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Thread: Thoughts on Sega's "clean" hardware design aspects . . . and the Saturn.

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    Hero of Algol kool kitty89's Avatar
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    Default Thoughts on Sega's "clean" hardware design aspects . . . and the Saturn.

    So, several threads commenting on the relatively clean and straightforward (but still powerful) nature of many of Sega's consoles got me thinking on this.

    With the SMS and MD both being compariably "clean," "well organized," and "easy to understand" from a programming/development perspective, especially compared to Nintendo's consoles, what happened to things with the Saturn?

    It's a powerful design in general, but seems to heavily break away from the conceptual nature of Sega's previous consoles.
    Albeit, if you look at the overall complexity of working with the Sega CD (or to lesser extent 32x) there's more of a transition to that sort of hardware. Except then, the complexity was largely unavoidable due to the limitations those add-ons had to work around as such, and something comparably capable technically could have been much simpler and "cleaner" overall if made as a complete internal redesign (or evolution) without the specific "hard" limitations imposed by expanding upon a fixed architecture.



    Further, what should the Saturn have been more like if it was actually directly comparable in design concept/trend/programmability to the likes of the SMS and MD?
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    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    Dude it’s the bios that marries the 16 bit and the 8 bit that makes it 24 bit. If SNK released their double speed bios revision SNK would have had the world’s first 48 bit machine, IDK how you keep ignoring this.
    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    the PCE, that system has no extra silicone for music, how many resources are used to make music and it has less sprites than the MD on screen at once but a larger sprite area?

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    Isn't the only reason the megadrive and SMS seem 'simple' he fact that they leverage the design of the original TI VDP chip?

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    Outrunner Stef's Avatar
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    I think the complexity of the Saturn mainly comes from the last hour design change to compete with PSX.
    I almost certain Sega initially designed the Saturn as a super 2D video game system with basic 3D capabilities...
    The VDP1 and VDP2 would have been here but with probably a more limited VDP1 (no gouraud shading, less bandwidth...)
    Only one SH2 cpu remaining, no SCU... and the system could have be "almost" clean

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crazyace View Post
    Isn't the only reason the megadrive and SMS seem 'simple' he fact that they leverage the design of the original TI VDP chip?
    How much are they even a throw back to that though? The SMS VDP adds and changes a lot, and the MD VDP has relatively little in common with the SMS VDP at that. (totally different sprite system, different tilemap system, chunky pixels rather than bitplanes, specifically designed around VRAM rather than normal DRAM as in the SMS and TI, etc)
    Plus, it's not just video in question here, but the overall system.

    The PC Engine also came up as an example of an even simpler/cleaner design than the MD in terms of programming, with the MD not being far behind overall.


    I'll try to add links to the other discussions this came up in, but I'm not going to dig around right now.

    Edit:
    Here's one of the recent comments related to this, but there's others too.

    http://www.sega-16.com/forum/showthr...l=1#post602256

    Here's another:
    http://www.sega-16.com/forum/showthr...752#post603752
    Last edited by kool kitty89; 08-21-2013 at 05:58 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    Dude it’s the bios that marries the 16 bit and the 8 bit that makes it 24 bit. If SNK released their double speed bios revision SNK would have had the world’s first 48 bit machine, IDK how you keep ignoring this.
    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    the PCE, that system has no extra silicone for music, how many resources are used to make music and it has less sprites than the MD on screen at once but a larger sprite area?

