Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Neo Geo CD

Neo Geo CD 

The Neo Geo was the Cadillac of video game systems in the 16-bit era. Released in 1990, it was technically vastly superior to competitors such as the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo. The Neo Geo let you play the same exact games that SNK was putting in arcades. However, this came with a price. The system debuted at $649, far above the more popular 16-bit systems of the time and games cost $200 and up because of the relative vast amounts of ROM they required.

To address these issues, at least in part, SNK developed the Neo Geo CD which would be released in North America in 1996. Instead of expensive cartridges it used CDs which allowed the games to be somewhat more reasonably priced at $49-$79 and pretty much all the same games were available. The system itself was priced at $399.

While the Neo Geo CD did help reduce prices significantly, it just wouldn't be enough for the system to become a major competitor in the market place. It would sell reasonably well and make SNK a profit but it would remain a niche system. By the time it was released, the PlayStation and Saturn were already out and were cheaper. In addition, while the Neo Geo was still a 2D force to be reckoned with, it had no real 3D capabilities putting it at a severe disadvantage.

There were three variations of the Neo Geo CD. The first was a front-load system released only in Japan. The second was a top-load system released world-wide. The final version is definitely the one you want, as it was the only one with a 2x CD-ROM. The others were 1X and load times were abysmal. The final version (the CDZ) was only released in Japan but it is not region locked so it was relatively popular as an import.

All of the Neo Geo systems had the same basic hardware and capabilities including:
  • CPU: Motorola 68000 (or clone) @ 12 MHz
  • Coprocessor: Zilog Z80 @ 4MHz
  • Colors: 4,096/64,536 on screen
  • Max Sprites: 384

The biggest difference between the cartridge-based original and the CD versions, besides the format, is the amount of RAM. The original Neo Geo only had 284 KB total but the CD version had 7 MB since CDs were so much slower and more data needed to be accessible in RAM.

This was definitely an impressive system in its day but by the time a more affordable version was released, it was too late to become a truly popular system. However, I don't believe this was ever SNKs intent. They were content with providing arcade games to home users for those willing and able to pay the price.

The preview from above is from the July 1994 issue of EGM^2 and features the original front-load model.

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