Sega Saturn

From Sega Retro

Sega Saturn logo USA.png
Fast facts on Sega Saturn
Manufacturer: Sega
Variants: Sega Titan Video
Add-ons: Backup Memory, PriFun, Video CD Card, Extended RAM Cartridge, ROM Cartridge
Main processor: Hitachi SH-2
Release Date RRP Code
Sega Saturn
¥80,800 ?
Sega Saturn
$399.99 Media:CVG UK 164.pdf[1] ?
Sega Saturn
Sega Saturn
3,390Media:ConsolesMicro FR 01.pdf[2]F
Sega Saturn
DM 699Media:SegaMagazin DE 21.pdf[3]
Sega Saturn
79,900Media:HobbyConsolas ES 050.pdf[4]Ptas
Sega Saturn
$? ?
Sega Saturn
R$800.00 ?
Sega Saturn
? ?
Sega Saturn
₩550,000 SPC-ST

The Sega Saturn (セガサターン), is a video game console manufactured by Sega and was the successor to the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis (as opposed to add-ons such as the Sega 32X and Mega-CD). Initially released in 1994, the Saturn was a 32-bit compact disc-based system, and was a key player in what is now widely known as the fifth generation of video game consoles. The Saturn was first released on November 22, 1994 in Japan, May 11, 1995 in North America, and July 8, 1995 in Europe.

Depending on where you live, the Saturn could be described as either Sega's most successful console of all time (Japan) or one of their biggest commercial failures (North America). Its complex hardware and inability to meet rapidly evolving consumer expectations and demands put it in a distant third place in the Western world, but a combination of above-average 2D rendering capabilities and a strong marketing campaign made the Saturn the most successful Sega console in Japan. Estimates for the total number of Saturns sold worldwide range from ten million to seventeen million.

The Saturn's main competitors were Sony's PlayStation released just a week after the Saturn in Japan, and the Nintendo 64 from September 1996. Its arcade counterpart was the Sega Titan Video (ST-V) system. It was replaced by the Sega Dreamcast in late 1998.


The Sega Saturn is the successor to the Mega Drive, though as a video game system it is almost entirely different. It is a "32-bit" console, marketed in such a way that it appeared to be an evolution of the "16-bit" era of video gaming dominated by the Mega Drive and Super NES (which in turn succeeded the "8-bit" NES).

This description, however, was initially fabricated - Sega of Japan originally claimed the Saturn was a "64-bit" consoleMedia:SegaSaturn94JPCatalog.pdf[5] and some within Sega even chose to call it an "128-bit" machineMedia:Edge UK 024.pdf[6], a number arrived at by cumulating processors rather than simply picking the main CPU. Alternatively some areas of Sega simply went down the "multi-processor" route, refusing to get drawn into the perceived differences between 32-bit and 64-bitMedia:Hyper AU 003.pdf[7]. This was incidentally the last video game generation where these so-called "bit wars" were considered to matter.

The system uses CD-ROMs as its primary choice of media. Though it contains a cartridge slot, this is not used for games, but rather backup memory or RAM cartridges. The former was to extend the space for save games beyond that of the Saturn's internal memory, while the latter was used to augment the Saturn's limited memory and to avoid long CD load times.

The Saturn has two controller ports, and the standard Saturn controller builds on that seen in the six button Sega Mega Drive controller. It adds two shoulder buttons, first seen on the Super NES controller, bringing the amount of buttons up to nine. The 3D Control Pad, released later with NiGHTS into Dreams, would supply the console with an analogue stick and analogue shoulder buttons, the latter later being used in the Sega Dreamcast before being adopted by Nintendo and Microsoft for their GameCube and Xbox consoles, respectively.


Main article: Sega Saturn consoles.

There are a variety of Sega Saturn models of different shapes and colours, as well as novelty units, such as the Game & Car Navi HiSaturn. Differences between systems are not as drastic as seen with the Sega Mega Drive - the same basic feature set and component designs were used throughout the console's lifespan in all regions.


