The Heart of DreamcastThe heart of the new system is a PowerVR graphics chip designed by Videologic in the U.K backed up by a new Hitachi SH-4 CPU. With the development name of Highlander, the graphics chip has recently been show cased at computer exhibitions to resounding acclaim. Capable of shifting 1,000,000 polygons a second, this statistic alone cannot convey the power of the hardware. Special Effects such as anti- aliasing, mip-mapping, and "fogging" are all taken care of by the chip with no speed loss whatsoever. Every Graphical Chore is taken care of by the PowerVR hardware, which comprehensively out-specs the new 3DFX Voodo2 board for the PC. Another cause for celebration is the resolution of the system. Even Dreamcast's lowest resolution will put Saturn's highest (as een in Virtua Fighter 2) to shame. The system creates its images in super-high resolution before scaling it down to fit the restrictions of your TV or monitor. This should ensure compatibility with the high-definition TV. Developers are also keen to point out that Katana's no-nonsense designshould give better performance from the PowerVR chip than the PC. "There are still a lot of bottlenecks on a PC that slow down communication between the chip and the main CPU [Central Processing Unit]. Speifically designed high-speed communications buses in the Sega machine increase performance a great deal.
Easy to ProgrammeThe difficulty of programming the Saturn was one of the reasons for its poor reputation amongst the third parties. Sega have completely eradicated thsi problem by using a Microsoft Windows CE based operating system which (once again) developers are raving about. "We can have our 3D accelerated PC games up and running on Katana in basic form in a matter of days - a month tops for a complete port. This is down to compatibility with Microsoft's DirectX programming langluage as well as OpenGL- the hardcore 3D programming langluage championed by the likes of ID Software. This actually causing a feew headaches for Sega who have watched Sony's platform deluged with poor quality software simply because the Playstation is so easy to program. "We're not just going to allow anyone to port their PC games across, "a high-ranking Sega wallah assured us. Sega are chasing prolific PC coders though, with the aforementioned ID software first on the list. The operating system also features network capabilities completely compatible with PC-ports of PC titles that use the Internet for multi-player gaming should allow console users to join computer players on the net servers. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The heart of the Sega Dream Cast is the Hitachi SH-4 RISC chip. It runs at about 200 MHz and can handle up to 360 million instructions per second. The data bus can handle two 128 bit vectors at a time and the CPU itself can do four concurrent 32 bit operations.
What does that mean in layman's terms? The "bit" rating of a system has nothing to do with the speed of the processor. Instead it describes how much data the system can move around at one time. A pentium computer has a 32-bit data bus. That means it can move 32 bits of data from memory to the CPU at one time. The Dream Cast is capable of moving 128 bits at a time so the CPU will spend less time waiting for data and more time doing calculations.
In addition, the SH-4 can do four 32-bit operations at a time. That means that on each clock cycle it will do four calculations and release four results. This technique of concurrent calculations is very useful in 3D polygon games. It appears that Sega has optimized the Dream Cast for 3D games.
2) Graphics and Sound
It's no surprise that Sega has built in seperate processors to handle graphics and sound in the Dream Cast. These calculations need to be repeated over and over so they eat up CPU time. The Power VR chip set is not the most powerful graphics engine on the market but it's still impressive. At peak it can generate 3 million polygons per second.
This should make pop-up minimal and allow designers to make their polygons far more detailed. The sound chip is a 32 RISC CPU with 64 channels. You can expect stero sound and CD quality music from the Dream Cast.
According to Game Online the Dream Cast has 16 Megs of SD-RAM. That's eight times what the Saturn had. I've also heard a rumor that it might be bumped up to 24 Megs by the time the system ships. Memory is expensive though so Sega may be wise to keep it lower.
In my opinion this is the nicest feature of the Dream Cast. On-line gaming is the future of the industry and Sega is going to be there first. The standard hardware is a V34 that runs at 33.6 kbps max. There are faster modems available but the cost would have been too high. I find it surprising that the modem comes as standard equipment. It makes the Dream Cast more expensive to produce and some people may not use it. Oh well, I won't complain.
5) Operating System
This particular feature is both a blessing and a curse. The Dream Cast will run it's games on top of a customized Windows CE operating system. On the upside this means that high-end computer games can be ported to the Dream Cast very easily. Apparently the libraries provided by Microsoft are extremely easy to use. On the downside, Windows is notorious for being bloat-ware.
It will eat up a good portion of the internal memory (rumor has it that the additional 8 Megs are intended to offset this). However, if it works then we won't complain. In case you can't tell, I'm not a big fan of Microsoft.
6) Storage Media
It's no surprise that Sega has gone with the CD-ROM format. Carts are history and DVD is still too expensive. The 12x CD-ROM built into the Dream Cast is very fast so load times will be reduced. Game data will be saved using a VM system. I'm not really sure what that means but I believe it's virtual memory (similar to the Saturn).
7) Physical Size
This isn't really important but I'll give it to you anyway. As far as physical dimensions go DreamCast is quite small. It's 19cm x 19.5 cm x 7.8 cm and weighs only 2.0 Kilograms. In other words, it will fit in the cabinet under your TV.