Who better to take on Retrolike.net’s first-ever hardware spotlight than Jimmy Lynn Sanchez? He has eagerly awaited the arrival of his Zuiki X68000Z, which he has imported from Japan. The process of getting the Sharp X68000Z here was long and tedious, a story on its own. But, let’s focus on this rainbow unicorn under the mini-recreated gaming hardware we have seen released in the last couple of years. Take it away, Jimmy!
What is a X68000(Z) Computer?
The X68000 Computer was created and initially released by Sharp on March 28, 1987, at the incredible price of ¥369,000 ($3,000 US). It was a powerhouse for its time, featuring a 10MHz Motorola 68000 CPU processor, as the name implies, and 1MB of system RAM with no hard drive initially. Sharp introduced this machine to compete in the booming home PC market, with Apple’s Macintosh as its biggest rival. As the competition’s hardware continued to improve, Sharp fine-tuned the X68000 over the next six years, leading to its final product release, the X68030 Compact and Compact-HD, equipped with a Motorola 68030 CPU running at 25MHz, 4MB of RAM, and an 80MB hard drive.
Remarkably, all of the systems released could support a maximum of 12MB of system RAM, but very few software applications were optimized to use more than 2MB of memory. The X68000 served as a versatile home computer, running both business and gaming software. Sharp’s intentions to market the machine towards gamers (or rather their wealthy parents) as a gaming device were pretty clear as the 1987 model came bundled with Gradius. The all-time classic side-scrolling shooter from Konami.
Throughout its history, the X68000 computer line released a total of 823 games and numerous software applications through various channels, including retail, magazines, fan clubs, and homebrew groups.
The Sharp X68000Z re-release
In 2022, Zuiki, a Japanese company specializing in Densha De Go! and Sharp Computer items, decided to re-release the X68000 in a compact form factor. They introduced this idea to the Japanese press in the spring of that year, and it quickly garnered significant media attention. The fan response was overwhelming.
Towards the end of 2022, backers who had supported the initial fundraising campaign received their mini version of the X68000 computer, known as the X68000Z Early Access Kit. This kit included a beige or off-white X68000Z computer, along with a matching mouse and joystick. To use the kit, backers needed to provide their own keyboard and monitor or television. Additionally, the kit came with three special items: the operating system, Human 68K Version 1.01, Gradius (the original pack-in game), and a copy of Chorensha 68K. A manic shoot ’em up game originally released in 1995. Chorensha 68K was exclusive to the X68000Z Early Access Kits.
X68000Z tiers and packs
On June 8, 2023, Zuiki opened pre-orders for the consumer-level X68000Z through various platforms. Including Amazon Japan, BEEP, and select department stores and retailers. They offer three distinct packages:
- Starter Pack (¥29,935 / $200 US): This basic package includes the computer, a joypad, and copies of Gradius and Human 68K Version 1.01. Despite its simplicity, all the computers in this tier are identical, regardless of which package you choose.
- Basic Pack (¥65,780 / $439): The Basic Pack comprises everything from the Starter Pack, adding a keyboard and mouse specifically designed for this computer. The keyboard is a faithful replica of the original down to the buttons and weight. This package provides a more comprehensive experience but comes at a higher price.
- Complete Pack (¥87,780 / $586): For those seeking the ultimate X68000Z experience. The Complete Pack includes everything mentioned in the other sets. Most interesting addition is is the five-inch monitor replicating the 1987 original 14″ version. This replica monitor maintains the 4:3 aspect ratio of the original CRT screen but features an HDMI connection and a resolution of 1024×768 pixels. It can also be used with other hardware that supports this resolution. Additionally, this package comes with a UART cable, a serial I/O interface for connecting original accessories.
Uniquely available in the highest tier are a variety of manuals and extras, including an X68000Z Soundtrack with the “Z-Club” background music and a game set known as “Game Collection Vol. 1.” This collection features games like Mad Stalker, JB Harold Murder Club, and others, with additional titles to be available through a software update. To access these extras, you need to register your system through the Zuiki Z-Club, the community platform supported by the machine’s producer.
Please note that the “Complete Pack” is limited to only 3,200 systems and sold out quickly in their stores. The release date for all three models is set for September 28, 2023. However, for those in the US, the main challenge is obtaining the system. This requires purchasing through Amazon Japan and incurring shipping costs that can nearly double the system’s price.
System on a Chip, features and performance
In the two weeks since I acquired this computer, I must admit that I have fallen in love with it. The machine is equipped with Zuiki’s in-house developed and ARM-based Z7213 SoC (System-on-a-Chip). The same chip which is also featured in the Megadrive Mini and the Turbo Grafx 16/PC Engine Minis. Interestingly, the Megadrive also used the X68000 processor, and all three of these machines were originally released in 1987.
The emulation performs exceptionally well, and in combination with the monitor, it faithfully recreates the original experience. The X68000 games look stunning. With a greater color depth and the ability to display 65,536 colors simultaneously at a 1024 x 1024 pixels. In contrast, its gaming console counterparts of the time, such as the Mega Drive, had to rely on color palette tricks and transparency layers to achieve a maximum of 61 colors.
Although I/O ports are not on the mini, there are four USB ports available. Just like the original, this one has a carrying handle, which can be slid out. It features a headphone jack and 2 SD slots, mimicking the original floppy drives. Including disc-reading sounds when a SD card is added.
