Sega Saturn


The Sega Saturn is a 32-bit fifth-generation video game console that was first released by Sega on November 22, 1994 in Japan, May 11, 1995 in North America and July 8, 1995 in Europe.

The Saturn sold 9.5 million units worldwide. In Japan it sold over 6 million units and only 2 million in the United States. The Saturn failed to gain market share in North America and Europe against its main competitors: Sony's PlayStation and later the Nintendo 64.

At launch the Saturn was an extremely powerful console featuring dual 32-bit RISC processors and a CD quality 32 channel sound processor. It's processing power was far in advance of it's contemporary rivals at 50-MIPS (Million Instructions Per Second). The Saturn was also one of the few consoles to add hardware expandability, through it's MPEG slot and Cartridge slot.

Technical Specifications

  • Hitachi SH2 32-Bit RISC @ 28.63MHz (25 MIPS) 
  • Hitachi SH2 32-Bit RISC @ 28.63MHz (25 MIPS) 
  • Hitachi SH1 32-Bit RISC (CD-ROM Controller) 
  • VDP 1 32-Bit Video Display Processor @ 6.71 - 7.15MHz 
  • VDP 2 32-Bit Video Display Processor @ 6.71 - 7.15MHz 
  • System Control Unit (SCU) with DSP & DMA @ 14.3MHz 
  • Motorola 68EC000 Sound Processor @ 11.3MHz 
  • Yamaha FH1 (SCSP) Sound Processor @ 22.6MHz 
  • Hitachi 4-Bit MCU System Manager & Peripheral Control

  • Work RAM 16Mbit 
  • Video RAM 12Mbit 
  • Sound RAM 4Mbit 
  • CD Buffer RAM 4Mbit 
  • IPL ROM 4Mbit 
  • Backup RAM 256Kbit 

  • VDP1
    • 32-bit video display processor
    • Sprite, Polygon, and Rendering engine
    • Dual 256 KB frame buffer for rotation and scaling effects
    • Texture Mapping
    • Gouraud Shading
    • 512 KB Cache for Textures
    • 200,000 Texture Mapped Polygons/Second
    • 500,000 Flat Shaded Polygons/Second
  • VDP2
    • 32-bit background and scroll plane video display processor:
    • Background Engine
    • 5 Simultaneous Scrolling Backgrounds
    • 2 Simultaneous Rotating Playfields
    • Up to 60 frames per second animation
    • 24-Bit True Color Graphics
    • 16.7 Million Available Color
    • 32,768 Colors Display on Screen
    • 704 x 480 Maximum Resolution

Display Resolutions:
  • 352 x 240 (Lo-Res Scanline) 
  • 640 x 240
  • 704 x 480 (Hi-Res Progressive)

  • 'Intelligent' JVC-Victor Double Speed CD-ROM*
  • 300 KB/Second Transfer Speed
  • Audio CD Compatible
  • Optional 512 KB Memory Cartridge for Game Save

*Drives were also manufactured by Hitachi or Sanyo.

  • Audio: SCSP Digital Signal Processor (DSP) @ 22.6MHz
  • Motorola 68EC000 sound processor @ 11.3MHz
  • 32 PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) Channels
  • 8 FM (Frequency Modulation) Channels
  • 44.1 KHz Sampling Rate


You can find a list of every released North American Sega Saturn game here:

Hardware Models

US Model 1 - MK-80000
Essentially Identical to the EU 'Model 1' except for NTSC BIOS and video output is 60Hz.

US Model 2 - MK-80000A / MK-80001
No Drive Access Light, Round Black Buttons, NTSC BIOS and video output is 60Hz.

MK-80001 incorporated a later motherboard revision


Standard Controller (First Gen)
Just like the with the Sega Genesis before it (and the Xbox that followed later), the Sega Saturn went through two major controller revisions. The original Saturn controller wasn’t necessarily bad, but it was a bit chunky. The designers seemed to want to make it more of an art piece for a their pricey new console.

Standard Controller (Second Gen)
The second revision of the Saturn controller was a bit more like the 6-button Genesis controller with its lean, slimmer body, but with the shoulder buttons added. In the end, this second-generation Saturn controller is one of the favorite gamepads of all time among die-hard retro gamers. Assuming you don’t need an analog thumbstick, this controller is the peak of quality for a six-button layout controller. This is similar to the USB remakes put out by Sega for the PS3 & PC that quickly sold out.

3D Controller
The summer of 1996 brought gamers both the Nintendo 64 (in Japan – fall release in the US) and the release of a hot new property on the Saturn: NiGHTS into Dreams. Much like the new N64 controller, NiGHTS made use of an analog joystick on the controller. Since the standard Saturn controller wasn’t equipped with one, the game launched with the “3D Controller” bundled with it. The circular shape seems a bit odd when compared with its peers, but it was a fine controller. If you look at the layout, you can see that it is essentially the foundation for the Sega Dreamcast controller (just change the shape a bit, get rid of two of the face buttons and add a VMU slot)

Virtua Stick
The Sega Saturn is one of the best consoles for 2D fighters and Sega was one of the few companies to make first-party 6-button arcade-style joyticks. And while it was a step up from its console predecessors like the NES Advantage and the Genesis arcade stick, the Virtua Stick isn’t quite up to the standards from the modern products from Hori. Even though it does not have arcade-quality components, it does the job for non- competitive gaming – a nice step up from a standard controller.

