Memory is exactly that - the amount of data the computer can remember without exploding/throwing a tantrum or whatever. Memory can also be counted as storage space; in other words, as much information as possible is packed into the computer or method of storage. Got the basic idea? Good, we shall move on...
There are two basic types of memory - ROM (Read-Only Memory) and RAM (Random Access Memory). Cartridges and (at present) CDs use the former method. This means you are unable to write to these forms of storage (Super Mario World uses a battery back-up to save your position; as it is, as previously explained, not possible (well, without expensive equipment) to write to cartridge). RAM, on the other hand, in form of disks and tapes, not only can display information, but also store it as a bonus - this is why disks are so good for art-packages etc.. Computers also have built-in RAM to store information as a chunk (because the memory is stored into the computer itself, the disk doesn't have to be accessed all the time). Consoles don't need any built-in RAM (or very little at most) because cartridges can be accessed instantly; so as more information from the cartridge is transferred, the previous information is taken away and then accessed again when necessary.
With the Mega-CD and SNES CD,
there has to be a decent amount of memory inside the machines, otherwise the CD will have to be constantly accessed causing long delays. See the News pages.
Let's take a look in detail at each storage capacity...
Maximum Memory: Varies
Access Speed: Very slow
Cost: 50p to £3
Maximum Memory: 1 Megabyte (double-density) & 2 Megabyte (high-density)
Access Speed: Okay
Cost: 50p to £1
Maximum Memory: 2 Megabyte
Access Speed: Instant
Cost: Around £10 to develop
Maximum Memory: 650 Mbyte
Access Speed: Fast
Cost: Around £1
It is clear that CDs are the future for games. They're inexpensive to develop, and can store huge amounts of data (650 Megabytes worth - 650 Sonic 2 s onto
a compact disc in other words). They are also reasonably quick at accessing data.
They won't be used for your own work (such as art) though, because you can't save information to them. In this area, when hard-drives become cheaper (huge disks with large capacities and very quick access), they'll be used. Forget tapes though, they died off with the 8-bits.
If you walk into a computer store and ask for some blank floppy disks, you will be asked whether you would like Double-density (around 800K), or High-density disks (around 1.75 MB). All Amigas (apart from the A4000) use double density, as does the ST and some PCs. The Falcon, A4000, Acorn, Apple and most PCs use High-density floppies.
Memory is usually measured in Kilobytes (or 'K'), Megabytes and Megabits. 8 Megabits equal 1 Megabyte and 128 Kilobytes equal one Meagabit. Confused? Well, let's just say that Street Fighter 2 on the SNES contains 2 Megabytes or 16 Megabits or 2048 kilobytes. Nowadays, 1 Megabyte is usually the standard for games (with 1-Megabyte disks used on the Amiga and 1-Megabyte cartridges on the consoles), but to think 10 years ago, 16K (remember, 1024K is equal to 1 Megabyte) was regarded as an awful lot. Technology eh?
Thanks to CD, some time in the near future, you can expect to be playing games larger than the Empire State Building!?!
For both computers and consoles, a decent CPU is absolutely essential. If you take a look at a mountain rendering package like the Amiga's Vista and try rendering a mountain, you will see that the computer has to calculate complex mathematics to work out all the correct colour combinations and pixels - this is where the CPU comes in.
Calculation is controlled by the CPU, and the faster the CPU, the quicker the mountain will be rendered.
It is quite clear that the CPU is the brain/heart of a computer or console - the place where all instructions are given - from moving a pixel across the screen, to calculating all the possible 3-D calculations in a 256-colour, ray-traced (aka light-sourced), fully texture-mapped environment.
The CPU often works in conjunction with the amount of memory a computer has; i.e., the CPU works out the instructions and stores them into RAM (see MEMORY on another page). To store the information quickly, a faster processor is needed. With a faster processor, not only can graphics be calculated quickly, they can also be displayed/updated quickly, too.
It's not just sprockety tech. stuff that needs a speed increase, games can benefit heavily too - particularly 3-D vector simulators. If you've seen Race Driving on the SNES, you will see how slow the update is - this is thanks to the SNES's slow processor. The new
Super FX chip contains a much faster processor (see the feature this issue) and can therefore calculate 3-D more quickly than the standard SNES' 65816/6502 CPU - just look at StarWing.
Sprite-driven arcade games also rely on custom chips to control the scrolling and sprites; but if the CPU isn't used properly, games can slow down an awful lot - just look at Super R-Type.
To give you an idea of the processors in machines today, here's a short list:
SNES: 16 Bit (BInary-digiT) 65816/6502 3.58 Mhz. (Megahertz).
Amiga 500/+/600: 16 Bit 68000 Motorola clocked at 7.14 Mhz..
MegaDrive: 16 Bit 68000 Motorola clocked at 8 Mhz..
Amiga 1200: 32 Bit 68020 Motorola clocked at 14.19 Mhz..
PC: Anything from 80286 Intel clocked at 7.14 Mhz. to a full blown 80486 at 50 Mhz..
Falcon: 32 Bit 68030 16 Mhz..
Amiga 4000/040: 32 Bit 68040 Motorola clocked at 28-50 Mhz..
Note that all aspects are taken into account. This means a 16-bit machine is (in theory) only half the speed of 32 bit; 68000 is not as fast as the 68020, '030 or '040 (highest in the range) processors; 80286 is
not as fast as its bigger brothers (the '386 and '486), and a higher 'Mhz.' also makes things faster.
Motorola (makers of the 680x0 range) and Intel (makers of the 80x86 range) are the most popular manufacturers of CPUs.
Motorola have the edge as far as speed is concerned.
The SNES is the slowest machine then, with the standard Amiga following behind. The MegaDrive is just a tiny bit faster, with the A1200 speeding along at a fair lick (note that the A1200 uses proper 32-bit architecture, and is therefore, roughly the same speed as the impressive Falcon). At the top of the range are the PC 80486s and the much faster Amiga 4000/040 (complete with 68040 CPU). The Super Nintendo may have the slowest processor of the lot (it's around the same speed as a Spectrum (!), and is really, at heart, an 8-bit machine), but the custom chips make up for the lack of processor speed - it's just 3-D the SNES has problems with.
If you have seen the classic Elite on the old C64 or BBC, you will notice the graphics are in wireframe. If you've played Elite 2 or StarWing, you will see a big difference - the graphics are in solid 3-D. The reason, as you can probably well guess, is that we now have decent CPU speeds; but in the future, when 68060s and the like become the standard for games machines, gamesplayers can expect to see games light-sourced, running at 50 Hz. and in 16.7 million colours. Mmm...