Japan’s Nippon Electric Co., as it was originally named, sold computers in North America through two separate divisions. NEC Home Electronics sold consumer-oriented systems, and NEC Information Systems sold business computers.
NEC’s first microcomputer was actually the TK-80 training system based on its 8080-workalike CPU, introduced in 1976. Two years later, the company produced a more complete system based on the TK-80 board called the Compo BS/80. That computer came in two versions, one with a built-in cassette recorder and another that required an external cassette recorder.
Introduced in Japan in 1979, the PC-8000 marked NEC’s entry to the U.S. home computer market in 1981 as the PC-8001. Although it was the most popular home system in Japan, it never sold well in the U.S. By 1983, only about 100 software titles were available for the system–a far cry from the thousands of Apple, TRS-80, Atari, or Commodore titles.
NEC sold the PC-8800 as the PC-8800A series in Japan. The company introduced a PC-8801 Mk II in 1984 and a PC-8801 Mk II SR in 1985. The latter featured improved graphics performance. The PC-9801 was not exported to North America.
The NEC Trek did not sell well in North America, and the PC-6001 version of this computer was not a big seller in Japan. It was a non-MSX system competing in an increasingly MSX-dominated Japanese home computer market. The follow-on model, the PC-6001 Mk II SR, did no better.
NEC was a hold-out on the MSX standard, perhaps because its PC-6601 was so popular in Japan. It enjoyed good software support. In 1985, NEC offered an enhanced version of the PC-6601 called Mr. PC.
Notebook computers started to appear in the early 1980s, and NEC offered one of the best in the PC-8201. It was under four pounds and expandable with a built-in application suite, and in fact was the same system as the Kyocera-made Tandy Model 100. A PC-8201A model was also sold, with the most obvious difference being a light beige case. The PC-8201 was dark grey. The PC-8201A is more commonly found today.
Few CP/M notebook computers were made, and the PC-8401 was one of the best. NEC later produced the Starlet 8401A-LS, which was similar to the 8401A but with a bigger LCD.
NEC offered a MultiSpeed EL version with an electroluminescent display in mid-1987. An ELD upgrade was available for LCD-equipped MultiSpeeds. A MultiSpeed HD model was introduced in September 1987 with an internal 20MB hard disk drive.
The UltraLite lived up to its name by setting a precedent for size with relatively few trade-offs on performance. It was the thinnest PC-compatible notebook of its time, yet offered a large screen and nearly full-size keyboard. The use of solid-state storage allowed NEC to achieve the thin profile.
NEC Compo BS/80 (1978, early micro)
Base Configuration: Z80A CPU, 7K RAM, integral cassette recorder and keyboard, NEC Level-2 BASIC
Video: 16-line x 32-column text
Important Options: monochrome monitor, printer
NEC PC-8000 Series (1981, desktop)
Original Retail Price: $1,295
Base Configuration: 4MHz PD780C-1, CP/M, 32K RAM, 24K ROM, external 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, PC-8012A I/O unit, N-BASIC
Video: 25-line x 80-column text, 160 x 100 graphics, eight colors
Important Options: second 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, PC-8023 printer
NEC PC-6000 NEC Trek (1983, home computer)
Original Retail Price: $349
Base Configuration: 4MHz PD780C-1 CPU; 16K RAM (32K max), 16K ROM (32K max); TV and composite video ports; integral keyboard; RS-232C, parallel, cassette, and two game ports; Microsoft BASIC; 8-octave sound
Video: 16-line x 32-column text, 256 x 192 graphics, nine colors
Size/Weight: 16 x 3.5 x 11 inches, 10 lbs.
Important Options: PC-6011A Expansion Unit, external PC-6031 floppy disk drive, PC-6082 cassette recorder, 12-inch JB-1260 monochrome or 12-inch JB-1212M color monitor, touch tablet, PC-6021 thermal printer, PC-8023A printer
NEC PC-6601 (1984, home computer)
Original Retail Price: $600
Base Configuration: PD780C-1 CPU, 64K RAM, 16K ROM, 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, integral keyboard, N66 BASIC, voice synthesizer/music generator
Video: 320 x 200 graphics
Important Options: RS-232C interface
NEC PC-8800 (1983, desktop)
Original Retail Price: $2,497
Base Configuration: 4MHz microPD780C-1 and 8MHz 8086; CP/M 2.2; four expansion slots; microPD780C-1: 64K RAM (128K max), 8086: 128K RAM (512K max); external 5.25-inch floppy disk drive; 12-inch monochrome monitor; RGB video port; keyboard/keypad; RS-232C, parallel, and cassette ports; N88 BASIC and N-BASIC; application suite; N88 BASIC tutorial
Video: 640 x 400 graphics
Size/Weight: 19.5 x 13.5 x 4.2 inches
Important Options: CP/M-86 or MS-DOS, second external 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, external dual 8-inch floppy disk drives, 5MB to 15MB hard disk drive, light pen
NEC PC-9800 (1983, desktop)
Original Retail Price: $2,600
Base Configuration: 8086 CPU, MS-DOS and CP/M-86, 128K RAM (640K max), 96K ROM, two 8-inch floppy disk drives, keyboard/keypad, NBASIC-86 in ROM
Video: 640 x 400 graphics
NEC PC-8201 (1983, notebook)
Original Retail Price: $799
Base Configuration: 16K RAM (64K max), 32K ROM; RAM cartridge slot; monochrome LCD; integral keyboard; RS-232C, parallel, bar-code reader, and cassette ports; application suite; BASIC; NiCad battery pack; AC adapter
Video: 8-line x 40-column text
Size/Weight: 11.62 x 8.25 x 2.5 inches, 3.8 lbs.
Important Options: external dual 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, video port, Authentic 300 MD external modem, PC 8826 printer/plotter
NEC 8401A (Dec. 1984, notebook)
Original Retail Price: $995
Base Configuration: 3.99MHz PD7008C CPU; CP/M 2.2; expansion slot; 64K RAM (96K max), 80K ROM; monochrome LCD, integral keyboard; RS-232C, parallel, and cassette ports; application suite; internal modem; AC adapter; battery pack
Video: 16-line x 80-column text
Size/Weight: 8.5 x 12 x 2.25 inches, 7 lbs.
Important Options: one or two external 3.5-inch floppy disk drives, cassette recorder, RGB and composite video interfaces, carrying case
NEC MultiSpeed (1986, laptop PC)
Original Retail Price: $1,995
Base Configuration: 9.64MHz V-30 CPU, MS-DOS 3.2, 640K RAM, 512K ROM, two 3.5-inch floppy disk drives, monochrome LCD, integral keyboard, RS-232C and parallel ports, application suite in ROM, NiCad battery pack, AC adapter
Video: 25-line x 80-column text, 640 x 200 graphics
Size/Weight: 13.6 x 12 x 3 inches, 12 lbs.
Important Options: modem, carrying case
NEC UltraLite (1988, notebook PC)
Original Retail Price: $2,999
Base Configuration: 9.83MHz V-30 CPU, MS-DOS 3.3, RAM/ROM card slot, expansion pot, 640K RAM (896K max), 1MB or 2MB silicon hard disk, 9.5-inch monochrome ELD, integral keyboard, serial port, LapLink, Microsoft DOS Manager, internal modem, battery pack, AC adapter
Size/Weight: 11.75 x 8.3 x 1.4 inches, 4.4 lbs.
Important Options: external 3.5-inch floppy disk drive, parallel interface, leather carrying case