Virtua Stick Pro
This beauty is a Japanese exclusive and is a step up from the standard Virtua Stick in many ways. The hardware is much more in line with the arcades. The joystick mechanism is from Seimitsu and the buttons are more in line with what you would expect from a Hori or Agetec stick. It also features two sets of controls that are set up just like an arcade cabinet. It does plug into both controller ports on the Saturn, but you can’t get a better fighting setup for your Saturn. This controller is still a great collectors item today, so be prepared to pay some nice cash for one.

Twin Stick
These controllers are specifically design for the game Virtual On, which is basically a fast-paced 3D area fighting game featuring mechs. (Watch a video of the game to get a better idea) The controller makes it much more of an arcade-like experience and makes quite a huge difference in the game. Those that enjoy the series typically invest in the controller. They make for a nice collector’s piece as well. If you get a Saturn-to-Dreamcast adapter, you can also use them for the Dreamcast Virtual On game as well.

Virtua Gun / Stunner
Because of a decreased interest in light gun game and the Columbine shooting the Saturn was the last major console to have a first-party light gun. The Virtua Gun was sold separately, but also as a bundle with Virtua Cop.

Racing Wheel
Just like with the fighting sticks, Sega took the extra effort to come out with a first-party steering wheel. And like the Virtua Stick, it isn’t the highest quality, but it gets the job done and looks slick and consistent with the Saturn’s great design aesthetic.

Mission Stick
Wrapping up the lineup of first-party controllers that aim for bringing home an arcade experience is the Mission Stick. The obvious reason for the stick is flight simulators, but it is actually a popular for other Saturn games like Panzer Dragoon, Stellar Assault, GunGriffon, Afterburner, or Space Harrier.

The are a handful of great games that support lots of extra players (Saturn Bomberman being a fan-favorite). If you want to have more than two controllers hooked up to your Saturn, you can use one or two Multi-Taps to add up to 10 more controllers. (each supports 6 controllers – however, Saturn Bomberman “only” supports 10 players)

Netlink Modem
The Dreamcast was the first console to popularize online gameplay on a console, but Sega tinkered with the concepts with the Saturn Netlink system. It was only supported by a few games, but this modem was the foundation – a dialup modem that plugged into the expansion cart slot

Netlink Mouse
Not required for much, but if you wanted to surf online on your Saturn, a Mouse comes in handy. It can also be used on light gun shooters Virtua Cop, Virtua Cop 2, and The House of the Dead.

Netlink Keyboard Adapter
And to go along with the mouse, you can also get this keyboard adapter. Since this is the mid-90s we’re talking about, this is for a PS/2 connection instead of the USB that we are used to now.

Floppy Drive
Here’s a great PC-inspired add-on for you! This rare Japanese periphial lets you save game data on a standard Floppy Disk. You can copy standard game saves to it (but the Backup Memory cart below is a lot more practical) and some games such as the Japanese version of Panzer Dragoon Saga, Dazeamon 2′s shmup construction kit support it directly.

Backup Memory
There are a few different cartridge expansion options. The official Backup Memory cartridge is only for storing game saves. This is rather important if you are an RPG fan as the built-in Saturn storage is rather limited.

Video RAM Expansion Cartridge
These cartridges were either included with certain Japanese imports that required them or sold separately from a third-party. They gave the Saturn an extra boost of video memory (kinda like a video card upgrade for your computer without upgrading the GPU) that was required for some of the high-end arcade ports from Capcom or SNK (like X-Men vs Street Fighter, King of Fighters and Metal Slug) The result were 2D arcade ports that blew the Playstation versions away.

Action Replay Cartridge
These third party cartridges offer the best of the features in one package – especially if you get the Action Replay 4M Plus model. This model will boot imports (although you will need a modchip or swap trick to boot burned discs), has 4MB of video ram, has game save space and has some cheats built-in.

Video CD Card / Movie Card
This Japanese add-on is essentially a daughtercard that plug into the Saturn in the area where the battery door is in the back of the console. It allows the Saturn to play Video CDs (VCD / White Book Standard) and also lets it play higher-quality full motion video in games (typically for cutscenes). Lunar Complete is one game that best makes use if the VCD card. The US version of Gungriffon (for the intro video) and the Japanese import, Sakura Taisen Hanagumi Tsushin utilizes it as well.

Electronic Book Operator & Photo CD Operators
These two software discs were released in Japan and Europe and let the Saturn view the two types of media they are named after. The Electronic Book Operator allows the Saturn to read eBooks in the EB, EB-G or EB-XA disc formats (sorry no Kindle support…) The Photo CD Operator lets the Saturn view up to 100 standard Photo CD images with some nice viewing options.
You can also view my Games Collection here.