The Atari Jaguar That Should Have Been

jag

Released in 1993, the Atari Jaguar suffered from a number of problems – it was difficult to program, had hardware idiosyncrasies, and with the CD drive was vastly overpriced compared to the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation released one year later. Nevertheless, the Jaguar still has a rabid fanbase that counts [10p6] among them, and he’s created what Atari should have released 20 years ago.

In a few forum threads at jaguarsector (login required) and nexgam.de (no login, German), [10p6] goes over his changes to the classic Jaguar + CD combo. He’s stuffed everything inside a new case, cutting down on the amount of plastic from the old enclosure. A proper integrated power supply has been added, replacing the two power supplies used in the original. It’s also overclocked to 32 MHz, compared to the 26 MHz of the stock unit, making this a very powerful system that could have easily competed with the Saturn and Playstation.

[10p6] has an amazing piece of hardware on his hands here, and should he ever want to make a few molds of his new Jaguar, he could put together some sort of kit to replicate this build. He’s still working on finding a model maker and perfecting his case design, but a new, improved version of the Jaguar is something we’d love to see in a limited production.

31 thoughts on “The Atari Jaguar That Should Have Been

  1. Very cool, mind you the Jaguar was notoriously difficult to program. The 68K was there for game logic, and then you had a number of co-processors/DSPs that could only hold about 4K). I am going into the depths of my memory, but as I recall Jaguar didn’t do the amiga trick of putting the coprocessors out of phase with the main CPU. That way each could access the same RAM without interfering with one another.

    The comparison to the Sega Saturn is apt, what with its dual SH-2 CPUs and two graphic chips, but was simpler compared to the Jaguar. Only Sony made a system that was harder to develop for (I am looking at you PS2).

    I really wanted the Jaguar to succeed when it came out, but once I got to peek under the hood I really wanted no part of it. Well and then there was that very uncomfortable controller.

    None of this should be taken to take anything away from the brilliance of that hack. Its impressive, and I occasionally long to play the Jaguar AvP again (perhaps its best game).

    1. Do you mean PS2 or the PS3? I thought it was the PS3’s Cell processor that was said to be hard to program for. I’ve never tried programming for either it or the PS2, so I couldn’t say first-hand.

      1. The PS2 was kind of a prototype for the PS3 architecture. It had two vector coprocessors, one (with 8K RAM) tightly tied to the CPU and the other (with 16K) to the graphics chip. Taking advantage of the VUs was essential for performance. Sony published a lot of resources on optimizing on the PS2, some of it should hopefully still be available from their R&D websites.

      2. the Cell BE isnt hard to write code for, it’s basically multithreaded programming that has insanely fast communications between threads. taking complete advantage of this trait is the difficult part. manycore processors will return to consoles in time.

      3. The PS3 is tricky (from what I understand, I never got my hands on one) but it is basically a highly parallel system (with some interesting limits). It doesn’t reach peak efficiency unless you divide your code up into lots of threads.

        The PS2’s “Emotion Engine” was a complex VILW system, except that that instruction word didn’t just carry the CPU’s instructions, but the coprocessors as well in a very complicated dance (http://archive.arstechnica.com/reviews/1q00/playstation2/m-ee-5.html).

        I never got down to the assembly level on the Emotion Engine, but I knew people who did and it was very difficult to effectively saturate the instruction word. Eventually people did, God of War and Shadow of the Colossus being examples of pushing that hardware right up to its theoretical edge.

  2. The Angry Video Game Nerd would be interested to hear about this, given his overwhelmingly positive review of the Jag (where he took a “shit” in the top of the unit because he hated it so much)

    Where did you learn to fly? Where did you learn to fly? Where did you learn to fly?

    1. He did accurately point out that the system resembles a toilet when it has a cart inserted.

      At least this hack gets around THAT.

  3. I just remember this along with the Neo Geo being systems that looked so cool, advanced, and unaffordable at the time. Of the obsolete systems (that I didn’t have the money for/was too cheap to buy) I think I would have liked a Sega Dreamcast the best.

  4. When Kay-Bee toys was still around they bought out Atari’s stock of Jaguar stuff. I remember my mom picking up a few for $39.99. Designed by Atari and built by IBM these things were indestructible. Most games sucked and were 16-bit ports but there were a few good ones. Wolfenstein 3D, AvP, and Doom were better than even PC versions

  5. I don’t think a mild overclock can make the jag be fast enough to compete with the playstation like that, as the T&L work its still too heavy to tom handle it as fast as the PS1 GTE, and well it still looks quite fill rate limited.

    1. When I spoke about speed, I also mentioned about other parts not mentioned here. They would have included: Having a 68020 or 68030 built on the DSP die at full clock instead of the Jags separate 68000 at half clock. I would have also given the Jag an additional 1MB video ram for the GPU / Blitter / Object processor, a separate 512kb for the DSP, 128KB CD buffer and added between 64 to 256KB frame buffer. I would have also not released the Jag until all bugs were fixed, and added direct CD audio playback (the Jag CD has to run audio through the DSP.) These changes with a good development system would have given it the chance to compete with the Saturn and Playstation, and allowed it to be sold for around $299.

      1. That would do it indeed.
        The jaguar II “specs” kinda push it on the right direction, specially with the C compiler for the tom.

        1. Yup. The Jag was at least half a generation behind, and designed before the 3D “fad” came along.

          The design didn’t look great, half a dozen processors with a tiny bit of RAM each. I’d imagine programming it properly would be something like scheduling Japanese subway trains. Most people didn’t bother though, and just lazily ported Amiga / Megadrive stuff to it’s 68000 and ignored all the custom stuff.