First seen on launch day in Japan (1994-11-22), the HST-3200 (later revised and released as the HST-3210, although the differences aside from a BIOS update are not fully understood), commonly referred to as the "grey Saturn" (although during development it had a metallic finish), was the basis for all Sega Saturns released between the Japanese launch and early 1996. These Saturns use blue "oval" buttons, mounted to black plastic at the front of the unit, and have both "power" and "access" LEDs similar to the Sega Mega-CD.

The Saturn saw variants produced by Hitachi and Victor as the HiSaturn and V-Saturn respectively, though aside from altered BIOSes and aesthetics (and bundles/pricing) these do not deviate much from the Sega designs. Novelty value sees these models worth slightly more in pre-owned markets - fewer were produced than the Sega models, but compatibility rates are much the same.

Overseas versions are physically identical (save for region encoding), but use black plastic throughout.


Released in March 1996, the HST-3220 stands as the only significant change to the Saturn's design, although functionality wise, the only feature omitted is the "access" LED seen in previous models. Reportedly the change in colour scheme was made to appeal to younger and female demographicsMedia:MAXIMUM UK 06.pdf[8].

These "white" Saturns likely cost less to produce (they were certainly sold for a lot less in Japan), but from a user perspective the change is largely negligible - the console is roughly the same size and has no problems running any Saturn software. White Saturns opt for grey "circle" power and reset buttons and a pink "open" button for lifting the lid.

It is rumoured, though not proven, that the HST-3220 has a faster disc reading time than its earlier counterparts, meaning quicker loading screens in games.

When brought overseas the console continued to be shipped only in black, although the North American and European models have different coloured buttons. In 1998 Sega started releasing special versions of these consoles with semi-transparent plastic under the "This is cool" brand - only 30,000 units were produced. Again aside from aesthetic differences the consoles are interchangeable.

Some of the Japanese colour designs were also brought to Brazil.


BIOS Revisions
BIOS Version Machine Download
1.00 Sega Saturn (Japan) 1.00 (Asian Saturn) (info) (444 kB)
1.00a Sega Saturn (NA & EU) 1.00a (NA & EU Saturn) (info) (444 kB)
1.003 Sega Saturn Devkit (Japan) 1.003 (Asian Devkit) (info) (441 kB)
1.01 Sega Saturn (Japan), HiSaturn (Japan), V-Saturn (Japan) 1.01 (Asian Saturn) (info) (438 kB)
1.01 (Asian HiSaturn) (info) (438 kB)
1.01 (Asian V-Saturn) (info) (438 kB)
1.01a Sega Saturn (NA & EU) 1.01a (NA & EU Saturn) (info) (444 kB)
1.02 HiSaturn (Japan) 1.02 (JP HiSaturn) (info) (423 kB)
1.03 HiSaturn Navi (Japan) 1.03 (JP HiSaturn Navi) (info) (423 kB)


VDP1 transparency rendering quirk causes strips of pixels to be rewritten to framebuffer for 2-point (scaled) and 4-point (quadrangle) "sprites", applying the transparency effect multiple times. Rarely seen in commercial games (Robotica explosions), later titles implemented software transparency to correctly render polygons (Dural in Virtua Fighter Kids).

Technical specifications




Display resolutions

The Saturn supported the following resolutions: [1]

