself, have never seen an X1 Twin in person. Most people haven’t. I’m just cribbing the photo and description printed in the hardware-catalog section of one of the 1997 Super PC Engine FAN magazine-books.

    The Sharp X1 was a series of 8-bit Z80-CPU computers released in Japan starting in 1983, one marketed as a home computer. Sharp called it a “PC Television” in advertising, reflecting the fact that the X1’s monitor included a built-in TV tuner, and plainly it was targeted for gamers and other hardcore users…assuming they could afford the 150,000 yen the thing cost in its original configuration. The series got an upgrade with the X1 Turbo in 1984 and eventually evolved into the X68000 line, one that achieved almost-legendary status among Japanese gamers until Windows machines finally won the market for good.

    x1twinThis machine, the X1 Twin, was marketed as “the response to the X1’s fifth birthday.” It was released just after (almost simultaneously, really) with the PC Engine console, as you can tell by this flyer (left) that shows no software besides launch titles Shanghai and Bikkuriman World.

    Exactly why Sharp thought that licensing technology from NEC, its chief competitor in the home computer business at the time, would be a great idea for its new PC is a mystery to me. The only connection here is that Hudson developed the BASIC interpreter that shipped with the X1, sort of like how Microsoft did the BASIC for most Western 8-bit computers. Maybe Sharp, like a lot of other third-party hardware makers in Japan at the time, thought the PCE had a chance to take over the Famicom’s enormous market overnight and just wanted to get in on the ground floor any way possible.

    As for the hardware itself? Like I said before, I’m really not sure what Sharp was thinking with this thing. If this is their “response,” then it’s the wrong one. Similar to the Tera Drive and Amstrad Mega PC that came later, this is a computer that just happens to also let you play console games on it. If you think you can control the PCE with the computer, or have RGB output from the PCE, then forget it. The X1 and PCE hardware run completely separately from each other, including different video outputs; the only thing they really share is a power supply. Another side effect of this structure is that you cannot expand the PCE inside at all; you can only play HuCards, and since there’s no backup RAM, there’s also no saving any of your games (not that this became an option for PCE games until backup memory became standard in ’88 or so).

    The X1 Twin was the final computer released as part of Sharp’s X1 series. While Sharp has a history of mashing hardware together and calling it “Twin” (cf. the Twin Famicom), I still can’t see any reason why this bit of hardware exists at all.

    Speaking of consoles installed within PCs but running on different video outputs and sharing nothing with the computer portion apart from the AC supply, the PC-FX board NEC released in 1995 for their PC-9821 computer is the exact same deal. What was the point? The 3DO Blaster was a lot kinder to end users in this regard, no doubt, and has the added benefit of being marginally more useful as a game platform than the PC-FX.


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