Following hot on the heels of the GC Loader, Terraonion's MODE – which stands for Multi Optical Disc Emulator, in case you were wondering – looks set to shake things up for Sega collectors as it allows you to supplant the optical drive on either your Saturn or Dreamcast and replace it with solid-state storage, such as Micro SD cards or a more roomy SSD. Yes, that's right Nintendo fans – we're going off the beaten track again to tell you about something that isn't Nintendo-related, but should be interesting to retro fans all the same.
Terraonion is a name that will be instantly familiar to retro enthusiasts, of course; the company created the excellent Super SD System 3 for the PC Engine, Neo SD flash cart for the Neo Geo AES and the Mega SD for the Mega Drive – the first device of its kind to emulate the Mega CD (in FPGA form) on an original Mega Drive / Genesis console. This talented outfit has a clear knack for creating unique retro hardware, and the MODE is its latest product.
Like the GC Loader, the MODE effectively replaces the optical disc drive of your Saturn or Dreamcast console, and as such is quite an invasive mod to fit. Installing it on a Dreamcast is relatively straightforward (although the large number of console hardware revisions out there means that it's easier to fit to some Dreamcasts than others, due to the internal layout), but the process of fitting it to a Saturn is a little more complex. Right off the bat, it's worth stressing that this isn't a simple hack which suddenly unlocks the wonderful world of disc images; while no soldering is required, you'll need to be confident about cracking open your beloved console in order to fit the MODE.
MODE gives you a welcome amount of choice when it comes to storage media, but we opted for a Samsung-made SSD which slots into the top of the board and takes up most of the space on its upper side. Once installed, games are loaded directly from this drive via the MODE's custom UI, which also allows you to tinker with various settings (you can force games to run in VGA mode, for example). In a neat touch, a constantly-evolving, community-driven cover database is available which can be downloaded to the drive and thereby give you cover artwork and descriptions relating to each title.
As is the case with all Terraonion products, the firmware for the MODE is constantly being updated to add new features and eradicate bugs – it's worth noting that while performance with the MODE was exemplary during our review period, some users have detected issued with certain console models and games, and these are being addressed by the team at Terraonion as and when they become known.
One of the key selling points of the MODE is the fact that it works with both the Saturn and the Dreamcast; you can even have games for both consoles sitting on the same SSD and they will only be visible when the MODE is connected to the correct console. The fact that it supports both systems will be a real boon for hardcore fans, but it does also mean that you'll need to get pretty comfortable with opening up each system and swapping it over – unless, of course, you're flush enough to afford two of these things.
This process is extremely fiddly and might put off a lot of potential customers; it's also not without its risks, as we were clumsy enough to actually snap the power switch on our Dreamcast during the install process, and had to repair it with superglue. Lest we forget, these systems were never really intended to be opened by the end-user, and their internal parts are quite fragile.
The cost is another potential sticking point; at over 180 Euros (around £162 / $212) this is hardly an impulse purchase, but given that it's a fairly unique piece of hardware with FPGA components and custom-made firmware, such a high cost is unavoidable at present – if it sells well, then we could potentially see the price come down, but it remains a hardcore enthusiast proposition at present.
Then, of course, there's the small issue of how you actually obtain the games to play on the MODE. We'd strongly advise that you use a PC and specialised software to rip the data from discs in your own personal collection, but it would be rather naive to assume that people won't be visiting shady sites online to acquire titles for this device. In that regard, MODE – just like other devices, such as the GC Loader, Everdrive carts and Mega SD – could be seen as a way of promoting piracy, but on the other hand, they're going to be a godsend to serious collectors who want all of their games in one place and don't want to risk damaging their valuable discs.