  • 320×224 (Lo‑Res, Progressive)
  • 320×240 (Lo‑Res, Progressive)
  • 320×448 (Interlaced)
  • 320×480 (Interlaced)
  • 352×240 (Lo‑Res, Scanline)
  • 640×224 (Progressive)
  • 640×240 (Progressive)
  • 640×448 (Interlaced)
  • 640×480 (Hi‑Res, Interlaced)
  • 704×480 (Hi‑Res, Progressive)
  • 720×240 (Progressive)
  • 720×448 (Interlaced)
  • 720×480 (Hi‑Res, Interlaced)
  • 720×576 (Hi‑Res, Interlaced)
  • VDP2 32-bit background and scroll plane video display processor @ 28.6364 MHz: Handles background and scroll planes Media:ST-058-R2-060194.pdf[18]
  • Features: Transparency effects, shadowing, 2 windows for special calculations, 8×8 and 16×16 tile sizes [19]
  • Background planes: 7 layers/textures per frame (5 simultaneous parallax scrolling backgrounds, 2 simultaneous scrolling/scaling/rotating playfields) [19]Media:ST-058-R2-060194.pdf[32]
    • NBG0: 16 to 16,777,216 colors, tilemap (512×512 to 1024×1024) or bitmap (512×256 to 1024×512), scrolling, scrolling, column/row/line scrolling, scaling
    • NBG1: 16 to 32,768 colors, tilemap (512×512 to 1024×1024) or bitmap (512×256 to 1024×512), scrolling, column/row/line scrolling, scaling
    • NBG2/NBG3: 16 to 256 colors, tilemap (512×512 to 1024×1024), scrolling
    • RBG0: 16 to 16,777,216 colors, tilemap (512×512 to 1024×1024) or bitmap (512×256 to 512×512), scrolling, scaling & rotation
    • RBG1: 16 to 16,777,216 colors, tilemap (512×512 to 1024×1024), scrolling, scaling & rotation
    • Back screen: 1 bitmap backgroundMedia:ST-058-R2-060194.pdf[33]
  • Background/Texture fillrate: 28.6364 MTexels/s (NTSC), 28.4375 MTexels/s (PAL)
    • Maximum texels per frame: 954,546 (NTSC), 1,137,500 (PAL)
    • Maximum texels per scanline: 3728 (NTSC), 4443 (PAL)
    • Maximum planes/textures per second: 420 (NTSC), 350 (PAL)




System RAM buses: Media:ST-103-R1-040194.pdf[11]Media:13-APR-94.pdf[34]Media:Sega Service Manual - Sega Saturn (PAL) - 013-1 - June 1995.pdf[10]

  • System bus (32‑bit, 28.6364 MHz)
    • SH2 (×2), SCU, SMPC <‑> Work RAM (2× SDRAM, 2× FRAM), battery backup SRAM
  • Video sub‑system buses Media:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf[17]
    • VDP1 <‑> Texture cache VRAM (SDRAM)
    • VDP1 <‑> Framebuffer 0 VRAM (SDRAM)
    • VDP1 <‑> Framebuffer 1 VRAM (SDRAM)
    • VDP2 <‑> Background VRAM (2× SDRAM) Media:ST-058-R2-060194.pdf[18]
  • Sound sub‑system bus — 68EC000 & SCSP <‑> Sound RAM (FRAM)
  • CD‑ROM sub‑system bus — SH1 <‑> CD‑ROM cache/buffer RAM (FRAM)
  • Internal processor bandwidth: 693 MB/s
    • SH2 cache: 229.0912 MB/s (114.5456 MB/s per SH2)
    • SH1 cache: 80 MB/s (32‑bit, 20 MHz)
    • SCU DSP RAM: 57.2 MB/s (32‑bit, 14.3 MHz)
    • SMPC: 7 MB/s (2 MB/s RAM, 5 MB/s ROM)
    • 68EC000: 22.6 MB/s (16‑bit, 11.3 MHz)
    • SCSP: 67.8 MB/s (24‑bit, 22.6 MHz)
    • VDP: 229.0912 MB/s (114.5456 MB/s VDP1, 114.5456 MB/s VDP2 color RAM)
  • System RAM bandwidth: 424 MB/s
    • System bus RAM: 114.5456 MB/s (32‑bit, 28.6364 MHz)
      • Work RAM: 114.5456 MB/s (114.5456 MB/s SDRAM, 88.888888 MB/s FRAM)
      • Battery backup SRAM: 10 MB/s (8‑bit, 10 MHz)
    • VRAM: 229.0912 MB/s (SDRAM)
      • VDP1: 114.5456 MB/s (114.5456 MB/s framebuffers, 57.2728 MB/s texture cache)
      • VDP2: 114.5456 MB/s (backgrounds)
    • Sound FRAM: 40 MB/s (16‑bit, 20 MHz)
    • CD‑ROM cache/buffer FRAM: 40 MB/s (16‑bit, 20 MHz)
  • System ROM bandwidth: 20 MB/s (16‑bit, 10 MHz)



Main article: List of Sega Saturn accessories.
  • Two 16‑bit bidirectional parallel I/O ports
  • High-speed serial communications port (Both SH2 SCI channels and SCSP MIDI)
  • Cartridge connector
  • Internal expansion port for video decoder card
  • Composite video/stereo (JP Part No: HSS-0106)
  • NTSC/PAL RF (US Part No.: MK-80116, JP Part No.: HSS-0110)
  • S-Video compatible (JP Part No.: HSS-0105)
  • RGB compatible (JP Part No.: HSS-0109)
  • EDTV compatible (optional)


Main article: List of Sega Saturn accessories.