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    ESWAT Veteran Chilly Willy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stef View Post
    I think the complexity of the Saturn mainly comes from the last hour design change to compete with PSX.
    I almost certain Sega initially designed the Saturn as a super 2D video game system with basic 3D capabilities...
    The VDP1 and VDP2 would have been here but with probably a more limited VDP1 (no gouraud shading, less bandwidth...)
    Only one SH2 cpu remaining, no SCU... and the system could have be "almost" clean

    This. Sega "beefed" up the Saturn to compete with next-gen systems, and the added complexity is the result of tossing things onto a more basic design to get more out of it. The original specs said one SH1 CPU, VDP2, and maybe a simpler VDP1. They then tossed on two more SH2s, two more ram banks for the SH2s, relegated the SH1 to just the CD, pushed as much into the VDPs as they could in the time left, then tacked on things like a DSP in the SCU hoping it would help with 3D calculations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kool kitty89 View Post
    How much are they even a throw back to that though? The SMS VDP adds and changes a lot, and the MD VDP has relatively little in common with the SMS VDP at that. (totally different sprite system, different tilemap system, chunky pixels rather than bitplanes, specifically designed around VRAM rather than normal DRAM as in the SMS and TI, etc)
    Plus, it's not just video in question here, but the overall system.

    The PC Engine also came up as an example of an even simpler/cleaner design than the MD in terms of programming, with the MD not being far behind overall.


    I'll try to add links to the other discussions this came up in, but I'm not going to dig around right now.

    Edit:
    Here's one of the recent comments related to this, but there's others too.

    http://www.sega-16.com/forum/showthr...l=1#post602256

    Here's another:
    http://www.sega-16.com/forum/showthr...752#post603752
    Is this difference by any chance a reason why SMS compatibility on the MD has a lot of snow that appears in game sometimes where a real SMS doesn't?
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    Well, as it have been told, Saturn was designed around the unability of Hitachi of providing chips as powerful as the ones present on PSX. They had to overdesing the console to overcome the lack of tech.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dr apocalipsis View Post
    Well, as it have been told, Saturn was designed around the unability of Hitachi of providing chips as powerful as the ones present on PSX. They had to overdesing the console to overcome the lack of tech.
    The MIPS chip Sony used wasn't cheap. That was Sega's issue - trying to be too cheap, which ironically made their console more expensive. Instead of springing for one expensive CPU, they tried to get by using four cheap CPUs (2 SH2s, 1 SH1, and 1 68000). I'll bet in the end, all those processors cost more than the R3000.

    Don't get me wrong - the SH2 is a great CPU. For the price, the power can't be beat (at the time). However, if you wind up needing three SuperH processors for your console, whatever savings you thought you had are gone!

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    My impression is that they tried pushing the System24/32 quality graphics into a home machine, and at the same time also fix all the design snafus they had with the Megadrive that prevented it from being extended. And they ended up going overboard so much that the machine ended up way too complex.

    Given that Sega demoed the Saturn back in 1994 March with Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA footage, I have the feeling that they initially imagined the Saturn as a sprite pusher that could do outdo the SNES and Neogeo, etc (not sure if you guys noticed it, but in the early 90s Sega was all about knee jerk reactions). But their Model 1/2 games ended up looking so grate, that they did their best to upgrade the processing power to be capable of pushing 3d graphics, given that the video ASIC was already capable of doing so.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly Willy View Post
    This. Sega "beefed" up the Saturn to compete with next-gen systems, and the added complexity is the result of tossing things onto a more basic design to get more out of it. The original specs said one SH1 CPU, VDP2, and maybe a simpler VDP1. They then tossed on two more SH2s, two more ram banks for the SH2s, relegated the SH1 to just the CD, pushed as much into the VDPs as they could in the time left, then tacked on things like a DSP in the SCU hoping it would help with 3D calculations.
    This is the rumor, but what evidence do we have to support that? We have Mean Machines Sega mentioning the Saturn having a custom NEC V60 at 27Mhz (more likely 26.8Mhz to coincide with the dot clock), video output capable of 16.7 million colours (VDP2 can do that), Alpha Channel effects (VDP2 can do that... sort of, I think?), and a "polygon generator capable of displaying and animating 16000 polygons on-screen" (which at 30fps matches the 500k figure printed on the console boxes). This was in 1993 September, and in that same article they also mentioned a possible 1994 Spring launch, however the project slipped and 1994 December was more more likely.

    I think there was one article listing the SH1 as the main processor, but it could've been a journalistic error. They might've omitted the SH2s from the listing. Who knows, the fact that they had 2x SH2, a 68k, AND a SH1, it was so unheard of at the time that they didn't knew how to report it.