In order to use the system you do have to get comfortable with and learn how to use Human 68K. It’s the X68000’s fully point-and-click operating system that has a strong resemblance to Amiga OS and Macintosh. It helps to know some Japanese, as the user interface is in Japanese and completely authentic to the original hardware. As someone not versed in Japanese, this computer will give you a hard time if you want to get the most out of the Human68K OS. Even more so with the somewhat complicated factor of Micro SD based emulated drives.
Upcoming X68000Z software releases
There are two primary ways to use software on the X68000Z: through software released by both first-party and third-party companies and using your own provided rom files.
As of the time of writing, there hasn’t been an extensive library of software available yet, with most releases coming from Zuiki themselves. Notable first-party releases include “The Zoom Pack Vol. 1,” featuring titles like Genocide and Phalanx, and “Game Collection Volume 1,” which is exclusive to the Complete Pack and contains games like Mad Stalker, JB Harold Murder Club, and a few other forthcoming titles. Third-party releases are emerging, but they are relatively limited, such as “Shooting 68K Z-Edition” and “Celia! Again.” More releases are on the horizon, including the “Exact Perfect Collection,” which will include games like the title that inspired the Jumping Flash! series, “Geograph Seal”.
As of now, around 30 games are planned for release, although most have not yet been revealed. So, it appears that the system will have decent support in 2024. We’ll be sure to cover these releases as they become available.
Using roms with the X68000Z
The X68000Z also allows you to use ROMs on the system, provided they are in the .XDF file format or can be converted to this format. You can store these ROMs on an SD card, which is accessible through one of its two drives. The SD reader and operating system can only work with up to 32GB cards, formatted in the FAT32 file system. The system can be very picky with types of SD cards, so I strongly recommend to sticking to Sandisk or equal quality brand. If you dive into the X68000Z community forums, this is one of the more common recommendations made by owners.
Zuiki did not rewrite Human68K to change file handling and formatting and I think these limitations are part of the authentic experience, which adds to the system’s authenticity. In most cases, a 32GB card should provide ample storage, considering the file sizes of the ROMs adn the fact you can use two cards simultaneously.
Tips for aspiring X68000Z owners
Stay patient and be calm. This computer will run just like the original hardware and there are some quirks to understand. One of the more confusing things on this system is using ROMS with multiple discs. If you plan on using your own software multi disc images , do the following:
- Use “disk 1” on one SD card (I labeled this SD card – X68000Z card #0).
- than make a folder on the root of the card with the name “X68000Z”
- put “Disc 1” image to that card (Card #0)
- then repeat the process with the rest on a 2nd SD Card (I labeled this SD Card – X68000Z Card #1).
In most circumstances, if you do this right it will run without any problems. While experimenting with this, I found out that most of the games ran just fine. All single disc games ran, and most two disc games run too. For instance, I have been able to run multi-disc games like Akumaju Dracula (Castlevania), Namachukei 68, and Star Wars Attack on the Death Star without any problems. Once you get into three plus disk territory it becomes fairly iffy and patience is a must.
Another tip: If you want to explore the games released for the X68000, I recommend a book called the “X68000 Perfect Catalogue”, which was released in 2021. You can find it on Amazon Japan and Playasia. This book is the ultimate resource for the X68000 software library and provides a fascinating history of the platform.
Importing a X68000Z
If you’re considering getting one for yourself, it’s essential to be aware that it doesn’t come cheap. Shipping costs can be substantial, especially for the “Complete Pack,” which weighs almost 6kg. You can make your purchase through reputable dealers like BEEP or Amazon Japan. I strongly advise against resorting to scalpers. Almost everything, including accessories, are still readily available through official channels. Except for the monitor, which may have limited availability at the moment. Also use an shipping agent or or forwarder. Most Amazon affiliates for example won’t ship to all places in the US or Europe. I recommend Tenso, which served me well in the past and now.
For official product stock and accessories, navigating Zuiki’s official website is relatively straightforward and provides all the information about available accessories and first-party software. One important thing to remember is that you’ll need a 65W USB-C Power Adapter. If you opt for the monitor, you’ll need two of them. I do not recommend buying the official power bricks sold by Zuiki on their site. They are significantly overpriced at approximately ¥8,000. I purchased two Amazon bricks in the same color for a combined total of $35, and they work perfectly.
I always wanted to own an original X68000 as a kid. As you can probably imagine, I couldn’t afford the hefty $3,000 price tag for the computer. And then we’re not to mentioning the cost of importing software. Some titles on their own fetch as much as $100 or more.
As an adult, the opportunity nearly presented itself in 2019 during my last trip to Tokyo. I vividly remember holding an X68000 in my hands at BEEP Akihabara. However, despite having the $800 required to purchase it at the time, I just couldn’t go through with it.
The problem being power supply issues with the original machine and the prospect of my collector mentality chasing down the fairly expensive complete set. The X68000Z solves that problem. I have bought four original X68000 games, most of the X68000Z specific software, and even bought over 30 original fan club magazine discs.
This mini remake, has made me appreciate the thirty-six year old computer even more in 2023. For a multipurpose computer it performs so well on running and displaying games, with great color depth and fidelity. In regards to the minimized version, I like the form factor of the 68000Z. The keyboard is of regular size, even bigger than the monitor, PC and all the original boxes combined, which I find quite amusing. As this is a Japan-only device, you can’t fault it for the UI being fully Japanese. This can be put off a great number of potentially interested collectors, but gamers and collectors that have been importing and collecting Japanese game hardware and software will have their ways around these hurdles in no-time. Game software, many times, is fully in english, funny enough.