Power source

  • AC120 volts; 60 Hz (US)
  • AC240 volts; 50 Hz (EU)
  • AC200 volts; 60 Hz (JP)
  • 4 volt lithium battery to power non-volatile RAM and SMPC internal real-time clock
  • Power Consumption: 25 W

Dimensions (US/European model)

  • Width: 260 mm (10.2 in)
  • Length: 230 mm (9.0 in)
  • Height: 89 mm (3.2 in)


Main article: History of the Sega Saturn.

Game packaging

Japanese packaging

Japanese Saturn software usually came packaged in standard jewel cases, much like music CDs. They also came with spinecards - three-fold pieces of light cardboard that hug the spine of the jewel case. These are very valuable for collectors who wish to claim a game is "complete". The spinecard also indicates that the CD is for use with a Sega Saturn console - specifically Japanese NTSC systems. There were also jewel case quad CD cases, and a variant of the single case which was slightly thicker and VERY hard to replace.

Most of the time the spinecard will have a gold and black background with the Japanese Saturn logo and lettering printed vertically. Saturn collection games will have red and white spinecard with white lettering, the Saturn Collection logo under that, and the 2,800 yen price featured prominently. Manual is included with the cover seen through the front of the jewel case. The left side of the manual will usually have a bar similar in design to the spinecard. The Japanese SEGA rating, if there is one, will be included on the manual front (usually on one of the corners). There is also the insert on the back which may feature artwork or screenshots from the game. A black bar on the bottom of the insert contains information much like the spinecard, licensing information, et cetera.

The Japanese packaging was adopted in smaller Asian markets such as South Korea and China.

North American packaging

Sega of America adopted very simple packaging in the beginning, the likes of which hadn't been seen since the Sega Master System.

The US used much larger jewel cases identical to the US Sega Mega-CD jewel cases, since many of these were in fact leftover Sega CD jewel cases. The US case has a white spine containing a 30 degree stripe pattern in gray, with white outlined lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". Oddly some US packaging seems to have taken a step backwards in terms of aesthetics - with minimal front artwork almost akin to the Sega Master System.

There are many flaws with the US packaging:

  • Their sheer size made them more vulnerable to cracking.
  • The mechanism that keeps the cover closed wears out quickly if the cover is opened and closed too much
  • There is too much empty space inside the case. If the CD ever came off the case's spindle on its own (caused by rough handling of the case), the CD ends up being tossed around the inside of the case, causing either huge amount of scratches on the disc from careful handling of the case or shattering the disc from continued rough handling of the case.

European packaging

European cases come in two variants, both designed and engineered by Sega. One has a strong plastic design similar to the cases used with the Mega Drive and Master System (but taller, thinner and slightly more secure). The other feels far cheaper, being literally two pieces of plastic held together by a cardboard cover. Though the former was more preferred by the consumer, the latter was more common as it was cheaper to produce.

Both European cases has a solid black spine, with white lettering displaying the words "Sega Saturn". The manual slides in the case just like a normal jewel case and there is a back insert with information about the game. Like the American cases they are still too big and can lead to discs moving about and becoming scratched, though this may be to compensate for large multi-language manuals.

Some European boxes were wrapped in a transparent plastic shell after manufacture for extra security.

Brazillian packaging

Brazilian games were packaged in cardboard boxes, with a CD sleeve inside to keep the disc secure.


The Saturn is notoriously hard to emulate due to its complex architecture (dual processors, etc.), but three notable emulators do exist:

  • SSF is a highly compatible emulator, which is in continual development by a single developer.
  • GiriGiri was initially based on an abandoned emulator by Sega themselves, and was considered the best until development ceased and SSF overtook it.
  • Yabause is an open-source effort to create a Saturn emulator.

Software that plays files in the Saturn Sound Format, which stores audio ripped from games, does so through emulation of the audio-related code only.


