Building The Ultimate Sega Saturn 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Released at the close of 1994 in Japan, Sega's 32-bit Saturn promised so much; the company had conquered 3D in the arcades, and this was the system that would bring that dominance to the home.

Unfortunately for Sega, Sony had other ideas, and its PlayStation console would utterly eclipse all rivals, selling an astonishing 102.49 million units globally; Saturn had to make do with 9.26 million, less than 10 percent of PS1's total.

That's enough for many armchair historians to brand Saturn an abject failure, but as those of us old enough to have lived through this period are aware, sales figures don't tell the whole story. Saturn was a 2D powerhouse and home to some of the finest arcade ports of the era, while its 3D muscle – which was admittedly put in the shade somewhat by Sony's console – contributed AAA titles like Virtua Fighter 2, Panzer Dragoon Saga, SEGA Rally and many, many more.

But this guide isn't concerned with listing Saturn's many, many positive points (we have a list of the best Saturn games for that); it's more concerned with how to bring your trusty console up to modern standards via a range of upgrades and accessories.

AV Upgrades

RetroTINK 5X Pro Upscaler

Building The Ultimate Sega Saturn 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Upscalers like the RetroTINK 5X Pro allow you to take Saturn's standard definition analogue signal and turn it into something your modern-day flatscreen TV can use more effectively. This particular model will accept Saturn's crisp RGB SCART signal and transform it into pin-sharp 1080p – you can even add scanlines for additional authenticity.

While it's not cheap, the RetroTINK 5X Pro is a truly essential part of your Saturn armoury – and, if you're looking for something even more special (and expensive), you can check out the RetroTINK 4K.

It's also worth noting that the RetroTINK 5X Pro can be used with other retro systems, so while it seems like a big investment, all of your retro hardware will benefit.

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RAD2X HDMI cable

Building The Ultimate Sega Saturn 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

If you don't fancy spending a large amount of cash on an upscaler like the RetroTINK 5X Pro, you can instead invest in a RAD2X HDMI cable, which is built on RetroTINK tech.

While it doesn't quite match a full-blown upscaler when it comes to image quality, it's still a significant improvement on feeding the raw RGB SCART image into your modern-day TV – most recent televisions do an awful job of upscaling standard definition content. It's also a good option if you have a TV which doesn't have a SCART socket.

Optical Drive Emulator

Building The Ultimate Sega Saturn 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

Like many consoles from the '90s, Saturn uses CD-ROM as its software delivery system. Many Saturn games are now selling for several times more than they cost back in the day, and getting all of the platform's best titles will cost you an arm and a leg.

One option to get around this is to purchase a boot cartridge loaded with Pseudo Saturn Kai, a homebrew 'softmod' which allows you to run copied discs on your console (amongst other nifty tricks). However, a more elegant (not to mention expensive) solution is to invest in an Optical Drive Emulator, or ODE for short. This effectively replaces your CD-ROM drive and allows you to play Saturn games from an SD card.

There are multiple ODE options for Saturn, including the Terraonion MODE (which can also be installed on Dreamcast), Fenrir and Satiator. In the case of the first two examples, the console's CD drive is removed, which means you won't be able to play original discs anymore – something to keep in mind if you already have a sizeable collection of games.

Satiator, our preferred option, slots into the console's Video CD card port, meaning the CD drive can remain in place. It's more expensive, though.

Action Replay 4M Auto Plus

Building The Ultimate Sega Saturn 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The Saturn's cartridge slot was used for the save data memory cart and the Japan-only RAM expansion carts, which allowed for ports like Metal Slug, X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Street Fighter Zero 3.

It also allows for the Action Replay 4M Auto Plus, which not only allows you to use cheat codes in games for things like infinite lives and health, but it also replaces the performance of the official memory cartridge, 1MB RAM cart and 4MB RAM cart.

You can also use the cart to boot games from other regions, which is handy if you want to play Japanese imports on your Western console.

You can also use it to run the softmod Pseudo Saturn Kai on your console.

FRAM Internal Save Memory Upgrade

Unlike the Sony PlayStation, which relies solely on memory cards for save data, Saturn has internal SRAM for saves (as well as an optional cartridge). Most people use the console's internal memory for save data as it's more convenient, but there's one big problem – the battery lasts for a couple of years before dying, at which point your save data is lost, and the console constantly prompts you to input the time and date.

Replacing the battery each time it fails isn't expensive – CR2032 batteries are commonplace, even today – but it can become annoying, especially if you happen to put your console into storage for a while and forget to replace the battery.

That's where the Sega Saturn FRAM Internal Save Memory Upgrade Mod comes in – it includes a FRAM chip which offers a whopping 45 years of life. Sadly, it doesn't solve the issue of the console's real-time clock, so you'll still need to input the time and date every time you boot up the machine, but we can live with that.


Building The Ultimate Sega Saturn 1
Image: Damien McFerran / Time Extension

The Saturn's controller is legendary – it really is one of the best ever made (the Japanese version, at least). However, like any pad, it's not going to last forever, and many Saturn fans will be looking for suitable replacements.

Thankfully, Retro-Bit has your back – it has produced several officially licenced Saturn controllers, including wired, Bluetooth and 2.4G options.

Its latest pad, the 2.4GHz Wireless Pro Controller, even has analogue sticks, so it can be used with games that support the console's 3D Controller.

Replacement PSU

As with any console that's 30 years old, the Saturn's internal power supply is effectively functioning beyond its operational lifespan; Sega simply didn't design this machine to still be in use today. Should the PSU fail, then it could potentially damage the console – as well as its surroundings.

You can see, then, why upgrading the system's PSU is a key consideration for any serious Saturn owner. We recommend the PicoPSU, which replaces the Saturn's existing power unit with a modern power supply.

This extends the lifespan of the console, and also reduces the internal temperature of the machine. As another bonus, it comes with a modern 12v external switching power supply – so you can use your console anywhere in the world without worrying about buying a voltage converter.

This is quite an extreme mod, so unless you're confident carrying out this kind of work, you should find a store or modder who offers installations.