Red Ronin, The Cybernetic Samurai
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Cartridges VS. CD-ROM: Which is better?

The answer to this a-few-days-old question is that it depends upon what you want to do and why.

Absolutely NOTHING beats good old fashioned silicon-based microchip RAM. When you have a lot of calculations to do RAM is the most efficient means of moving memory around, so no matter if you are talking about millions of instructions per second or xx-nanosecond access times or polygons generated per second, you absolutely MUST have RAM SOMEWHERE.

With this in mind, most people will automatically assume that means cartridges win this battle because they can have RAM stored inside the casing. Don't be misled however, because that is not necessarily the case.

CD-ROMs have a distinct advantage over cartridges, because they have an immense storage capacity. CD-ROMs are also cheaper to mass-produce than cartridges because raw materials needed are nil in comparison. Though the information on a CD-ROM can be retrieved in a Random Access manner, that information is Read Only - so you cannot write new information to the disc.

Cartridges have a distinct advantage over CD-ROMs, since they can contain as many RAM chips (and other support chips) that are neccessary to produce the desired result. Calculations can take place inside the cartridge before being sent to the system unit, so less time is spent using the resources of the main CPU. However, no one has developed a microchip-set that can store in excess of 600 Megabytes RAM and still be more affordable than a CD-ROM to produce or sell at retail.

Nintendo has said publicly that they feel CD-ROM technology is inferior to that in their SNES. They have also said that 32-bit technology is inferior to that in the SNES. They have said that their Ultra-64 system would NOT use CD-ROM technology simply because it is so inferior. OK, guys you can put down the crack pipe now, I think you've had enough.

I read somewhere that the U-64 will use enclosed cartridge casings that have a disc inside. These are called Magneto Optic ROMs. They work based upon a principle that combines the features of magnetic storage media with that of a laser disc. Magneto optic drives allow for the speed and accuracy of CD-ROMs with the read/write capability of a hard disc. The problem is that it's not truly the same because you would be working with a WORM (Write/Overwrite Random-Access Media, I think).

You see, a floppy disc or hard drive can be completely re-formatted or erased, leaving all the storage capacity intact. With a WORM drive, any part that is "erased" is actually just marked as being unusable space on the disc, and can never be used again. If this is true, it is conceivable that a game on this format could eventually run out of storage space and cease to function if a lot of information is written to the disc when it is being used.

The last time I looked, those types of cartridges cost around $150 each for PCs. Maybe Nintendo has found a vendor that is willing to make a system-specific drive and cartridge design especially for them in a proprietary format, I don't know.

Perhaps those problems have been overcome while I wasn't looking - I haven't worked with that technology for over three years now (I used to work in an architects' office).

I know that any potential problems with a CD-based system can be overcome by simply enlarging the amount of memory on the system - that's easy to do on the Saturn because of the cartridge slot. So if RAM goes down in price, Sega should have no problem offering a memory upgrade.

Clatu Verata Nicto

Red Ronin, The Cybernetic Samurai

Another advantage of CD-ROM

Another possible advantage of CD-ROM deals with potential expandability. Suppose a game was designed where it could be enhanced at the owner's option by purchasing additional CD-ROMS, which could be read into memory and accessed by the original program.

Sports games would seem to benefit from this approach the most. One example would be NHL Allstar Hockey. The rosters are not up to date (they contain 95 stats, but 94 rosters). It would be a simple matter to produce a disk with the final 95 rosters/stats, which could be read in to memory and accessed by the game. (This could be done with the existing NHL Allstar program, it would not require any modifications to the existing disk). Or how about a stadiums disk or "Great Teams of the Past" disk for World Series Baseball?

I'm not sure if there are applications for other types of games. Maybe an expandable RPG-type of game. Remember the Alternate Reality series for computers back in the early 80's? That didn't go over too well, but I believe the Might and Magic series did something like this with their Xeen games.

Adding updated roster disks might cut down on game sales. Game players might just want to get the latest roster for a nominal price rather than spend $60 on the next version of the game (which would have the new rosters plus a couple of new features). Or it might work out better for the game company by creating a loyal base of fans. In any case, it is something that cartridges will never be able to do, and bears looking in to by the game designers.

The Swamp Rat

One other thing: where I work, WORM always stood for:

Write Once, Read Many or Write Once Recordable Media

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