          MHz for MHz, you can’t really compare.

          The Saturn had no 3D hardware, but could blit so many stretched sprites at the screen, as distorted squares you could just call them polygons. Square polygons, which pissed off programmers because all the tools and mathematical stuff was written for triangles.

          Time was, FPSes were called “Doom clones”, and nobody expected the entirety of gaming to switch to 3D. This was just about the launch of Saturn / Playstation.
          It was probably Mario 64 that invented the 3D platformer, which Sony made a few blocky attempts at after.

          1. Sony even tried before Mario 64 was released. I remember the almost-unplayable Jumping Flash, which came out in 95. Mario 64 did show the genre to be plausible.

      2. There’s a whole load of common-sense changes that I (indeed, on the whole, “we”) would make to Atari and in fact Commodore hardware of the day if I had a time machine and a magic pencil… seems rather obvious in hindsight when we see what the eventual “winners” were doing, but that level of insight didn’t seem so common at the time, even amongst the devs themselves (though possibly some commentators… and certainly, in the end, the consumers!)

        Extra colour registers and screen modes in the STe and a less hilariously broken extra-palette-register arrangement (bit more enticement to actually use its extra abilities and make it a bit more of an Amiga rival), including official overscan and interlace abilities, and intermediate width / slightly wider pixels with 8 and 32 (64?) colours… maybe a switchable 8 / 10Mhz 68010 even, all four joyports able to work with digital, analogue or mouse, an enhanced cart slot, non-crippled SCSI and a full three MIDI ports.

        Double speed RAM and either a an ISA or Zorro spec slot alongside the VME in the Mega STe, plus all the above, and maybe support for colour multisync monitors including the TT one (thus therefore able to use colour VGA for all modes with a passive adaptor) thanks to the higher possible shifter speed.

        Faster 030 and a full width bus in the Falcon (which would also improve the graphics, disc, and even audio capabilities; full 24 bit colour, and 16 bit in high rez, for starters) instead of saving that radical upgrade for the 040 – IE doing it halfway properly instead of basing it off a tweaked STe motherboard, so it didn’t flop hideously, plus a “Mega” type released immediately with no fear of competing with the already-some-years-old TT that it should, by rights, have been partly based off anyway.

        And, dear lord, affordable consoles based off the currently most up to date home/office machines but without anything like the same level of cost… it may not have gone so well with the 5200 and XEGS, or even the Amiga CDs, but that was due to them being mishandled much like the 7800 (which, really, once it had been delayed so long, shouldn’t have been re-released at all, ditched instead for an ST based machine with both strains enhanced by whatever relevant silicon could be salvaged from the project). Properly administered it would have been worldbeating in 85 (or 89… etc)… but of course this also involves arranging a convenient plane crash with several key members of Atari’s then middle and upper management on board…

        A600 and A1200 actually made with the originally intended chipsets (instead of the near pointless ECS and hobbled AGA) and without some of the stranger architectural choices, ditto all the above really. Certainly, not allowing the 14MHz ‘020 anywhere near the latter, even with the benefit of a 32 bit bus, and fitting the damn things with SIMM slots…

        Problem is, like with the Jag, it’s fun to play all this what-if stuff, but other than things like overclocking or swapping out ROMs or some pin-compatible chips it would require some quite significant architectural changes, and a whole lot of re-engineering… which costs time and money, and a lot of hitting your head against the brick wall of management. And the machine that came out the other end would be hard to recognise as the Jaguar overall, the same as the above ones wouldn’t entirely be STe, Falcon, A1200 any more :-)

        Still, some things do make you wonder. Like why they didn’t build it in the sleek and user friendly way you’ve rebuilt it in the first place.
        (Also, why 26MHz I wonder? It’s not a standard M68k speed grade, nor is 13… 24 or 25 might have made sense, or 20, or 32… or even 28.4, which although not standard would fit in with the NTSC-derived / memory speed suiting 7.1 / 14.2 of the Amigas…)

    1. http://www.imaginsystems.com/Graphics/HotRod%20DS-final.pdf

      Oh the shame. They took the Jaguar case molds and modified them to make housings for a dental camera. “CCD Technology: features Sony’s latest breakthrough chip technology” And Sony made parts inside? That’s just adding insult to the travesty.

      I wonder if this company designed their boards to mount to the original Jag parts mounts or if they did really drastic mods to the inside?

  6. As an Amiga owner back in the day, can I just point out the resemblance between the CD drive for a Jaguar, and a toilet.
    (15 year old flamewars are the best flamewars!)

    Amazing mod though.

    1. Least it didn’t require a caddy:

      And made for a machine that was continuing to be sold, not one that had just been made obsolete (A500).
      :oP

        1. True and a lot of people liked the caddies. It protected your hyper expensive CD based software. Back then you didn’t just us the CD for the install you ran the software off the CD. My god people CD where huge compared to hard drives back then.

  7. You can make enamel coated (metal plated, cast metal, etc etc) checker pieces (instead of the cheesy wooden/plastic ones) but it’s still checkers.

    Nice workmanship, but come on, that platform sucked during it’s heyday, let alone twenty years later.

    1. I disagree, the Jag had its problems and design flaws, but the Jag brought us games that had never been seen before on a home console. It also introduced many technologies that are still used today. Such as unified memory, CPU caches, 16 bit audio with DSP (not limited to set channels or playback design,) network gaming for more than one console. (Ultra Vortek even supports network gaming with voice chat.) If Atari back then had the same money as Nintendo, Sega and Sony, the Jaguar would have been a whole different story. Even then, the Jag is still being developed for today. How many consoles from the 90’s, or 2000’s network over 100 consoles together?

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