Sega returns to the hardware market with laptop launch

February 12, 2013 | 11:26

Tags: #consoles #dreamcast #laptop #mega-cd #mega-drive #saturn #sega-saturn

Companies: #japan #nintendo #sega

Sega is getting back into the hardware business, but not in the way you might expect: the company is launching a range of laptops designed to evoke familiarity from gamers of a certain age.

Sega was once one of the biggest names in console gaming: its move from slot machines to home gaming started with the SG-1000 in 1983, but it wasn't until it launched the Master System in 1986 that the company would become a household name. Its success would really skyrocket with the launch of the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive in 1988 - Genesis in the US - and its iconic Sonic the Hedgehog mascot, launched in 1991.

The company would spend years and multiple console generations attempting to outdo rival Nintendo: the Master System won significant ground over the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Europe but wasn't so lucky in North America, a pattern that would continue when the Mega Drive was launched to take on the Super NES (SNES.) The 16-bit era would be Sega's golden age, with the Mega Drive selling an estimated 40 million units world-wide - somewhat below the 49 million of Nintendo's rival SNES.

A move to 32-bit gaming didn't go quite so smoothly for the company, however. The Sega Saturn moved from cartridge-based games to CD-ROMs and offered significantly more capability than the Mega Drive and its CD add-on the Mega CD - but its use of two Hitachi SH-2 processors rather than a single CPU made it difficult to program, leaving third-party developers struggling to make the most of the device's capabilities. First-party games would show off the Saturn to good effect, but it was far from a commercial success with under 10 million units believed to have been sold world-wide.

Sega's real trouble started a year after the Saturn's launch when Nintendo launched the Nintendo 64, a cartridge-based system billed as the world's first 64-bit console - the company having overlooked the Atari Jaguar, released three years earlier to commercial apathy. The N64 proved significantly easier to develop for, and would go on to eclipse the Saturn with an estimated 33 million units sold worldwide. Sega was further pressured by the success of Sony's first mainstream games console the PlayStation, which would come to dominate the 32-bit gaming market with over 100 million units being sold.

The answer, Sega decided, was the Dreamcast. Based on a powerful Hitachi SH4 RISC processor running at 200MHz and running a modified version of Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, the Dreamcast allowed developers access to the familiar DirectX programming libraries - a move that made the Dreamcast significantly easier to program for than the Saturn. The Dreamcast would be the console that put Imagination Technologies on the map: the company's PowerVR2 CLX2 graphics processor was chosen for the system, and the profits from the deal helped the company develop the low-power graphics technology that makes it a popular choice for smartphone and tablet devices today.

For Sega, however, the Dreamcast marked the end of an era. Selling just over 10 million units, the Dreamcast would win a band of loyal fans but fail to gain the market acceptance needed. It would be the last console Sega ever made, with the company relegated to producing games for rival consoles - including Nintendo's Wii and Wii U - while continuing to run its coin-operated arcade business.

The reason for the history lesson: if any of the above rang a bell, Sega's latest venture into the hardware market may be of interest. Sega News reports that the company has partnered with Japanese PC retailer Enterbrain to launch the Sega Note PCs, a range of laptops themed around the company's various historical console efforts. Each of the Mega Drive, Sega Saturn and Dreamcast Note PCs feature a cover designed to replicate the appearance of their console namesakes, while a brushed-aluminium blue version provides a more understated look for the generic Sega fan.

The entry-level model packs an Intel Pentium 2020M chip with a 500GB hard drive and 4GB of RAM, with the next model upping the stakes to an Intel Core i3-3120M processor, 500GB hard drive and 8GB of RAM, while also replacing the lower model's DVD drive with a Blu-ray reader. The near-top version, meanwhile, boasts a Core i7-3630QM chip with 8GB of RAM and a 120GB SSD, while the top-end model matches those specifications but replaces the Blu-ray reader with a writer. Each comes with a Full HD 15.6" display, and a choice from the aforementioned four lid finishes - except for the peak model, which comes with all four lid types for easy swapping and changing depending on mood.

There's another bit of bad news along the way, too: thus far, there is no indication that Sega is planning an international launch for the laptops. If you're planning a trip to Japan any time soon, pricing starts at ¥99,750 and rises to ¥194,250 (around £680 to £1,325 excluding taxes.)

More details are available on the official site.
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