Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The PC Engine was a collaborative effort between Japanese software maker Hudson Soft (which maintains a chip-making division) and NEC. In a classic example of good timing, Hudson was looking for financial backing for a game console they had designed, and NEC was looking to get into the lucrative game market. The PC Engine was and is the smallest video game console, due primarily to a very efficient three-chip architecture and its use of HuCards, credit-card sized data cartridges. It featured an enhanced 6502 processor and a custom 16-bit graphics processor, as well as a custom video encoder chip, all designed by Hudson.
The PC Engine was extremely popular in Japan, besting Nintendo's Famicom in sales soon after its release, with no fewer than twelve systems released from 1987 to 1993, and new games released as recently as 1999. It was capable of up to 512 colors at once in several resolutions, and featured very robust sprite handling abilities. The Hudson-designed chroma encoder delivered a video signal more vibrant and colourful than both the Famicom and the Sega Megadrive and is largely regarded as the equal to Nintendo's Super Famicom, the PC Engine's contemporary competition.
It was the first console to have a optional CD module, allowing the standard benefits of the CD medium: more storage, cheaper media costs, and redbook audio. The efficient design, backing of many of Japan's major software producers, and the additional CD ROM capabilities gave the PC Engine a very wide variety of software, with several hundred games for each the HuCard and CD formats. Here's a screenshot gallery.
Several of the PC Engine systems and its US- and Europe-released counterparts are possibly the most commonly misspelled video game systems of all time. The -Grafx suffix, used for the Japanese CoreGrafx and SuperGrafx, as well as the US + EU TurboGrafx, is spelled incorrectly almost as often as not. Grafix, graphx and countless permutations thereof.
- CPU : Two Hu6280 chips (clone of the 65CO2) with a speed of 7.2 MHz
- Resolution : 256x212
- Colour palette : 512
- Number of simultaneously displayable colours : 256
- Video RAM : 64k
- Number of simultaneously displayable "sprites" : 64
- Audio capacity : Six audio tracks, eight octaves of which 1 is a FM track
- Game support: HuCard (Hudson Card)
With only one exception (the SuperGrafx) all PC Engine hardware could play the entire HuCard library, and every CD system could play all the CD games - with the right system card.
A possibly complete list of hardware
- PC Engine
- White, only RF output
- Dark grey, blue label, AV output
- CoreGrafx II
- Light grey, orange label, AV output, Identical in function to the CoreGrafx
- PC Engine Shuttle
- UFO-shaped system, unique expansion port (no CD option), AV output
- PC Engine GT
- Portable system, identical in shape and function to the US-released TG Express
- PC Engine LT
- Semi-portable system (no battery option) similar in size to a normal PC Engine or CoreGrafx. Uses a very large attached screen, and folds up like a laptop (hence the LT moniker)
- PC Engine Duo
- Combination PC Engine + CD ROM system, dark grey, has a CD door lock and headphone port
- PC Engine Duo R
- Same as the Duo, but white/beige, shaped differently, and lacks the lock and headphone port.
- PC Engine Duo RX
- Same as the Duo R, slightly blue in colour. The only PCE packaged with a six-button pad.
- X1 Twin
- Combination Sharp X1 computer and PC Engine. Only played HuCards.
- Pioneer + NEC released a Laserdisc player with video game modules. One module allowed the use of PC Engine games.
- The only PC Engine unit to contain enhanced HuCard functionality. Only five games were released for it. (Two regular PC Engine releases, Darius Plus and Darius Alpha, were enhanced to utilize the extra sprite capability of the SuperGrafx.
Other region variations
- TurboGrafx 16 (North America)
- Turbo Duo (North America)
- Turbo Express (North America)
- TurboGrafx (European, PAL)
- Vistar 16 (Korean)
- Several clones
Unreleased and rumoured hardware
- A modem was developed but never released.
All PC Engine systems support the same controller peripherals, including pads, joysticks and multitaps. Except for the Vistar, Shuttle, X1, GT and systems with built-in CD ROM drives all PC Engine units shared the same expansion connector, which allowed for the use of devices such as the CD ROM unit, game saves and AV output. A modem expansion was planned but never released. See the External Links (bottom) for details on this connector.