Despite the legal shadiness of the whole situation, MODE is also a means of giving players access to titles which are no longer available in any form other than their original release; games like Border Down, Panzer Dragoon Saga and Shining Force III have never been re-released since their original physical publication, and MODE gives people a chance to experience them for the first time without having to pay hundreds of dollars on the secondary market (which doesn't benefit the original publisher). On top of this, the MODE is also a means of restoring Saturn and Dreamcast consoles with faulty drives; optical drives are notoriously unreliable and after 25 years, there will be more than a few Saturns out there which would otherwise be doomed to the scrapheap were it not for devices like the MODE.
The arrival of ODEs on the market is certainly good news for those who wish to return to their CD and DVD-based consoles over the decades to come, but it's worth noting they're not the only option; the forthcoming Polymega supports systems like the Saturn and PlayStation and even allows you to run games from original media, while modchips like the Phantom can not only open up your system to playing CDRs, but can also make it totally region-free. If you're looking for a MODE alternative, at the more costly end, there's the Satiator cartridge which will plug into the Saturn's rear expansion port and therefore requires no internal modification, while Fenrir and Rhea are both internal ODEs which, despite being cheaper than MODE, will only work on Saturn consoles and don't come with Dreamcast support. Likewise, GDemu – an ODE for the Dreamcast – doesn't work with Saturn. As we've already stated, that dual-console support really is the MODE's 'ace in the hole'.
Is the MODE right for you? That really depends on what you want from your retro system. If you're all about original media and keeping things as 'stock' as possible, then the prospect of popping open your console to install the board and then dumping all of your games to an SSD will probably fill you with existential dread, but those wanting a more streamlined experience with these ageing systems will find the MODE to be a worthwhile investment – although, as ever, it's worth noting that it's not going to be to everyone's taste (or their budget, for that matter).
This article was originally published by nintendolife.com on Wed 26th August, 2020.
What are the benefits to this over the GDemu? Is it just that the latter just uses an SD Card, whilst with MODE you can connect a hard drive? Or does the GDemu require soldering skills?
(Sorry for the noob question, I don't have either)
@Reprise I've never used the GDemu but MODE is unique in that it has the cover database and it can be used on both Saturn and DC, whereas GDemu only supports DC.
@Reprise Didn't know about the GDemu, looking that up right now. I love having my hold systems but having a way to make it easier to play would be great. But I would also need $212 to burn. Also would be fun to try saturn games, its one of the few consoles I have never played.
Edit* Also would be quite nice cause my dreamcast will got to the boot menu randomly as if i opened the disc loader, even when it's closed.
Looks like a good piece of hardware. I will consider it when I will upgrade my nexc Dreamcast.
Super interesting article!! Keep ‘em coming!!
@Zeropulse @Damo Thanks both for the replies. I have both a Saturn and Dreamcast, so at some point down the road I hope to pick up something like this. I do have three working Dreamcasts lying around, but you never know when all those disc drives will begin to break (I already had my launch model die on me just over a decade ago).
It seems like a bit of a pain swapping this out of the Dreamcast and Saturn and switching between them though. I'd probably rather just have two and have them fitted in seperate consoles with seperate hard drives. But yeah, that would be pricey... Fortunately more of these alternatives are turning up and they are slowly getting cheaper. A GDemu isn't too expensive these days, for example.
It’s a really good innovation for the niche that will be interested. I love that stuff like this gets made.
This looks like a great solution to disc rot and faulty drives (even if a bit expensive), and I hope that every console with disc media could get this kind of mod.
Incoming anti-piracy comments about a two decade old console. Brace yourselves.
3 Dreamcast's all with faulty optical drives (I swapped each drive in my customised Blue Dreamcast until they all unfortunately failed), so this could potentially revive one. I unfortunately sold off 80% of my Dreamcast collection tho, so ripping what I have left might not actually be worth the steep price. At least it is an option.
I run a gdemu in my Dreamcast with a vga hdmi. I’ve also had the internal battery replaced and the controller port resistor replaced as this blows when controllers and swapped in and out under current. It’s the best solution for a console with faulty optical drive and those other issues. Costs about £70 to overhaul.
