FM Towns is a proprietary 32-bit computer system manufactured by Fujitsu. It was released in Japan only, in February 1989, as the successor to the FM-7 computer platform. The FM Towns had a launch price of ¥400,000 (over $3000 in 1989 dollars, equivalent to nearly $6000 in 2013 dollars). While it was never officially released outside Japan, imports of the FM Towns were available, particularly in the UK. When it first released, the FM Towns was one of the most advanced PC platforms released up until then, rivalled only by the Sharp X68000.
FM Towns was considerably advanced for its time. At launch in 1989, it was using a 32-bit Intel 80386DX CPU (later upgraded to Pentium CPU in early 90's), supported 24-bit colour which could display up to 16.78 million colours, featured high-resolution display modes up to 1024x1024 pixels, and featured the unique ability to overlay two different display modes.
It has a built in CD-ROM drive as standard, which was many years ahead of its time. Also ahead of its time was its ability to boot directly to a CD version of its operating system, TownsOS. This was a full 8 years before Microsoft thought of doing the same thing. As well as being able to run the TownsOS graphical user interface, it had versions of Windows 3, 3.1 and Windows 95 as they became available.
Games were a strong point of the system as they could be greatly enhanced by the startlingly increased capacity of CDs over floppy discs.
Games were usually enhanced in one or more of the following ways:
- Near arcade-quality ports, instead of inferior conversions on other home systems (with the exception of the Sharp X68000 computer and Neo Geo console). At release, it was a very powerful system.
- Containing voiced speech and full-motion video cutscenes, which was almost impossible on floppy and cartridge based systems.
- 'Redbook' CD music soundtracks, i.e. proper, non synthesised music that you can play on any CD player.
As the system grew older, while IBM-compatible PC's caught up, the versions of games became identical. For example, Wing Commander Origins in 1993 was identical on PC and FM Towns. Considering the system had been out for 4 years, that was impressive.
In the Western world, the system is perhaps best known for having many CD enhanced ports or remakes (with improved graphics, audio, and interface) of classic Western RPG's and adventure games, such as the Ultima series and LucasArts games, for example. The FM Towns versions are sometimes considered the best versions of these games.
- Main CPU:
- 1989: Intel 80386DX (32-bit) @ 16 MHz
- 1993: Intel i486DX @ 33-66 MHz / Intel i486SX @ 25 MHz
- 1994: Intel i486DX @ 33-66 MHz / Intel i486SX @ 33 MHz
- 1995: Intel Pentium @ 90-120 MHz
- Upgradable CPU:
- 1993: Intel OverDrive @ 66-100 MHz
- 1994: Intel Pentium @ 75-120 MHz / 486DX4 @ 75-100 MHz
- 1995: Intel Pentium @ 120-133 MHz
- 1996: Intel Pentium @ 133-200 MHz
- FPU (floating point unit) arithmetic co-processor: Intel 80387 @ 16 MHz
- Default: Towns OS (1989), Towns OS 2.1 (1995)
- Supported: DOS/V (1990), Windows 3.1 (1992), Windows 95 (1995)
- Main RAM (Random Access Memory)
- Default: 1-2 MB (1989), 4 MB (1993), 6 MB (1994), 8-16 MB (1995)
- Upgradable: 10 MB (1989), 64 MB (1993), 128 MB (1995)
- Video RAM (VRAM) memory: 656 KB
- Main VRAM: 512 KB
- Sprite RAM: 128 KB (1024 sprites)
- Text RAM: 16 KB
- Storage: CD-ROM (540 MB), 2x 3.5" floppy disk (1.2 MB) drives, hard disk drive
- Optional storage: 5.25" floppy disk drive, hard disk drive
- CD-ROM drive speed: 1x (1989), 2x (1993), 4x (1995)
- Hard disk drive:
- Default: 20-40 MB (1989), 170-340 MB (1993), 850 MB (1995)
- Upgradable: 45 MB (1989), 3.2 GB (1997)
- Display resolutions: 256x256, 320x240, 352x232, 360x240, 640x400, 640x480, 1024x768, 1024x1024, 1120x750
- Colour palette:
- 12-bit (4096 colours) @ 640x480 / 640x400 (2 planes)
- 15-bit (32,768 colours) @ 320x240 (2 planes)
- 24-bit (16.78 million colours) @ 640x480 (1 plane)
- Simultaneous colours:
- 4-bit (16 colours) @ 1024x1024 / 1120x750 (1 plane)
- 4-bit (16 colours) @ 640x480 / 640x400 (2 planes)
- 8-bit (256 colours) @ 640x480 (1 plane)
- 15-bit (32,768 colours) @ 320x240 (1 plane)
- 1994: 15-bit (32,768 colours) to 24-bit (16.78 million colours)
- Sprites: Up to 1024 sprites @ 16x16 pixels each
- CD audio: 16-bit sampling @ 44.1 KHz, Redbook audio
- FM synthesis audio: Yamaha YM2612 sound chip, 6-channel stereo
- PCM audio:
- 1989: Ricoh RF5c68 sound chip, 8-channel stereo, 8-bit sampling @ 19.2 Hz
- 1994: 16-bit sampling @ 48 KHz, stereo
- Optional sound card: Creative Sound Blaster AWE32 (1994)
- Input: Keyboard, mouse, gamepad, joystick
- Other options: Video card, microphone, modem, SCSI card, VGA card, dual-monitor support
The FM Towns' main 16/32-bit rivals in the Japanese computer market were NEC's PC-98 (launched 1982) and Sharp's X68000 (launched 1987). The FM Towns had the best audio quality and multimedia capabilities upon release, and was second only to the X68000 in terms of power and graphical capabilities.
Despite this, the NEC PC-98 remained the market leader in Japan up until the mid-1990s, when the arrival of Windows 95 on IBM-compatible PC's slowly began gaining rivalling the local Japanese competition around the late 1990s. Despite FM Towns supporting Windows 95, IBM-compatible PC's slowly came to dominate the Japanese computer market by the early 2000s. The mid-1990s is thus often seen as the end of the 'Golden Age' of Japanese computer gaming.
In 1993, Fujitsu released the a console version of the FM Towns called the FM Towns Marty, the first 32-bit console, beginning the fifth-generation of consoles in Japan a year before the launch of Sega's Saturn and Sony's PlayStation. A variant called the FM Towns Marty 2 was released the following year in 1994 that featured a darker grey shell and a lower price point but was otherwise the same as the original FM Towns Marty. The FM Towns Marty was also backwards compatible with FM Towns games.