Back when the SNES was released, Sega jumped on Nintendo for using a parallel processing model that relied on several support chips to make up for a slow CPU. The Genesis had one fast CPU, and a far less advanced set of support chips. The magazine ads rang out that "the SNES is only 3 MHz, while the Genesis is..." But did it matter? No. The SNES had an extremely strong set of support chips that could easily make up for the lack of CPU. However, this had one major downfall -- programming. Programming games for multiple support chips, or processors is far more difficult than writing for only one main CPU. This meant in the beginning, that SNES programmers who were trying to do everything through the one main CPU were having problems with slowdown, and flicker. The faster Genesis CPU did not have this problem. However, as time progressed, the SNES programmers learned new tricks for the hardware, and really began to shine. The simple architecture of the Genesis had no such leap.
What does this have to do with today? Well, Nintendo and Sega have now reversed roles. As you can see from the Circuit design of Sega's Saturn, it is now a massive parallel processing center that has support for 2 CPU's, and a load of external support chips. They have essentially, taken on the role of the SNES. Nintendo's U64, however, now is a massive pipeline design with a huge central CPU responsible for all major processing tasks -- similar to the Genesis design. Because of this, Sega knows that its programmers will take a long time to develop hot new titles that take advantage of the difficult to program, yet powerful Saturn system. Is this perhaps why Sega rushed the Saturn out to market? Getting the first generation of games out there, and hoping programmers can learn to program the machine specifically, making a killer second generation? I think so. Nintendo, on the other hand, has been resting on their U64. We have seen enough development on this unit to know that they could rush it out to market very soon. But they are waiting a bit. It is my opinion that Nintendo knows that after only a short time with the finished hardware, programmers can make the most out of it. Sega's programmers will need a long time to take advantage of their machine.
What about Sony? Sony is taking the same route as Nintendo, with a massive central CPU. From a raw processor point of view, the Sony is no match for Nintendo's 64-bit beast. However, the Sony and Nintendo units vary greatly in their approach to gaming. While the U64 must spend time decompressing the data off of the cartridge, the Sony unit will be running their CD. Which is faster? Only time and a lot of programming will tell. But right now, it is clear that Sony and Nintendo will actually be the ones with the jump on Sega, not the other way around.
[Photo by: Mark Granger]