List of games

Main article: List of Saturn games.

Launch titles


North America



Magazine articles

Main article: Sega Saturn/Magazine articles.

Promotional material

Print advertisements

CDConsoles FR 11.pdf

Print advert in

CD Consoles (FR) #11: "Novembre 1995" (1995-xx-xx)

CDConsoles FR 12.pdf CDConsoles FR 12.pdf

Print advert in

CD Consoles (FR) #12: "Décembre 1995" (1995-xx-xx)


Television advertisements


External links

  • Dave's Sega Saturn Page - Famous fansite that was extremely popular during the Saturn's heyday (no longer updated).


  1. 1.0 1.1 File:CVG UK 164.pdf, page 7
  2. File:ConsolesMicro FR 01.pdf, page 13
  3. File:SegaMagazin DE 21.pdf, page 6
  4. File:HobbyConsolas ES 050.pdf, page 26
  5. File:SegaSaturn94JPCatalog.pdf
  6. File:Edge UK 024.pdf, page 9
  7. File:Hyper AU 003.pdf, page 8
  8. File:MAXIMUM UK 06.pdf, page 127
  9. 9.0 9.1 File:Hitachi SuperH Programming Manual.pdf
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 10.11 10.12 10.13 10.14 10.15 10.16 File:Sega Service Manual - Sega Saturn (PAL) - 013-1 - June 1995.pdf
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 File:ST-103-R1-040194.pdf
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 12.6 12.7 12.8 Sega Saturn (MAME)
  13. 13.0 13.1 File:HD40491 datasheet.pdf
  14. 14.0 14.1 File:ST-077-R2-052594.pdf
  15. 15.0 15.1 Sega Saturn FAQ (January 8, 2000)
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 17.5 17.6 File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 File:ST-058-R2-060194.pdf
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 STV VDP2 (MAME)
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 STV VDP1 (MAME)
  21. File:ST-103-R1-040194.pdf, page 17
  22. File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf, page 149
  23. File:ST-238-R1-051795.pdf
  24. 24.0 24.1 Sega Saturn Tech Specs
  25. Sega System 24 Hardware Notes
  26. File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf, page 81
  27. File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf, page 119
  28. File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf, page 18
  29. File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf, page 29
  30. File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf, page 75
  31. File:ST-013-R3-061694.pdf, page 24
  32. File:ST-058-R2-060194.pdf, page 24
  33. File:ST-058-R2-060194.pdf, page 23
  34. 34.0 34.1 File:13-APR-94.pdf, page 8
  35. 35.0 35.1 File:HM5241605 datasheet.pdf
  36. 36.0 36.1 File:TC514260B datasheet.pdf
  37. 37.0 37.1 File:UPD4504161 datasheet.pdf
  38. File:HM514270D datasheet.pdf
  39. File:SRM20256L datasheet.pdf
  40. File:TC574200D datasheet.pdf
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Sega Saturn Hardware
 Saturn Variations   Sega Saturn consoles (HiSaturn, V-Saturn, etc.) | North America | Europe | Brazil | Asia

HiSaturn Navi | SunSeibu SGX | Sega Titan Video

 Console Add-ons   Backup Memory | Sega PriFun | Video CD Card | Extended RAM Cartridge | ROM Cartridge
Game Controllers   Standard gamepad | 3D Control Pad | Arcade Racer Joystick | Infrared Control Pad | Sega Mission Stick | Shuttle Mouse | Twin Stick | Virtua Gun | Virtua Stick | Virtua Stick Pro
Online Services/Add-ons   NetLink Internet Modem (NetLink Keyboard | NetLink Keyboard Adapter | NetLink Mouse) | Saturn Modem (Floppy Drive | Keyboard)
Connector Cables   21 Pin RGB Cable | Monaural AV Cable | RF Unit | Stereo AV Cable | S-Video Cable | Taisen Cable
Development Hardware Programming Box | Sound Box | E7000 | CartDev | SNASM2 | Saturn Address Checker | PSY-Q Development System
Misc. Hardware   6 Player Adaptor‎ | Action Replay | Action Replay Plus | Pro Action Replay | SBom Multitap‎ | S-S Promoter