    What we know for sure is:
    - the VDP1/2 was designed to work together, and were similar to System 24/32 arcade tech.
    - the VDP1 had full documents by 1993 December
    - the SCSP had docs by 1993 December as well
    - the VDP1 got a revision inbetween 1993 December and 1994 February that implemented a few minor functions (high speed shrink, pre-clipping disable).
    - the SCU went through 4 revisions (there's a list for changes in one of the Sega libraries, I'll have to dig it up, but its mostly memory addressing related stuff)
    - the SH2 was designed to work with two of them in a master/slave configuration
    - the entire hardware was finalized by at least 1994 April
    - the earliest engineering sample silicon for Saturn hardware I've seen, date to 1994 late April - early May (SCSP) early/mid-June (VDP1), and late June (the DRAM controller for the extra 1mb memory).
    - official docs dating 1994 April 1st have the full final hardware detailed.


    If there was a significant hardware change, it had to have happened back in 1993, given how much time it takes to design a system and its custom ASICs (including manufacturing of those ASICs).

    When were the Playstation and N64 (Project Reality) first demoed anyway?

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    I second what zyrobs just said about lack of documentation for the Saturn's design phase, and seriously hope we can come up with some. The argument for the Saturn's last minute redesign, as it stands historically, is a marketing/journalistic narrative and nothing more. Sega was too busy sipping on espressos and playing golf with buddies from Hitachi to notice that Sony was coming in with a well designed 3D console. Once Sony announced the specs, which were the highest possible theoretical vacuum specs the industry had ever seen, Sega the seasoned game hardware design company crapped itself and slapped "something" into the Saturn.

    Seriously, it's a fascinating story, but it is just a story.
    "... If Sony reduced the price of the Playstation, Sega would have to follow suit in order to stay competitive, but Saturn's high manufacturing cost would then translate into huge losses for the company." p170 Revolutionaries at Sony.

    "We ... put Sega out of the hardware business ..." Peter Dille senior vice president of marketing at Sony Computer Entertainment

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    ESWAT Veteran Chilly Willy's Avatar
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    The SH1 spec list cannot be an error since they gave a specific processor model - that being an SH1. And the SH2s and extra ram LOOKS tacked on in a hurry to any computer designer. Any changes to VDP2 and VDP1 would be purely speculative since no one knows how much they did at each phase of the project beyond Sega's engineers, who have never uttered a peep on the subject. However, engineers remaining silent lends more credence to the "beefed up at the last moment" theory than the other way around.

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    We know that Sega was looking for a new triangle based hardware for a console in early 1995 already, and that their idea of Sony was "lol they can't into videogames" (well, back in 1991 anyway). They may not have looked at Sony as a serious contender to begin with. What I believe is that they were a victim of their own success: they created a market for 3d games themselves with Model 1/2, and then had to modify a SNES killer sprite pusher based on their own, original in-house arcade design, into being capable of running Virtua Fighter and Daytona USA. The Saturn could just about manage that with powerful enough main processors, due to the VDP1 being such a sprite pushing monster for the time. But it was already far from cutting-edge at its release, due to the difference they themselves created on the market, and they knew that - hence why they wanted to kill it as early as possible.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly Willy View Post
    The SH1 spec list cannot be an error since they gave a specific processor model - that being an SH1. And the SH2s and extra ram LOOKS tacked on in a hurry to any computer designer. Any changes to VDP2 and VDP1 would be purely speculative since no one knows how much they did at each phase of the project beyond Sega's engineers, who have never uttered a peep on the subject. However, engineers remaining silent lends more credence to the "beefed up at the last moment" theory than the other way around.
    What I'm saying is that yeah, they listed the SH1, they just took it as the main cpu when it was always meant to be the CD controller. I imagine the first revealed specs were in Japanese and some miscommunication might have happened there.

