MSX is a Z80-based family of home computers which appeared in autumn 1983 as an attempt to establish a single standard in home computing similar to VHS in video. MSX machines were produced by a large list of industry giants as Sony, Yamaha, Panasonic, Toshiba, Daewoo, and Philips.
The MSX standard has been designed by ASCII Corporation in cooperation with Microsoft. The latter provided a firmware version of its BASIC for the machine. Because this BASIC version was an extended version of MicroSoft Basic, it was called "MicroSoft eXtended BASIC", thus explaining the abbreviation MSX.
MSX computers proved to be popular in Asia (Korea, Japan), South America (Brazil, Chile), Europe (Netherlands, France, Spain, Finland) and the former Soviet Union. They were virtually unknown in the USA, however. The only MSX model ever sold in USA is an early SpectraVideo model. While essentially an MSX, the Yamaha CX-5M was also sold in the USA, but mainly as a musical instrument rather than a home computer.
While MSX hasn't become the intended worldwide computer standard, MSX is still a diverse and easy to use computer. Due to its rich BASIC instruction set, and uncluttered operating system, it proved to be especially useful for educational purposes. The Russian Ministry of Education bought hundreds of MSX1 and MSX2 computers, all grouped into "computerized classroom systems" of 10-16 machines, connected into a simple network. Entire generations of Russian programmers have grown up using these computers.
The MSX1 standard died quietly in 1988, but had already been taken over by the MSX2 standard years earlier. By then, the MSX2+ standard entered the market, followed by the MSX turbo-R in the early 90's. More than a decade after the turbo-R, the 1chipMSX was conceived. The name refers to having all the MSX logic programmed into one big FPGA chip. Debates exist as for whether this 1chipMSX with its reprogrammable logic is a real MSX or a kind of emulator, for it could also emulate another computer. Fact remains that the 1chipMSX carries the official MSX logo.
The name 'MSX'
According to Kazuhiko Nishi, the 'inventor' of the whole MSX concept, MSX can mean a lot more than just MicroSoft eXtended. In an article, published in a Japanese business magazine in 1997, he said that he used the abbreviation MSX to contract a lot of companies saying that it means Matsushita Sony X-machine in which the X could refer to the company Nishi was talking with at that moment. Nishi has also pointed out that he initially wanted to name it NSX (Nishi Sony X) or MNX (Matsushita Nishi X) but the name NSX was already taken by Honda. Following this logic, Nishi could also say that the MS refers to MicroSoft. According to Nishi, Matsushita and Sony have been the most important companies that have produced MSX machines and MSX hardware.
Other possibilities were Matsushita Sony Shake-hands (X). But actually, MSX doesn't really have a meaning, it's just a nice-sounding 3-letter combination. On the MSX fair in Tilburg on the 21st April 2001, Nishi gave a lecture in which he stated that MSX meant Machines (hardware) with Software eXchangeability. A funny remark was that when MSX seemed to be successful, Microsoft said MS in MSX means MicroSoft, but after 1986, when it was clear that MSX hadn't become the intended world standard, MicroSoft denied that the MS in MSX refered to their name.
MSX represents a hybrid of a videogame console and a generic CP/M-80 machine. Its main CPU is a Zilog Z80A running at 3.58MHz. The video subsystem is built around a TMS9918 or TMS9928 VDP chip which has also been used in the Texas Instruments' TI-99/4, Colecovision, and Coleco Adam computers. In later MSX models this chip has been upgraded to V9938 (MSX2) and V9958 (MSX2+ and TurboR). The latest version of it is V9990. The audio system is handled by the AY-3-8910 chip by General Instruments, same as the one used in Sinclair ZXSpectrum128 audio. AY-3-8910 provides 3 channels of synthesized sound, noise generation, and two general purpose parallel IO ports which are used for joysticks and some other things in the MSX design. Due to their hardware structure, MSX machines were perfectly suitable for games and there is a lot of good games either written or ported to them.
Nowadays, there are a lot of expansions for the MSX system, such as the Moonsound cartridge which is based on OPL4 chip, the GFX9000 cartridge based on the aforementioned V9990, SCSI and IDE interfaces. New hardware developments are still in the pipeline. It's not uncommon to distribute new games on cartridges and the VSU project aims to be an all-in-one expansion, combining OPL4, V9990 and V9958 chips.