Newly Formed Nonprofit Organization To Release Retro Sega Console CPU Chips As Open Source
As technology advances and gets even better, the older chips that were used to work with the technology we grew up with becomes discontinued. In the computer world, for example, you won’t see anyone running an 6502 microprocessor like the Apple II series ran, or the Intel 8088 that the original PCs ran. While many people are aware of how the computer CPU chips grow to the current market, sometimes people forget that retro video game consoles also have a similar situation, where the older processors and no longer created and supported. A newly founded nonprofit has announced plans to re-release a handful of Sega’s central processing units from their systems past, and we have the news of which consoles, and why they are doing it!
The relaunch of these classic Sega CPUs comes to us from a new organization called the Open Core Foundation, who is planning on designing older processors based on Hitachi branded chips, which were used to run computer operating systems and various gaming consoles in the 1990s. According to Shumpei Kawasaki, a member of the Open Core Foundation, these chips which were considered to be advanced for their time, could still be used today in electronics such as sensor devices and do-it-yourself projects. He also stated that their goal as an organization is to provide a low-cost and open-source CPU cores to the community involved in the development of such products.
The entire process will start getting made public in just a few months. This coming October, Open Core Foundation will release a design for its very first core called the “J1”, which will be based on Hitachi’s SH2 processor. This particular microprocessor was used in the Sega Saturn gaming console, which was released to Japanese gamers back in 1994. It was also used on the Sega 32X platform released as a Genesis add-on that same year. The new organization has reverse engineered the SH2 chip logic and design in their upcoming J1. The patents of Hitachi SH2, which was originally released in 1993, are due to expire later this year, Kawasaki states.
Coming up later on in 2016, this newly found organization plans to release the faster and original “J2” core, which will be based on Hitachi’s SH4 chip. This chip was used in Sega Dreamcast console, which was first released in Japan back in 1998. While this 32-bit based chip will run at speeds of approximately 1GHz, Kawasaki stated that the clock speed could be increased. It has been predicted that the J2 core will be able to run an early version of the Android operating system.
According to Kawasaki, the chips based on the cores could be manufactured by such contract manufacturers as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, however this could prove to be an expensive endeavor. Alternately, users may be able to download a simulated version of the logic from their website, and load it on a field-programmable gate array such as the Xilinx Spartan-6 FPGA LX9 MicroBoard. One organization taking advantage of this method is an energy measurement company called Smart Energy Instruments, who are using a simulation of the J1 core on a measurement board it provides to utility companies. President and chief operating officer of the company, Rich Larson, stated that they put it in such devices as their fault detection devices and power quality meters.
Open Core Foundation has the same objectives as other open source hardware projects including OpenSparc and OpenRISC, which also aim to provide similar open source chip architectures that can be replicated. Keeping such projects alive does become difficult due to the lack of software developer involvement. Because of this, they feel that the best way to help with that situation is to have developers be involved, especially with providing feedback with bugs in the newly created cores, as well as validate architecture.
As for the retro video game community, this could become an interesting situation for those fans of the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast systems. For one, it will provide us with a way of replacing the CPU’s of these (somewhat) short-lived systems, in the event they should fail. It could also give some people a chance to build their own homebrew consoles from scratch, giving them a personal feel based on features that are wanted by their creators. We will continue to monitor for future developments.