fMSX 3.0

by MSX Resource Center on 21-04-2005, 00:00

We continue our test with the emulator on which almost every other MSX emulator has been based. In fact, as far as we know, blueMSX, openMSX and Zodiac are the only MSX emulators that are completely free of fMSX code. The popularity of the fMSX code can be explained by looking at the past. Together with Filosoft/Compujunks MSX emulator and MCCM's MSX4PC fMSX was one of the first three emulators capable of emulating the MSX Computer system. At the time most people considered the Compujunks MSX emulator to be the best emulator, as it was running a lot of software and offering interesting features like the ability to use the entire harddisk of the PC as if it was a huge MSX diskette. The major difference between fMSX and the two competitors at the time was the fact that the sourcecode of fMSX was freely available for non-commercial use, allowing other developers to improve the emulator or to port it to other computer systems and operating systems. The sourcecode of fMSX is still freely available to date. This explains why most MSX emulators are based on fMSX.  

 

The Windows emulator fMSX itself isn't free though. fMSX developer Marat Fayzullin considers the GUI and the extra support he has to give to Windows users to be valuable enough to charge for it. If you want to port fMSX for non-commercial use you are free to do so. If you want to run the real fMSX on Unix, you can download the sourcecode and compile it yourself. For a pre-compiled fMSX for Windows and DOS you have to pay $35,- (currently about ?29,-). For our previous Emulator Comparison Marat had agreed to give us a free review version of fMSX 2.6. This time, we were not in such luck. If we wanted to test future versions of fMSX, we had to pay for it.  

 

fMSX is one of the 2 non-free MSX emulators our the test. The other emulator that isn't free is MSX Association's MSXPLAYer, the official MSX emulator. Strangely the MSXPLAYer is a lot cheaper than fMSX as it basically comes for free with MSX Magazines that cost about 25 euros or with the MSX Game Reader that costs about 100 euros. Apart from that, with buying MSXPLAYer you also buy officially licensed MSX System ROMs, giving you the legal right to use the emulator even if you don't own a real MSX. As far as we know, this is not the case with fMSX, even though the fMSX website is not very clear about this. As there are many free MSX emulators for Windows available, the most important question that comes to mind is: Are the GUI and support of fMSX/Windows (and DOS) really worth $35,-?  

 

The first impression of the emulator didn't make us feel like that was the case. By default, the MSX emulator runs thrice as fast as a real MSX, with the video not being synced to the VDP refresh rate of 50 or 60Hz, making it nearly impossible to run any games or demos on it. The docs told us how to get the emulator in more accurate MSX settings, but left us wondering why on earth an MSX emulator is set on such unusual settings by default. The second impression was not much better either. Although it might very well be due to the (not exceptionally strange) configuration of the PC we used to test the emulator, fMSX kept locking up very frequently. Although we suffered even more lockups in fMSX2.8, things are still far from perfect. Every time we tried to access the settings screen during emulation without pressing the 'reset' button afterwards to return to the emulator, there was a high chance of the emulator locking up. This made changing disks during emulation practically impossible and working with the emulator close to a nightmare. It also turned out to be quite annoying that the 50/60Hz sync had to be set manually. We highly suggest adding an option where the emulator automatically adjusts this setting according to the settings of the VDP.  

 

All in all we didn't get the feeling fMSX offered $35,- worth of GUI. After all, it was the GUI that kept locking up our PC time and time again. The second impression also gave some positive points though. Leaving the locking-up aside, the GUI of fMSX is very basic, but intuitive. All options and features of the emulator are easy to find and offers everything you need to run some DSK or ROM images. The brand new debugger of fMSX is a nice extra. It's not as versatile as the debugger included in NO$MSX, but it offers all basic features a debugger should have. Another feature newly introduced in fMSX 3.0 is the fullscreen mode. Finally the mother of most MSX emulators offeres this -quite essential- feature as well. In our opinion it could -and should- have been implemented a lot earlier, but lets look at it from the bright side: with fMSX you can now play MSX software in full-screen as well.  

 

Accuracy

 

Apart from Bombaman and the Woei Demo, coincidentally both developed by Team Bomba, none of the tests we ran on fMSX worked completely without glitches. The 20th Anniversary demo, SD-Snatcher, Aleste 2, Avaakkus and Vscreen all showed some glitches, but ran good enough to be considered 'playable'. Things went horribly wrong with products like TNI's bounce demo (Showing a gap in the scroller, garbage in the Bounce logo and changing the colors of the scroll at the height of the screensplit) and Relax (Showing a transparent Squeek and wrong graphics at all Squeek parts and showing only half of the 'boring scroller'). Multidisk demos like Metal Limit and Unknown Reality showed a lot of glitches, but were mainly impossible to watch due to the emulator locking up when changing disks during emulation. After many, many attempts we managed to run both Metal Limit (which resulted in many parts of this megademo to work, but not looking quite like they should) and Unknown Reality (which didn't show a scroller at the oscillator part, displayed the blueblockers incorrectly, showed a huge mess at the color bars and finally locked up at the zoom part). Fac Demo 5 didn't even boot.  

 

Music

 

Listening to the sound of fMSX one begins to wonder if it has ever been compared to 'the real thing'. The PSG is emulated well enough to enjoy some basic beeps, square wave-tunes and SFX, but when other waveforms are used the sound distorts or doesn't get played at all. PSG samples are replaced by silence or, at best, some clicks. Trying to play some (Atari-created) MYM tunes on fMSX is not an option, as it will often leave too many sounds out. The SCC does get emulated, but it sounds no where near the real thing. Same goes for the MSX-MUSIC, where all instruments are being replaced by plain square waves. One of the options that fMSX offers is to route the music to a MIDI output. Although this adds some interesting capabilities (like recording your favorite MSX songs in a sequencer and using it as a basis for your own arrangements), this will only get you numerous steps further away from sounding like a real MSX computer. We tried the MIDI feature on GM/GS and MT-32 compatible devices, and did not get good sound results on either of them. For MIDI support to be actually useful in MSX emulation, you'll need extensive configuration options, allowing you to adjust the instrument settings to those that fit to your MIDI equipment. fMSXSO does contain such configurability. Still, in order to capture the essence of how a real MSX sounds, MIDI is really not the way to go.  

 

Conclusion

 

We can only conclude that, although it has played a great role in the history of MSX emulation, fMSX is far from an ideal MSX emulator and definitely not worth spending $35,- on. You can find better MSX emulators with more features easily (just read the rest of this comparison) and in most cases the developers of those emulators (or else the MSX Community) will give you all the support you need. Although the 3.0 release of fMSX brings a bit more bang for your buck with the new debugger and the full-screen mode, we suggest you spend those $35,- on new or old MSX software or hardware.  

 

Information chart

MSX2 CPU Benchmark:         1133
MSX2 VDP Benchmark:         1070
turboR CPU Benchmark:       N/A
turboR VDP Benchmark:       N/A
MSX1/2 accuracy score:      61.30%
turboR accuracy score:      00.00%
Music quality score:        13.33%
Usability & Features score: 52.90%
CPU load MSX2 idle:         ~ 95.00%
CPU load turboR idle:       N/A
MRC EmuRank:                40.58%
Emulator interface:         GUI
Save-states:                yes
Screenshots:                no
Joystick support:           yes
Mouse support:              yes
Printer support:            yes
Real disk support:          no
Multi-disk support:         no
Change disk:                yes
Dir as disk:                yes
MSX1 palette:               no
Image enhancements:         no
Fullscreen:                 yes

fMSX website: http://fms.komkon.org/fMSX/

 

To see how fMSX compares to other emulators, check out the MRC EmuRank chart.

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