Have you ever eaten Kellogg’s Cornflakes? They are quite good to eat and also famous for being “the original and the best,” thanks to a slogan. It suits the first model of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis too. Read on and you’ll see why.
The first model of the Mega Drive was released in 1988 in Japan, 1989 in North America and 1990 in PAL regions. It is together with the second model the most common one and also the cheapest. Paying more than corresponding $30 shouldn’t be necessary. Since production of it stopped in 1992, getting it sealed isn’t an easy task, but its construction is stable, and getting one in mint condition should be very simple. You can always recognize one by seeing its golden “16-bit” letters, its volume slider, and the rectangular shape with cooling vents on the left side.
There are actually different versions of the first model. The differences can be found in lack of extension port, license screen and sound. First of all, the extension port isn’t really useful for other purposes than recording audio through it, which can be done using the headphone jack anyway. The easiest way to get the best version is to see if the unit says “High Definition Graphics” (all westerners) and “Stereo Sound” (PAL people only). If it doesn’t, don’t buy it!
The TMSS screen is a big nuisance though. It was implemented in 1991 to stop unlicensed developers from releasing games that worked with the unit. For example we have early Accolade and Electronic Arts games that don’t work with later versions of model 1 (or any other Mega Drive either). The most irritating thing about it is that you will be forced to see “PRODUCED BY OR UNDER LICENSE FROM SEGA ENTERPRISES LTD.” for five seconds every time you put the unit on. The fast access speed of cartridges takes a hit, so I use a model without that message. It is also rumoured that the late units have worse sound than the earlier ones. Unless you’re the kind of guy who wastes his spare time making a fake DVD and Sonic 2 port for the NES, you won’t hear any difference.
A good to know about model 1 is that it uses the same AC adaptor as the Master System I, as well as the same A/V output. So if you have them sitting next to each other, just switch those two cables and the controller to alternate between 8-bit and 16-bit gaming. The AC adaptor is also used for the Mega CD. If your AC breaks (three of mine have!), you can buy an exact equivalent at Clas Ohlsson or a similar store, or on eBay, for example.
Furthermore, the original Power Base Converter with the card/3D glasses slot was made for the first model. If you want to use it on the second, you must remove some of the plastic. It doesn’t work with the Nomad and Genesis 3.
There are some special things to know about the sound with this console. As stated before, the earliest models are said to have the best sound. To decrease production costs and to be in line with market prices, cheaper clone sound chips were used. This is apparent with model 2 and Genesis 3, which had many chips integrated with each other, something that caused changes to the sound. The difference between models 1 and 2 is from my experience that while the early one has more bass and “omph!” the latter is clearer and brighter, but that may vary between different versions of both models and what sound output you have. None will make you say: “OMG WTF MY M0D3L TEH R0XX0RZ TEH OTH3R M0D3L 50XX0RZ !!!1ONE1!11110101!,” but I prefer the first one.
Model 1 consoles are the only cheap and common ones to have a headphone jack (with a volume slider to control it). This both has its advantages and disadvantages. The bad thing is that you are forced to use it to get stereo sound. If you don’t, all sound will be in mono, since the A/V output doesn’t support stereo on this model. You can buy specially made cables with an extra end that goes to the headphone jack which gives stereo sound, but they are quite pricey. That is the bad thing, so onto the good ones. With headphones you can dig to the mindblowing metal riffs of Thunder Force IV in the middle of the night without waking up your neighbours. You can also listen to your Mega Drive sound through your stereo system with a RCA cable, or hook it up through some computer speakers with a boom-blaster, like me. The spaceship sound in Phantasy Star IV is marvelous through the boom-blaster, I tell you! Then there is the mixing cable compatibility with the Mega CD, which you can read more about in the section below. Bottom line is: the sound of the first model is a major advantage when choosing your Mega Drive.
