Tekniikan Maailma 2/1985 MSX comparison

Tekniikan Maailma, a high quality Finnish magazine that focused on all kinds of technical things such as cars, televisions, videorecorders, microwave ovens, home computers, and so on, published a review about various MSX microcomputers. Here is a shot of the page 112 of the 2/1985 issue:

tekniikan maailma 2 1985 page 112 msx comparison

Tekniikan Maailma begins their article by announcing that MSX-compatible microcomputers have arrived. They have tested five MSX newcomers today. According to them, 18 consumer electronics manufacturers have joined the supporters of MSX-standard created by american Microsoft Corporation. Among those are big enterprises such as Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi and Yamaha. Tekniikan Maailma informs us that MSX is already big in Japan (a side note by Kalevi Kolttonen: Alphaville sang Big in Japan back in 1984, and I guess that song suits MSX perfectly!) and now MSX is striving to conquer Europe.

It is now April 27th, 2018. Thinking back, MSX had some success in Europe, e.g. in Holland and Finland and maybe some other countries, too. But it never took off like in Japan.

In any case, Tekniikan Maailma goes on to say that Microsoft has had successes in the past. It says that they have created a MBasic BASIC-compiler and MS-DOS used in the PCs. In 1983 this "respected software house" released a BASIC interpreter for microcomputers. The magazine says that compatibility provided by the MSX standard is helpful to the hobbyists. The users are no longer tied to one vendor's accessories or software. Instead they can utilize all MSX offerings, independent of the vendor. According to them, market competition will cause prices to go down, which is good for the consumers.

MSX technology is 8-bit and based on Zilog Z80A CPU that has an effective instruction set. However, Tekniikan Maailma says that some criticism has been voiced, because MSX could have used faster 16-bit CPUs. So they conclude that reasons for choosing 8-bit were probably lower prices and good availability. Z80A is used in many PCs that run CP/M operating system.

Regarding performance, MSX is above average. Programming in BASIC is easy, but mathematical routines are noticeably slow because of high precision arithmetics. To make structuring of programs easier, MSX BASIC has the concept of interrupts. That means that one does have to continuously poll for input, because when an interrupt occurs, program control is automatically transferred to a user-defined subroutine. Some input examples are game controllers, overlapping graphics and real-time clock pulse.

Graphics resolution is only 256x192 pixels which is below what home computers usually can offer. But the disappointment caused by the low resolution is alleviated by MSX BASIC graphics commands.

With respect to the actual MSX comparison, they ask: "How can we compare MSX machines because they are, after all, similar to each other?". Their answer is that MSX standard dictates only a part of the machine's features. The individual manufacturers have option for implementing their own details as they see fit. One important part of a home computer is its keyboard. The consumers often pay too little attention to the quality of the keyboard even though the feel of the computer comes through fingers, via keyboard. Clarity of the layout and the feel of the keyboard is vital when choosing a computer.

Availability of hardware accessories and software should be kept in mind, too. Even though these MSX machines are compatible with each other, and it is in principle possible to combine them in any way, it is good to choose the fundamental units in such a way that one gets good support from the vendor.

I do not totally agree with that Tekniikan Maailma assessment. MSX interoperability and compatibility frees the user from vendor-locking, and thus differences are small and you do not have to rely on one manufacturer! You can buy any MSX and you will have hardware and software support even if your vendor should go bankrupt.

Tekniikan Maailma then states that financial competition between manufacturers has not taken off yet. The prices seem to be pretty unified, perhaps by a mutual agreement between corporations. But they expect that the situation will soon change. They also say that including more interesting accessories is a must: those could include Yamaha music micro's FM-synthesizer, Spectravideo's 5½ disk drive or some kind of a resident program in ROM. The most interesting hardware accessories are disk drives. Sony and Philips are going to introduce a 3½ disk drive, which is expected to became standard in the MSX world. It will make use of MSX-DOS, i.e. a shrinked version of well-known MS-DOS.

The lack of a scandinavian keyboard is a sad missing detail and it will distract at least those users who use utility programs. The vendors have not taken our special character set into account, and the situation will not be better in the near future. The production of MSX software is in progress, and the amount of available software is growing all the time as software houses join the MSX bandwagon. Even the domestic software houses have been preparing for the arrival of MSX. Utilities in Finnish are already available and more applications are being worked on.

They conclude their article by asking: "A unified MSX standard is coming in as one wave, but will it be here to stay?"

tekniikan maailma 2 1985 page 114 msx comparison
tekniikan maailma 2 1985 page 115 msx comparison

Here are the Finnish prices in early 1985 (TM article was published on February 5th, 1985):

And here is a summary of their MSX comparison:

Well, what can I say? Tekniikan Maailma certainly found some differences there, and the prices were different, too. I understand that Spectravideo SVI-728 was the most popular MSX computer in Finland, and this review (giving it four stars and verbal praise) possibly made a difference. Tekniikan Maailma was, and still is, very popular in Finland. Back in February 1985 there were not many other sources where you could find home computer reviews in Finnish press.