    We know from official documentation that the VDP1 was complete by 93 December (revision 00) and only got a minor addition after that (revision 01). Some memos even specifically mention to look up the internal revision number register to see if those features were usable. I don't know how long it would take to make such a serious change as it is implied by the urban legends, but I don't think it would've fit in the time frame of Sony doing the first Playstation demos (when did those happen anyway?) to 93 December.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stef View Post
    I think the complexity of the Saturn mainly comes from the last hour design change to compete with PSX.
    I almost certain Sega initially designed the Saturn as a super 2D video game system with basic 3D capabilities...
    The VDP1 and VDP2 would have been here but with probably a more limited VDP1 (no gouraud shading, less bandwidth...)
    Only one SH2 cpu remaining, no SCU... and the system could have be "almost" clean
    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly Willy View Post
    This. Sega "beefed" up the Saturn to compete with next-gen systems, and the added complexity is the result of tossing things onto a more basic design to get more out of it. The original specs said one SH1 CPU, VDP2, and maybe a simpler VDP1. They then tossed on two more SH2s, two more ram banks for the SH2s, relegated the SH1 to just the CD, pushed as much into the VDPs as they could in the time left, then tacked on things like a DSP in the SCU hoping it would help with 3D calculations.
    From a practical engineering point of view, I highly doubt there were major changes to VDP1 in the last few months of development (from the late 1993 "crisis" period to launch, they'd have had less than 1/2 a year to make any final changes before the design would be frozen for mass production, so not much more time than the 32x).

    IMO it's more likely they focused on refining the existing silicon (fixing bugs, etc) and reading them for final production, while actual changes to the system configuration were probably limited to RAM and CPU.

    There's some indication that Sega was considering using an SH1 at one point as the main CPU (SH7032 is specifically mentioned), but that may have been more a stop-gap in 1993 until the SH2 was ready, and maybe a back-up plan if Hitachi had delays with the SH2.
    The switch to the additional SH2 and the addition of the slow/cheap 16-bit wide Low-RAM seem to be the most plausible "last minute" changes to the system.

    And really, with just the 1MB SDRAM for main and a single SH2, the system wouldn't have been that much worse. 3D games would need to rely much more on the SCU DSP and would have to tighten up programming a bit more to work within the 1 MB constraint, bit it certainly shouldn't have been a night and day difference from the Saturn we have today. Low RAM is so slow it's of relatively limited use anyway. (hell, if they'd used 1.5 MB of SDRAM -with 512k at 16-bits wide- and used cheap DRAM on the SH1 instead, that'd have probably been a good trade-off too . . . the SH1 has an on-die DRAM controller as it is, so that shouldn't have been a problem, unless there's something in CD-ROM handling where the added SDRAM speed was absolutely critical -which really shouldn't be the case and is a design flaw if actually true)

    Hell, you could argue that trimming off excess from the Saturn starting late 1993 would have been more important than beefing it up. You couldn't change THAT much, but if they could have swapped the SH1 for a cheap MCU+DRAM (maybe 128k instead of 512k too -still 4x that of the PS CD buffer), and stuck with 1 SH2 along with focusing on better SCU documentation and better overall system documentation and such to cut down on the learning curve. Maybe the 68EC000 could have been dropped too (using the main CPU for controlling the SCSU), unless the sound bus design didn't allow the SH2 to be directly mapped to the SCSU registers.

    At that point in the game, they probably wouldn't have wanted to drop major chunks of the system (like swapping VDP2 for a cheap Super-VDP like chip, or changing the sound system for something cheaper and less elaborate), but they could have at least tweaked things a bit.



    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly Willy View Post
    The SH1 spec list cannot be an error since they gave a specific processor model - that being an SH1. And the SH2s and extra ram LOOKS tacked on in a hurry to any computer designer. Any changes to VDP2 and VDP1 would be purely speculative since no one knows how much they did at each phase of the project beyond Sega's engineers, who have never uttered a peep on the subject. However, engineers remaining silent lends more credence to the "beefed up at the last moment" theory than the other way around.
    Yes, it's a SH7032, the model with the largest scratchpad (8kB) and no ROM, so the best one to use as a CPU rather than an MCU.

