The NEC PC-8401A-LS also known as the Starlet is an interesting
little machine. I don’t remember this from way back in the mid 1980s when it was released but I suppose laptops were not too common as far as I was concerned and so I might have missed it.
The 8401 features “a Z80 compatible” processor. I believe it is
an NEC V20, 64k RAM, 96k ROM an 80×16 character LCD and a full
travel keyboard with full sized keys.
The processor is a bit intriguing as I thought the NEC V20 was an
8086 compatible processor with an 8080 mode. I’ll need to clarify
The case is a selection of browns and beige and feels very well
screwed together. It is sturdy and feels like it can stand up to
the rigours of portable life. The screen folds down over the
keyboard when not in use as you would expect. The screen itself
is typical for the period but by the standards of the 2010’s is
sadly lacking contrast and there is no back-light. I understand
that it’s monochrome and that’s fine but the contrast is not
great, it is very prone to reflections and with no back-light,
finding a good position for typing and a good angle for the
screen is critical. We get so used to the good displays we have
On the right hand side of the case are the on/off switch and a
contrast control. At the rear there is a DC input, a reset
button, and serial, parallel and cassette ports. I am interested
to know how well the cassette works with a C/PM machine. In
addition there is a phone line in and a modem out port and a
300/1200 baud switch. The ports are protected by small plastic
covers that have to be removed to use the ports. These will
easily get lost and I’m sure my machine is unusual in the all are
The left hand side reveals a spring loaded flap covering the
system slot into which various expansion modules could be
As I mentioned above the keyboard has full sized keys with full
travel. It’s a very nice keyboard and pretty typical of the age.
I’m writing this piece on the machine as I try to do with my
portables and it’s one of the nicest keyboards to type on.
However, having just read back my writing so far there have been
a lot of mistakes. I am probably not used to it yet.
The keyboard has the conventional keys as you would expect. In
addition it has five function keys along the top which can be
combined with the shift keys to give ten (obviously). There is
also a “Stop” key. Unusually, the caps lock key locks in each
position. The cursor keys are a group of triangles arranged in a
square are pointing inwards. You will find a locking “NUM” key on
the left hand side of the space bar. Pressing this makes a number
pad out of the U I O J K L and M keys.
That will do for now, I’ll write more in the next post.