The TurboGrafx and Vistar units use a different controller port than the PC Engines, but adaptors are available and the protocol is the same. The TurboGrafx offers the same expansion connector pinout as the PC Engine, but has a slightly different shape so peripherals must be modified to fit.
All PC Engine hardware is natively NTSC, including the European version which creates PAL-compatible video with the use of a chroma encoder chip not found in any other system in the series.
CD Hardware details:
- Single-speed CD-ROM drive, managed by a NEC microcontroller and using the SCSI-I interface.
- ADPCM chip with variable speed input clock, and 64K DRAM for audio sample storage. Only one channel of 4-bit audio was supported.
- 64K DRAM for storage of program code and data loaded off the CD-ROM. The RAM could be supplemented by using different System Cards, and some later systems had additional RAM built-in.
A library of support routines and start-up code (BIOS) was provided in several forms, either built in to a particular console or as standalone 'System Cards'. The known revisions are:
- v1.00 - First release (HuCard, came with the PC-Engine CD-ROM interface unit)
- v2.00 - Upgrade (HuCard, sold separately)
- v2.10 - Upgrade (HuCard, sold separately) - bug fix?
- v3.00 - Final release (built into several products and available as a HuCard - see below)
The corresponding CD-ROM products were:
- PC-Engine Interface Unit (IFU-30), came with System Card (CD-ROMē System, v1.00) (has 64K RAM)
- System Card (CD-ROMē System, v1.00) (standalone, available as a replacement for the above)
- System Card (CD-ROMē System, v2.00)
- System Card (CD-ROMē System, v2.10)
- Super System Card (Super CD-ROMē System, v3.00) (Has additional 192K RAM)
- Arcade Card Pro (Arcade CD-ROMē, v3.00) (Has additional 192K RAM and 2048K RAM)
- Arcade Card Duo (Arcade CD-ROMē, v3.00) (Has additional 2048K RAM)
- Super CD-ROMē System (Super CD-ROMē System, v3.00) (Has 256K RAM)
- PC-Engine Duo (Super CD-ROMē System, v3.00) (Has 256K RAM)
- PC-Engine Duo R (Super CD-ROMē System, v3.00) (Has 256K RAM)
- PC-Engine Duo RX (Super CD-ROMē System, v3.00) (Has 256K RAM)
- RAU-30 (Extension cable for the SuperGrafx to fit into the IFU-30 tray)
The PC-Engine Interface Unit has 64K RAM and a v1.00 System Card. Later the v2.00 and v2.10 System Cards were released, with no additional hardware (only software changes). It will play CD-ROMē games directly, and needs the Super System Card or Arcade Card Pro for Super CD-ROMē or Arcade CD-ROMē games.
The Super System Card adds 192K RAM for a total of 256K available. The Super CD-ROMē System and PC-Engine Duo/R/RX consoles have the entire 256K built-in along with v3.00 of the System Card software, and can play both CD-ROMē and Super CD-ROMē games without using any additional cards.
The Arcade Card Pro is for the original PC-Engine Interface Unit, adding the 192K RAM required by Super CD-ROMē games and the 2048K RAM and additional support hardware used by Arcade CD-ROMē games.
The Arcade Card Duo is for the Super CD-ROMē System and PC-Engine Duo/R/RX consoles, which adds the 2048K RAM and additional support hardware. Because these systems have 256K of RAM built-in, this does not need to be provided and is why the Arcade Card duo was less expensive than the Pro version.
Note: Because the aforementioned consoles use the same BIOS revision as the Arcade Card Pro, it isn't known (as a cost-saving measure) if the Arcade Card Duo includes the BIOS software itself, or if the existing built-in BIOS is used.
The various CD-ROM game types are:
- CD-ROMē (pronounced CD-ROM-ROM) : Standard CD-ROM game.
- Super CD-ROMē : Requires a compatible system or upgrade card.
- Arcade CD-ROMē : Requires an upgrade card.