Compatibility with Mega CD
Model I is the ideal version to get if you want the Mega CD add-on, and the reasons are several. First of all, all hybrids of the Mega Drive and Mega CD are quite rare and expensive. The price of a model 1 Genesis with a model 1 or 2 Mega CD will always be cheaper, especially if you get model 2 of the Mega CD. The advantage the combo luxuries have are the smaller sizes and individual functions like improved sound or being a portable CD player.
Then there is the aesthetic issue. The first model looks very good with its CD sibling underneath itself. It becomes a very high console, especially with the 32X. But it is overall smaller than with model 2 of the Mega CD, which requires a special plastic dongle to be more stable. It shouldn’t be hard to get with the CD unit. If you have a model 1 Mega Drive, model 2 Mega CD and a 32X (like me!), you probably have the biggest console in the world. Keep that in mind if you live in a student’s dorm. It doesn’t look bad, at least not compared with the model 2 Mega Drive and model 1 Mega CD together, which leaves an ugly empty space left of the Mega Drive.
The model 1 has a benefit of its headphone jack when connected to the Mega CD. With a regular 3.5 mm male/male cable between the two units, you will be able to lower the Mega Drive sound in Mega CD games. It is more common and useful than you think. Road Avenger has some awesome sound effects and music, but that blipping you hear with the arrows and commands are quite annoying. Pull the volume slider towards you, and the problem is gone! The same goes for the sound effects in battle in Lunar and dozens of other games that didn’t use the Power of Mega CD enough to express its audio.
Compatibility with 32X
The Model I works just fine with a 32X attached, but you will need a special cable between the 32X and the Mega Drive. It is usually called the conversion cable or the MD1<->32X cable. It wasn’t included with the last versions of the 32X and is quite hard to get loose. As of this writing, it is available by German sellers on eBay, but beware that the price may be higher than the unit itself. Therefore, it is best to search well for a unit which has the cable rather than just get the first and cheapest find of a 32X. Finding one at your local tool store is highly unlikely.
Other than that, you will need a Mega Drive model 2 A/V cable to get video through your 32X. RF (Retarded Fucker?) is horrible and won’t work with later models. I recommend a RGB cable instead (RGB is only the signal, not the input type). Read Joe Redifer’s Seeing is Believing: Video Connections feature for additional information. For model 1 you will not need the plastic spacer between the 32X and the cartridge slot, and the electromagnetic metal clips are completely unnecessary and only included because the FCC hated Sega gamers. Two more items that should be included when buying the 32X is one more cable, called the 32X cable, as well as a Model 2 AC adaptor.
The earliest version of the Mega Drive is known to be one of the easiest consoles to do modifications for. Common mods for it are regional bypasses, overclocking, LED change and S-Video output. Model 2 consoles are trickier, and the Genesis 3 is at the same level but far inferior anyway. Modding the hybrid units is probably even harder and riskier.
Thanks to the Power of The Google, you can find step-by-step guides. What you will need is some soldering equipment, handy hands and maybe someone to help you. If you fail and the unit breaks, it is at least easy and cheap to get a new one. If you’ve grown up with your unit and it has a big sentimental value to you and don’t want any risk destroying it (my pal did that), then you can always send it in to a video game store to do it, or why not ask a local electrician like my former neighbour? I recommend all Euros and Aussies to at least do the 60Hz mod – once you have it, you will never want to go back.
Who Should I Buy the First Model?
If you can stand the somewhat big size and aren’t interested in the luxury CD hybrid models, there is no reason to get another model than the first one. Well, if you think the second model is prettier, you do have a reason to get that one, just stay away from the horrid afterthought that is Genesis 3. For those who want the overall best experience with the Mega Drive, I recommend its absolute earliest predecessor. It is compatible with the oldest unlicensed games, has awesome sound, a headphone jack, good compatibility with Mega CD and also the 32X, no license-screen and is easy to modify. And don’t forget the cheap price.
The X’Eye and CDX are good for their purposes, but for the average collector who needs to spend money on games before anything else, they can’t be considered a first time buyer’s best choice, in my humble opinion. The first model is simply the best when it comes to Mega Drive Advance Gaming.