    It's very different than the one used as the CD-ROM data controller. (I need to check again, but I think that one may lack on-die SRAM at all -ROM only, so the total opposite)


    Quote Originally Posted by zyrobs View Post
    What I'm saying is that yeah, they listed the SH1, they just took it as the main cpu when it was always meant to be the CD controller. I imagine the first revealed specs were in Japanese and some miscommunication might have happened there.
    Again, the fact that the SH7032 was listed says otherwise. (again it may have been an interim measure in 1993 though -prior to the SH2 hitting mass production)

    We know from official documentation that the VDP1 was complete by 93 December (revision 00) and only got a minor addition after that (revision 01). Some memos even specifically mention to look up the internal revision number register to see if those features were usable. I don't know how long it would take to make such a serious change as it is implied by the urban legends, but I don't think it would've fit in the time frame of Sony doing the first Playstation demos (when did those happen anyway?) to 93 December.
    Yes, which further supports my supposition on the matter in general. (that only RAM and CPU were changed)




    Quote Originally Posted by Chilly Willy View Post
    The MIPS chip Sony used wasn't cheap. That was Sega's issue - trying to be too cheap, which ironically made their console more expensive. Instead of springing for one expensive CPU, they tried to get by using four cheap CPUs (2 SH2s, 1 SH1, and 1 68000). I'll bet in the end, all those processors cost more than the R3000.

    Don't get me wrong - the SH2 is a great CPU. For the price, the power can't be beat (at the time). However, if you wind up needing three SuperH processors for your console, whatever savings you thought you had are gone!
    The R3000 was cheap for Sony too . . . in the context that they'd already invested the overhead to license the thing and manufacture it themselves. (I'm nearly positive that they used that license for embedded R3000s in several other products too -and projects predating the PSX- so it wasn't a PSX-specific thing either)

    And hell, a single 28.6 MHz SH2 would have been good enough overall for general CPU use next to the 33.4 MHz R3000. If they'd had a dedicated DSP as fast (or faster) at vertex computations in the Saturn, that would have pretty much negated the need for a second SH2 entirely. (the SCU DSP wasn't quite that good though . . . albeit it probably would still have been the main geometry engine in the Saturn had they gone single SH2 -since you'd waste to much using the main CPU for that)

    There's a lot of odd cost trade-offs int he Saturn that add a little to overall performance, but end up dragging cost up considerably more than the net performance gain. (like using an cheaper embedded MCU and a smaller block of plain DRAM instead of the SH1+512k SDRAM for CD-ROM handling, among other things) Hell, if they were going to embed an SH1 somewhere in the system, it might have made sense as a flexible sound processor overall. (rather than the complex but underused SCSU, just an SH1 software mixing to 16-bit DMA sound . . . even better if they embedded the audio DACs on-chip with the SH1 and pulled the buffer from the on-die scratchpad -so no writes back to DRAM for mixing)
    Hell, maybe they could add a faster DSP on a separate chip and disable the SCU DSP with plans to incorporate that into later SCU revisions. (should be cheaper and faster than another SH2 in the short run, and cheaper still in the long run) Though really, the SCU DSP shouldn't have been a major bottleneck compared to what we got as it was. (vertex performance would have been modestly worse at best, and only the few games that already used the DSP along with both SH2s would really take a major hit)



    But in the context of a generally "cleaner" Saturn might have been like:

