In recent years, we have seen systems that are homages to the 8-bit and 16-bit microcomputers of the past. We are talking about compilations with emulators and a collection of games to take advantage of nostalgia. However, we find that in this case we are talking about a revival and neither more nor less than from the hand of the creator of the msx standardKazuhiko Nishi, who several decades later wants to make a third generation of it.
Yours truly was a late fan of MSX, in Spain they were not very successful and their popularity grew with the developed retro scene that germinated after the disappearance of 8-bit computers until it became one of the microcomputers best known by fans. Its initials, contrary to what many believe, do not mean MicroSoft eXtended and neither do Matsushita-SONY-SANYO, which were the first manufacturers of these machines, but “Machines with Software Exchangeability» from the mouth of the creator of the standard.
What was the MSX standard?
At that time any manufacturer could build an MSX in the different variants of the standard that existed. They only had to make sure they built a computer with a series of specific chips and with the so-called MSX-DOS, a version of MS-DOS with a BASIC interpreter for Z80 processors created by Microsoft and ASCII. Apart from support for a series of peripherals and connectors. That is to say, there was not a single manufacturer that made a single MSX computer, hence it was a standard and there were several different manufacturers.
Obviously over time the PC ate the MSX standard all over the world due to technical capabilities. So outside of making a retro system as a tribute, it doesn’t seem like much can be done. Well, that’s not what Kazuhiko Nishi thinks for the return of his MSX.
This is the future of the MSX standard
Nishi’s bet for the future of MSX is not to create a computer from scratch, but to take as a base a small computer for the Internet of Things based on the ESP32 processor. Specifically, the M5 Stack, which has the ability to add modules to add new expansion capabilities to the device. Which will allow things like adding a cartridge slot to run the software and games of the classic systems or better yet, replace the central processor with a more powerful and higher capacity one.
Therefore, when Nishi created the future of his standard, he has taken two different paths, which he has called MSX0 and MSX3. In the first case, it is the environment of the original systems running on the base unit of the M5 Stack in an emulated way and that can also be taken anywhere as if it were a portable version in the Game Boy style with several interchangeable casings, given the unit main includes a built-in screen.
The most interesting concept is that of the third generation MSX, which is a separate machine and differs from MSX0 in some key elements. Of course, part of the concept of being able to stack several different panels with a common intercom in order to have the complete team.
Contrary to the previous case and as can be seen in the image, in this case we do not see any screen in the middle and there are some differences with respect to MSX0. The first one is the use of an FPGA unit to simulate the original MSX circuitry, which is not emulated by an ESP32 processor because of this. Its main circuitry? An NVIDIA Jetson Orin NX, which will give it a technical capacity superior to that of a Nintendo Switch and will allow games like the current ones to be ported to the platform.
In other words, in the same way that Nishi chose the Z80 as the processor and the TMS9918A as the video chip in the early 90s, this time Nishi’s choice has been the NVIDIA processor designed for the automotive world as the basis for which the rest of manufacturers can create their own MSX3.