NEC PC Engine

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The PC Engine is the first games console from NEC, and was a collaboration with the software company Hudsonsoft. They provided the medium called Hu Cards, and were responsible for much of the systems software output. Well known characters such as PC Kid and Bomberman made several appearances on the machine.

NEC provided the hardware and it is known for it's tiny size, but powerful performance. It was an 8 bit machine, but with a 16 bit bus and graphics chips. This meant it was a very good platform for shoot 'em up games, as it was able to move around many sprites at once.

It was named PC Engine, as this first unit was supposed to be the core of a much expandable system. The only part of this to see the light of day was the CD-ROM, released in 1989, this was to lead to the system producing cinematic games long before the likes of the Mega CD.

The CD-ROM unit ran games on special Hu cards called System Cards, and several were produced. Version 1.0 and 2 added more memory, 2.1 removed several software glitches, but the real revelation was version 3.0, or the Super CD card, this not only added more memory, but also allowed more colours, and effects such as scaling and rotation.

The arcade card was the last produced in 1994, it increased the memory much further, but also allowed the use of much more impressive sprites, as can be seen in the game Sapphire, looking almost polygon formed.

Initially the machine suffered from the crushing competition of Nintendo's Famicom, but it's fortunes changed when Irem converted it's arcade game R-Type to the tiny console with stunning results, it looked and played very close to it's arcade counterpart, this and other quality titles caused an explosion of sales, and the console was the biggest seller of 1988 in Japan.

With some excellent software from Hudsonsoft, and impressive third party support from the likes of Sega, Capcom, and Irem who were not developing exclusively for Nintendo, or not at all, the console would eventually find itself with a very commanding share of the Japanese games market, and gave Nintendo a real run for their money, especially when the CD add on was released.

The console was brought to America as the Turbografx, the machine could not compete against the might of Nintendo and Sega. The machine also suffered an unwanted transformation into a much larger unit, with an even bigger, more unwieldy looking CD unit. The CD system came in a gigantic box, that also contained a case to cover both systems, the US standalone CD unit is extremely rare today.

A planned European launch was largely abandoned, there was a limited launch in France of the original machine with a PAL Modulator.

The British company Telegames bought up the stock of the unreleased European console that was identical to the US machine except being grey in colour, and they were available for many years via mail order.

For the uninitiated, the wealth of machines can be a bit daunting, but they break down something like this.

PC Engine - The original white unit, RF output - 1987

PC Engine Shuttle - 1989 This was intended as a cut cost model, but became a giant of a machine, it is the only console in the entire range that cannot connect to a CD-ROM drive, judging by the box it was aimed at the younger player.

Briefcase System - Coming in a smart case with a handle, the regular PC Engine plugged in next to a single speed CD ROM.

PC Engine Core Grafx - Dark blue in Colour, and with AV output - 1989

PC Engine Core Grafx II - Light Grey, with orange lettering to match the new Super CD ROM unit, otherwise identical to the Core Grafx - 1990

PC Engine Duo - An all in one unit, with Super CD capability built in, it was jet black in colour. - 1990, now some suffer capacitor problems, has a headphone socket, volume control and the ability to lock the drive door shut.

PC Engine Duo-r Re-designed unit, cream in colour, and with the headphone socket, volume control and drive lock of the original removed,  1991

PC Engine Supergrafx - A knee jerk reaction to the Mega Drive and the impending Super Nintendo it has the same architecture as the regular machine, but with new graphics chips, it is also much larger, and was supposed to have a driving controller, which went over the top, this peripheral never made it past the prototype stage. 1991

 The Supergrafx cost far too much to produce, and the games were extremely expensive. It was soon abandoned in favour of expanding the CD System card technology. Only five games were ever released for it.

PC Engine Duo RX - Pale blue in colour, identical to the Duo-r, but with it's own six button controller for use with Streetfighter II. 1992

The American Machines

Turbografx - Twice the size of the original Japanese machines, the games were region locked on HU Card, or Turbo Chips as they were called in the US, the machine was jet black in colour 1990.

Turbo Duo - Identical in looks to the PC Engine Duo, it could play CD's from any region, but the cards were locked to the US. 1991


Turbo Grafx - Identical in looks to the US machine, but light grey in colour 1991 and also PAL 50hz, some software was optimised to run faster, which was rather unusual for the day.

Other Hardware

Super CD-Rom - A plug in CD Drive for any of the standalone PC Engine machines, but colour co-ordinated with the PC Engine Core Grafx II.

The Super Grafx could also be plugged into the Super CD ROM, without the need for an adaptor, or it could be attached to a Briefcase CD system via the use of an RAU-30 adaptor.

PC Engine GT / Express - Handheld machine. like a huge Game Boy, it took the same cards as the regular machine, running off 6 AA Batteries, which did not last long. Many have capacitor problems that mean the sound is very quiet or non existant.

PC Engine LT - One of the most expensive and sought after machines, the LT stands for lap top, and the machine has a large 4 inch display that closes over the machine, hence the name, and it can plug into a briefcase system, or use an adapter for the Super CD Rom drive, which retails for hundreds of pounds today.

Pioneer Laservision - Now extremely rare and expensive, this was a laserdisc player, that took plug in modules, three were made, PC Engine, Mega Drive and a karaoke one.

Games were made for the PC Engine up until the mid to late 1990s.

Our model is the original white one, and has been modified to output AV.

Manufacturer: NEC
Date: 30th October 1987

Magazines RELATED to NEC PC Engine in our Library

Item Manufacturer Date
Edge - Issue 127 - September 2003 Future Publishing Sep 2003

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This exhibit has a reference ID of CH37158. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

NEC PC Engine

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