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It’s about to get geeky in here...

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The geekiness hasn't stopped with this one...

The Yamaha CX5M Music Computer was one of a number of MSX computers released worldwide in the 1980's, as well as one of only a few marketed in the United States. Project CX5M is my attempt to document this vintage computer, and I want to give it a proper treatment.

I know that many of my US-based readers have never heard of the MSX standard. That is understandable, as MSX largely bypassed the United States. Only two companies marketed MSX computers in the US (with Spectravideo being the other company, if you're curious).

That's the BackSpace key, by the way.

Anyways, Yamaha's CX5M Music Computer is a notable entry in the annals of computing history. While I have found evidence that computers were used in the music production process, as well as marketed for their sound generation capabilities prior to the CX5M's release, the CX5M may be the first computer specifically marketed for music production.

After all, Yamaha was no stranger in the music industry. For example, their DX7 synthesizer created some of the most iconic sounds in 1980's pop music, though programming new sounds on it proved to be difficult.

And yes, Yamaha sold a cartridge for the CX5M that could be used to more easily create new sounds for the DX7. It was among the first set of cartridges launched for the CX5M.


You might be wondering why I would even bother with physical hardware at all. Any CX5M hardware that I do find is going to be over 30 years old. And interfacing modern hardware with vintage computers can present a unique set of challenges.

For example, while MSX-DOS used the FAT12 file system, macOS no longer supports external USB floppy drives. Fortunately, Linux and Windows still do... but for how long?

And it's not like you are going to drive down to your local office supply and find a double-density floppy disk to use in your vintage computer. (Fortunately, eBay is a good source for new old stock disks.)

Also, vintage computers usually output video at a non-standard 240P, instead of the NTSC standard 480i. CRT-based TVs were totally fine with displaying 240P – and if your TV was small enough, you would never notice the missing scan lines were missing from the signal.

However, since 240P was never a standard, many modern TVs and video capture devices will flat out refuse to acknowledge that there is a signal.

Furthermore, some video controllers of the day, including the TMS9918A found in the CX5MU (that's the designation for the US-market CX5M), did other tricks in the name of making video output computationally easier. Unfortunately, these non-standard tricks cause undesirable artifacts in modern video equipment, as shown in these examples.

I'll elaborate on these "tricks" in a future post.


But emulation also has its drawbacks. MSX emulators do exist, and they have support for the CX5M. Some emulators let you record the screen, which would result in a far better picture than composite video could ever provide. Or if the emulator didn't support this feature, screen recording software could come to the rescue.

Emulation also would not let me experience what it was like to actually have a CX5M in the 80's. And there is a certain je ne sais quoi from hearing the sound from the actual synthesizer hardware, instead of an emulated approximation.

That is, if any of the MSX emulators even attempt to emulate the SFG-01 and/or SFG-05. I have so far been unable to get far enough with any of the MSX emulators to make that determination.


Therefore, I will press forward with using actual CX5M hardware, but will still investigate using MSX emulators to help fill in gaps in the story of the Yamaha CX5M Music Computer.

"There are good ships and wood ships, ships that sail the sea, but the best ships are friendships, may they always be!" – Irish Proverb

Lunch time was an awkward time in high school...

The regional school I attended held classes for all in-district students, except seniors, in the afternoon.

Students at my high school attending this regional school were granted a ten minute early dismissal from second period. This was due to the regional school starting afternoon classes ten minutes before my high school started third period, as well as to ensure that we had an opportunity to eat lunch.

This did cause some awkwardness, as I was usually the only one leaving my class ten minutes early.

My regional school peers that attended my high school packed their lunch, and would head over to the regional school to eat it there. (I can't blame them.) However, I was used to buying lunch at school, and to-go boxes were not available.

Fun fact: when I was in high school, lunch cost $1.25.

While there were several other programs that also permitted an early dismissal from second period, there were not an abundance of people eating in the cafeteria early. Being the socially-awkward nerd who didn't fit into any of the cliques, I ate alone.

