The Atari Jaguar That Should Have Been


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 (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.


  1. Jock Murphy says:

    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).

    • vpoko says:

      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.

      • six677 says:

        Both look fairly complex. Got a few co-processors in the PS2 too, not as many though.

      • asdf says:

        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.

      • Gravis says:

        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.

      • Jock Murphy says:

        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 (

        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 JagDuo was supposed to integrate the console and CD drive in this fashion. Didn’t make it past a mockup, though.

  3. Grayda says:

    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?

  4. Jeremy Cook says:

    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.

  5. Paul Kastner says:

    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

  6. Z80a says:

    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.

    • 10p6 says:

      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.

      • Z80a says:

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

      • Yarr says:

        And if my aunt had wheels, she’d be a wagon.

        • Greenaum says:

          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.

          • vpoko says:

            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.

  7. Hack Man says:

  8. phuzz says:

    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.

  9. Aaron says:

    All I know is, this hack is pretty nifty. And I sold my Jaguar system about 8 years ago (I had the cd accessory, plus about 20 games, the Catbox and a couple of controllers) on Ebay. I got $1700.00 for it all, which floored me. So I guess it all turned out well.

  10. vonskippy says:

    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.

    • 10p6 says:

      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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