Dreamcast Technical Specs

It’s Thinking…

..That is the tag line of the Dreamcast era. It signified the console’s dramatic shift in technical prowess compared to its contemporaries. Boasting a beefier CPU, GPU, and gobs of RAM, the Dreamcast was a powerhouse at the time of it’s release. If you prefer your information to be digested in video form, check out the video below. Otherwise, I will continue my technical breakdown after the video.

The Brains of the Operation

The Hitachi SH-4 CPU.

At the core of any console is a CPU and the Dreamcast is no slouch in this respect. Sega tapped into its existing relationship with Hitachi to bring the SH-4 processor to Project Kitana, a.k.a. Dreamcast. This 64-bit CPU ran at a then-blistering 200 MHz and was capable of an impressive 1.4 GFLOPS. “FLOPS” stands for Floating Point Operations Per Second. And the “G” references “giga” or 1 million. So this essentially means that the Dreamcast was capable of 14,000,000 Floating Point Operations Per Second. Impressive stuff for the time.

It is worth noting that the console that preceded the Dreamcast, the Saturn, used Hitachi’s SH-2 processor.

The Eye Candy

Video Logic's PowerVR 2 GPU.

The GPU, or Graphics Processing Unit, was provided by NEC and Video Logic. The capable processor was dubbed the PowerVR CLX 2, or PowerVR 2 for short. The PowerVR 2 ran at a speedy 100 MHz and was capable of many advanced features like anti-aliasing, alpha blending, and specular highlighting. It’s display resolution was a significant boost over previous consoles. Where those output video at roughly 240p, the Dreamcast natively supported a resolution of 480p, sometimes referred to as “Enhanced Definition”. Though the Dreamcast was capable of 240p resolution as well and some games even provided it as an option for those who prefer the look.

Fun fact: The PowerVR line would eventually go on to power early iPhones!

The Memory

Dreamcast RAM modules.

The Dreamcast had far more memory than its predecessors as well. For the main computational functions, it had 16MB of SDRAM running at 800MB/s. The GPU used the same type of SDRAM but had 8MB all to itself. Meanwhile, the sound was given 2MB of SDRAM. This meant that the Dreamcast had a total of 26MB of RAM but it’s important to note that this RAM could not be shared between devices as it is in many modern devices.

The Aural Experience

The Yamaha Super Intelligent Sound Processor.

As with the Sega consoles before it, the Dreamcast did not have skimpy sound hardware. Provided by Yamaha, the Super Intelligent Sound Processor was capable of XG Midi, DSP for a variety of musical effects, and 3D environmental audio. It boasted a whopping 64 audio channels with audio compression and voice recognition capabilities. Interestingly, this sound processor actually includes two compute units: the AICA processor (running at 67MHz) and an ARM7 CPU core (running at 45MHz).

Despite popular belief, Sega wasn’t oblivious to the benefits of the DVD format when it was developing the Dreamcast. The problem was that DVD was a very expensive format in 1998 and Sega was bleeding cash. They needed a different solution and in that search, they created the GD-ROM disc. Standing for Gigabyte Disc, it is pretty much exactly that. A disc that holds 1 gigabyte of data rather than 700 megabytes (the average size of the typical CD-ROM). These discs were wholly unique to Sega’s line of hardware at the time and had a distinct look to their underside. There is a smaller ring and a larger ring. The smaller of the two only holds about 35MB (or 4 minutes) of data. This area typically holds the audio track telling the user that the disc is for use in a Sega Dreamcast. The larger of the two rings is 1GB in terms of capacity and this is where the game data sits.

Other Fun Facts:

The Dreamcast also featured a few other neat features. In addition to the stock Sega Katana OS (Operating System), the Dreamcast could also run content built for Windows CE. A popular misconception, however, is that the Dreamcast, itself, is running Windows CE but this isn’t quite the case. Game developers can choose to build their games around the Windows CE environment and when the game is pressed to disc, Windows CE is loaded onto the disc. What this means is that Windows CE isn’t loaded onto the Dreamcast until a Windows CE-powered game is loaded into the system. The purpose of this feature was to help developers port their PC titles to the Dreamcast more easily since Windows CE had support for Direct X 6.0, Direct3D, and OpenGL.

MIL-CD logo

Sega also created a proprietary disc format for enhancing music CDs: the MIL-CD. This disc format was to be used for adding interactive features to music discs. It was seldom used, however, and was never widely adopted by the industry. Today it serves as a gateway for independent developers to bring their games to the Dreamcast.

The Sega Dreamcast was a powerhouse console in it’s day. A powerful CPU, GPU, Sound Processor, and plenty of RAM. These things all made it a one-of-a-kind experience. One facet of the console that has been largely lost to time is it’s shift to a PC-like design. The Dreamcast was the first of its kind and most consoles that would follow it, also followed its PC-like nature.

I hope you enjoyed this technical breakdown of the Dreamcast hardware. If you want to know more, I gathered a majority of this information from SegaRetro.org. They have some really in-depth analysis of everything inside the Dreamcast. It’s definitely worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing.

If you noticed any inaccuracies, please let me know so that I can correct it. Simply click here and tell me what you found to be inaccurate.