Until one day... While I couldn't tell you the exact date, I do remember the day: I had seen this group of gentlemen eating together before, while I was eating alone at another table.

One day, one of them came over and asked if I would like to join them, so I did. And from that day on, I didn't have to eat alone.

I'm not sure they realize how much this one small gesture has meant to me over the years, but this was a defining moment while I was in high school. I treasure our moments of fellowship at the round table.

In case you haven't figured it out by now, the tables in the cafeteria were round. And the pizza was triangular-ish...

As high school goes, we all eventually graduated and went our separate ways for college or careers. But I am glad to have been able to reconnect with several of them on Facebook.

(And for those of you from that round table and have not yet re-connected on Facebook and/or LinkedIn, please do. And maybe one day soon we could all reconnect in person at another round table somewhere in the US.)

This is a historical post, thus I am using a bit of historical liberty...

I attended a regional school for math and science while in high school, and we were issued a school e-mail address within the first week of my freshman year.

I'm embarrassed to admit that one of my first e-mails, if not my first e-mail, was to thank the principal of that school for the clean bathrooms.

I never received a response. I can only imagine that he laughed while shaking his head when he read my e-mail.

I also never figured out why an old PC on a cart was stored in the mens room... perhaps my first e-mail should have been to ask about that instead.

This was both the first and last time I made a compliment about clean bathrooms via e-mail... or email.

...or your money back.

During the summer before my freshman year of high school, my parents decided we needed a new family computer, as I would soon be assigned homework that would need a computer to complete.

They soon settled on a setup which included a Packard Bell minitower computer, monitor, printer, and extended warranty. I don't remember the model number, but it came in the "Art Deco" style case and featured a Pentium processor.

You're probably still stuck on "Art Deco", right? The case was wider on the bottom than it was on the top, presumably because the motherboard was parallel with the bottom of the case. And the case looked rather presumptuous. Just like Art Deco skyscrapers.

We had the computer on the floor. I don't remember the desk being that small, but then again, the footprint of the tower was larger than those of today. It doesn't matter why, but it did set the optical drive up for the accident that happened within the first month or two of ownership: dad bumped the optical drive tray with his knee, while it was open, causing it to break.

It was an accident, and our extended warranty covered accidents, right?

Dad kept calling the extended warranty company over the broken optical drive. They kept promising that a repair would be scheduled, and no one ever returned the call. I think he started complaining to the store manager, who was also unable to get the extended warranty company to perform.

This went on for way longer than it should have. It was at least a few weeks, but it could have been a couple months.

One day, dad suddenly started packing the computer back in the box. We were returning the computer to Sears. Dad simply pointed out the Sears pledge: "Satisfaction Guaranteed or your money back".

A pledge to customers that started in their catalog days, when you had to place an order sight-unseen. A pledge proudly posted over the entrance doors at Sears, many times in gold. A pledge that they kept.

The store manager apologized for the poor service we were given, and honored their "Satisfaction Guaranteed" pledge. We were no longer the owners of a now-disgraced Packard Bell computer.

We then went to Circuit City and purchased a different setup which included a Hewlett-Packard desktop computer, monitor, printer, and extended warranty. It featured a slower Pentium processor, but the build quality was better.

Not that the tray of any optical drive has been built to withstand a glancing blow from one's knee...

Sad news coming from the maker community:

Maker Media, publisher of Make: Magazine and producer of Maker Faire, ceased operations late Friday, June 7, 2019.

I’ll miss Make: Magazine. Even though most, if not all, of the projects were freely available on their website, I subscribed to the magazine due to its high-quality production. Reading their magazine still is an enjoyable experience, though my collection of back issues will now have to suffice.

I would like to thank all of the former Maker Media employees for their dedication to the maker community, and wish them the best as they pursue the next steps in their career.

And if Make: Magazine ever restarts publication with the same high-quality production values, I’ll be among the first in line to subscribe.