    I'd think something more along the lines of the 3DO would apply there. (single GPU/VDC, audio DSP, geometry DSP, and CPU) Though probably without the CPU/texture contention and probably with a less excessive framebuffer (and probably more use of SDRAM and no VRAM).
    Actually, if Sega did do something like that, but still used the more advanced .8 micron tech (and 1994 release), they probably could have had something about 2x the fillrate of the 3DO Cell or VDP1. (as it is, VDP1 is close to the same speed, but the Cel does it on 1/2 the bus speed and 2x the bus width, so do a beefed up more feature rich 32-bit VDP1 and you'd get 57.2 MP/s peak, and better lighting/shading/blending effects and neat texture compression/color depth options like the 3DO) Hell, if they did some more cost optimization, that could get away with a unified framebuffer too, as a pair of 128kx16-bit Hitachi SDRAMs could be configured as a 512kB block 32-bits wide with 2 interleaved banks (those 256 kB SDRAMs are dual-banked) so you could interleave framebuffer reads and writes by keeping the front and back buffers in separate banks. (but without the cost of needing 2 separate buses and SDRAM chips -like in the Saturn with 3 16-bit SDRAM buses for VDP1)
    That would also make the most efficient use of SDRAM bandwidth since you'd be maxing it out much of the time rather than having the front buffer inactive in hblank and vblank, and still not usually saturated in active display. (except at max resolution)

    So if they did 2 MB of SDRAM for main shared for sound and CPU, a single SH2, fast 3D vertex DSP, maybe a dedicated audio DSP (or maybe intend the CPU and/or 3D DSP to share that work), and 1.5 MB for video, you'd have a really nice set-up. With 3.5 MB total (plus cheap CD-ROM buffer and save RAM) and a full MB of that being for textures.
    It still would probably cost Sega more than the PSX to build (due to vertical integration), but it would probably have been closer, and with that single beefy 2D/3D VDP, you'd have a LOT more chance to have an actual performance edge over PSX games. (games well optimized for quads and heavy texture usage would have a considerable fillrate advantage and more detailed textures than similar PSX games could, while lazy games using folded quads would still make out close to PSX performance, not to mention 2D performance potential -warped quads would still have the problem with alpha blending though, like on 3DO too, but 2D stuff would have nicer blending, 3D could have nice colored lighting -additive/subtractive shading- and proper multiplicative lighting/shading rather than the weaker additive/subtractive shading approximation the Saturn used)



    That or Sega could have actually taken on the 3DO team back in 1990 when Katz was offered the chance to take on Mical and Needle's team for $2 million. (and in the end put some Sega twist on it too . . . including access to Hitachi's resources -so even a 1993 design could have been a bit more powerful and at aggressive price margins compared to 3DO as well)
    From the quotes from Katz I've seen, it doesn't seem like SoJ even reviewed that design either (unlike with SGI later on), so it was rejected purely at the executive level. Rather ironic since that design avoided pretty much everything SoJ engineers criticized the SGI chips for (including risks of delay), and even more ironic given how similar VDP1 ended up to that.
    Also makes you wonder what sort of impact in Japan having such a machine out in 1993 would have had. Or in the US in 1994 at a much lower price than 3DO had been, and no "requirement" for 32x projected by Nakayma early that year. (why bother trying to "counter Jaguar" when you've got that heading over already )

    Would have been weaker than the Saturn overall, but pretty damn close in 3D (at least with a separate CPU bus used) and with better looking shading/color/etc overall too. And probably could have actually undercut Sony's price point in 1995 too.
    So sort of like the SNES vs Genesis situation again, with an older, cheaper, but still quite capable system with a lead on release. (except the SNES's huge disadvantage programming wise . . . and the fact Sega was a market leader in '95 and Sony was a newcomer)
    Last edited by kool kitty89; 08-21-2013 at 08:55 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    Dude it’s the bios that marries the 16 bit and the 8 bit that makes it 24 bit. If SNK released their double speed bios revision SNK would have had the world’s first 48 bit machine, IDK how you keep ignoring this.
    Quote Originally Posted by evilevoix View Post
    the PCE, that system has no extra silicone for music, how many resources are used to make music and it has less sprites than the MD on screen at once but a larger sprite area?

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    Wildside Expert bpguimaraes23's Avatar
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    I am not very knowledgeable about hardware, but from what I was able to find on the internet Saturn's hardware have a lot of similarities with Sega's previous arcade boards. Maybe Sega just wanted to make every 90's kid dream come true and give them a home superscaler machine.

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