While the Super CD-ROMē games only had additional RAM for storage, the Arcade CD-ROMē cards added a number of additional ways the RAM could be accessed (sequential, non-sequential) by the CPU.
For earlier systems, the conventional 64K or 256K RAM was split into 8K banks and mostly used for program storage, transferring it to the 64K of video RAM available was unwieldly.
The Arcade Card upgrade solved this problem by having it's extra 2048K RAM made indirectly accessible, to easily map to the PC-Engine CPU's instructions to rapidly copy data from the Arcade Card to the video RAM. The entire RAM could be then accessed as a linear stream of data instead of broken up into segments.
This was primarily used to store and stream large sprites to video RAM; as evidenced by many conversions of the well-animated Neo Geo fighting games to the Arcade CD-ROMē format. Of course for other games, it provided many more frames of animation, reduced load times, and the general convenience of additional storage. Note that this RAM cannot be used for program execution due to the way it is made accessible to the CPU.
One technique that was used by games pre-dating the Arcade Card upgrade was to store graphics data in the 64K audio RAM (used for ADPCM samples) that was present. This RAM could be directly populated by the CD-ROM hardware (it had a direct DMA channel from the CD controller) without CPU intervention, and the memory could be accessed in an indirect format similar to the Arcade Card, allowing data stored in it to appear as a 64K stream of linear data that could be easily transferred to video RAM.
- NEC manufactured a very large line of personal computers, one of which featured a single-speed CD ROM drive identical to the PC Engine version. They were designed to be interchangeable, which is why the PC Engine's IFU-30 CD ROM interface could be purchased without a CD ROM drive.
- NEC developed a prototype adaptor that connected a PC through the HuCard slot, allowing the PC to control the PC Engine's CD ROM as it would any normal SCSI drive. Due to falling CD drive prices and the increasing undesirability of a single-speed SCSI drive, it was never released. It was however previewed in NEC's official US TurboDuo magazine.
Despite the system's initial success, it soon lost ground to the Super Famicom. NEC made one final effort to resuscitate the system with the release of the Arcade Card expansion, bringing the total amount of RAM up to a then-massive 2048K; many Arcade Card games were conversions of popular Neo-Geo titles. The additional memory even allowed the system to display pre-rendered 3D polygon graphics well beyond what the competing Super Famicom and Megadrive/Mega-CD could offer. By this time, however, it was too late -- only a relative handful of Arcade Card games were ever produced, and the expansion was never released in the U.S.
In 1994 NEC released a new console, the Japan-only PC-FX, a 32-bit system with a tower-like design; it enjoyed a small but steady stream of games until 1998, when NEC finally abandoned the video games industry.
The PC Engine GT is a portable version of the PC Engine. It had a very crisp screen and an optional TV tuner was available. It could play all of the PC Engine HuCard games, yet had low battery life.
Another variation of the hardware is the SuperGrafx. This system is very nearly the same as the original PCE, except it has a duplicate set of video chips (and an extra chip to coordinate the two) and four times as much RAM. Since the CPU wasn't upgraded most developers were unable to utilize the extra graphics capability, the CPU just couldn't keep up. Only five SuperGrafx games (and one hybrid game - Darius) were released, and the system fell into obscurity.
Other members of the PC Engine family include the Shuttle, the LT (a laptop version similar to the Game Boy Advance SP, but considerably larger), the CoreGrafx I and II, the Duo R and the Duo RX. Contrary to popular belief the CoreGrafx is not a European version of the PC Engine. It is simply a reengineered version of the original (white) PC Engine with an AV output instead of the original model's RF output. The PC Engine and its derivatives were never officially sold in Europe, although many systems and most accessories and games were available as imports. The PC Engine and its games had been extensively covered by most major European video game magazines and were surprisingly popular.
- Information about the PC Engine
- 101 Secrets of the PC Engine
- PC Engine clones
- Pre-release and prototype PC Engine hardware
- The Vistar, a Korean TurboGrafx
- A PC Engine screenshot gallery
- PCEngine.de - online since 2000
- PCEngineFX.com - PC Engine and PC-FX infos, sounds and videos!
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