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From my understanding, an important advantage PC-98 have over IBM compatible PC was that it is better at handling ideograph based characters which are common in East Asian countries.

Why didn't other East Asian countries besides Japan adopt the PC-98 system for this reason?

  • Interesting question. Japan was the most industrialized east Asian country back then, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, and South Korea. What did those countries use? Even then, the abacus was still in use in Japan so it's possible that no other east Asian country embraced personal computers until late in the PC-98's lifetime when alternatives were available, e.g. MSX in South Korea. – snips-n-snails Dec 30 '17 at 6:34
  • Thailand/Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia mainly used PC clones - the medium was mainly Latin characters. There was DOS software that could do Chinese (Kanji) and Arabic so there wasn't any real need to switch to the more expensive PC-98 when you could use it on a cheap clone with shareware.. – cup Dec 31 '17 at 7:44
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While the PC-98 became the dominant PC architecture in Japan (up until Windows 95 made it irrelevant) I don't think it had any significant advantage beyond BIOS support for Japanese. On the other hand, it had the significant disadvantage of being largely proprietary to NEC.

IBM PC compatibles could made by anyone, including by a number of the Taiwanese companies that today dominate the PC OEM market. The lack of ideograph support on IBM PCs had a very simple solution: the Hercules Graphic Card. This card, introduced in 1982, was basically an MDA card with "high resolution" monochrome graphics support, the missing piece that prevented IBM PCs from displaying ideograph characters. In particular the card was designed to handle the Thai alphabet, which like Chinese ideographs can't be displayed properly on the MDA or CGA cards of the time.

The Hercules Graphics Card was soon cloned and quickly became a de facto part of the IBM PC compatible architecture. Given the availability of relatively cheap clone IBM PCs made in Asia and capable of displaying ideographs and other Asian texts, it's really not surprising that the proprietary NEC PC-98 computers didn't catch on there.

  • Well, I'd rather say, being made by NEC was a big advantage. Instead of creating new distribution ways, NEC was already established in Japan. That's what made it successful in the first place, considering that NEC wasn't the only player in Japan with non-IBM machines in the market for home/(small) business computers. – Raffzahn Dec 30 '17 at 17:50
  • How was the Hercules card designed to handle the Thai alphabet better than CGA? Was it the higher resolution (720x348 vs 640x200) or did the card support redefinable characters? – snips-n-snails Dec 30 '17 at 22:34
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    @traal Higher resolution and the fact that is was meant to be displayed on monochrome monitors. From the Wikipedia page I linked: "Due to a continuous single-color phosphor, a digital connection with separate video and sync, and a signal format making no compromises for compatibility with lower resolution (e.g. composite NTSC) displays, monochrome monitors were sharper than CGA color." – Ross Ridge Dec 30 '17 at 22:44
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    According to Wikipedia, the first PC-98 (1982) had a maximum resolution of 640x400. So it makes sense that resolution was the deciding factor. – snips-n-snails Dec 30 '17 at 22:59
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The same question could be asked about other systems that where successful in their home country or region. Like the PC-D or the EuroPC in Germany, Amstrads 1512 in the UK (and somewhat on the continent) and several others. Even thru the markets thruout Europs where rather similar in their requirements, and the machiens did do well, none of them became an all European success. Instead the (more or less standard) IBM PC did will all over.

It's eventually like why VHS succeedes against Beta or Video 2000. Undoubtful higher quality here as well didn't winn against sheer world wide sales numbers and thus easy availabiltiy thru countless channels and at (seamingly) low price.

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