AX architecture

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AX (Architecture eXtended) was a Japanese computing initiative starting in around 1986 to allow PCs to handle double-byte (DBCS) Japanese text via special hardware chips, whilst allowing compatibility with software written for foreign IBM PCs. It was developed by a consortium including ASCII Corporation, Sony, Hitachi, Sharp, Oki, Casio, Canon, Kyocera, Sanyo, Mitsubishi Electric, etc. with cooperation of Microsoft. but notably excluding Toshiba and Fujitsu (who were hence the 'opposition'). At that time, NEC PC-9801 was the dominant PC architecture in the Japanese PC market because MDA/CGA was not adequate for handling Japanese. However, NEC did not tolerate PC-9801 compatible machines and was fighting court battles with Epson which was the only PC-9801 compatible machine vendor, therefore other vendors desperately needed a standard specification for Japanese capable PCs.

To display Kanji characters with sufficient clarity, AX machines had JEGA (ja) screens with a resolution of 640x480 rather than the 640x350 standard EGA resolution prevalent elsewhere at the time. Users could typically switch between Japanese and English modes by typing 'JP' and 'US', which would also invoke the AX-BIOS and an IME enabling the input of Japanese characters.

However, soon after the release of the AX, IBM released the VGA standard with which AX was obviously not compatible. Consequently, the AX consortium had to design a compatible AX-VGA (ja). AX-VGA/H was a hardware implementation with AX-BIOS, whereas AX-VGA/S was a software emulation.

As a result, the average price of AX machines were higher than PC-9801 series. Due to the expensive price and less available software, AX failed and was not able to break the PC-9801 dominance in Japan; in 1990, IBM Japan unveiled DOS/V which enabled IBM PC/AT and its clones to display Japanese text without any additional hardware. Soon after, AX disappeared and the declining of PC-9801 began.

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