Trying to find the tendious link to Nintendo.....
@71nk0 No need for that comment on this article as it's Sega.
Well, it' sounds good, but I'll probably leave my original consoles be and wait for a Mini Dreamcast to hit the shelves.
I'd love to get something like this or the Polymega for my Saturn and Dreamcast collections. One day.
@FargusPelagius GDEmu is only 35 bucks on AliExpress.
Nintendo sites have gone so far downhill, it's embarrassing. Just seeing these irrelevant articles on the front page is annoying. Could you at least add a "Strictly Nintendo" tab to the site's Topic list? I just want to see stuff that covers everything about Nintendo (including Switch, 3DS, eShop, and games for Nintendo systems) without unimportant stuff like Witcher and Castlevania shows on Netflix, Sonic movies, non-Nintendo hardware? There doesn't seem to be anywhere to go because other Nintendo sites are also doing this crap, and I wouldn't be surprised if they got the inspiration from you.
@Damo "Yes, that's right Nintendo fans – we're going off the beaten track again to tell you about something that isn't Nintendo-related, but should be interesting to retro fans all the same."
Man, the fact that you even have to include such a sentence in an article. Kinda makes me sad to some extent...
@FargusPelagius Most of those titles that you've sold and/or lost are now only a download away. There's tons of Dreamcast repositories, with either 1:1 rips or downscaled rips, which will fit on a normal CD, so all it takes is a bit of Googling. Unless of course you're a purist and are strictly against such practices. But it is an option, nonetheless.
@DrDaisy Wow, you must be so much fun at parties...
All kidding aside, nobody is forcing you to read any of it, either on here or on any other web site, so why get so worked up about it?
As for the titles mentioned: seeing as the Witcher and Castlevania are partially related to Nintendo no matter which way you look at it, it's really not all THAT strange that any other stuff related to these titles and others is also mentioned on here as a bit of additional information, that might (and does) interest quite a few of us.
So I read this whole thing, but no score? Reads like a 7/10?
As we all know the most important part of a review is the number at the end. 😁
@Reprise I think the biggest benefit is that you can actually by one. Since they stubbornly refuse to do any sort of waiting list/pre-order/backorder, actually getting an order in for a GDemu. I finally did get one, and overall I am very happy, but this seems easier to come by and has some features GDemu lacks.
@floxi they are Chinese clone Gdemu’s which cannot be updated using official firmware and have potential damaging affects to your Dreamcast.
Best to get the genuine one........if you can.
@X68000 Really? I've never heard of any of the clone devices damaging Dreamcasts. Do you have a source on that? You can't update them, but games compatibility is already at 100%
I won’t bother because I’m no good with that stuff, I mean I only found out a few months ago that I couldn’t save on my Sega Saturn because the battery was dead, who knew the Saturn’s saves depended on a coin battery
@X68000 The clones are almost literally identical to the original GDEMU. The only differences are a tiny crystal that doesn't affect anything, and that they can't be updated to a newer firmware. Not that you'd need to, because everything already works. Edit: oh, looks like @Reprise already said this.
@Damo cover Database not working for me if you get MODE please let me know if that works for you
I purchased the MODE for my Dreamcast and am very satisfied. It's nice to know if my Saturn drive ever give up the ghost, I can utilize it there as well. I've also tried the GDemu which I am not a fan of at all. Spent hours finding software to format my SD Card to FAT32, used the GDmenu software to load games and, somehow, an incorrect game title comes up for Hydro Thunder... It also takes over 2 full minutes to boot the GDmenu each time I boot or reset... The MODE, on the other hand, is truly plug and play. You don't have to worry about drive format or funky file structure on the drive. Just drag and drop each game in its own folder and you're ready to go. Near instant boot times and reset to menu is just as fast. The cover art and synopsis option is also a killer addition.
So is this better than the Polymega in terms of Sega Saturn compatibility in HD?
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