Gadgets for humans

Mad scientist cracks a Sega Saturn’s impossible DRM to keep the console alive forever

In 1994, Sega made history by launching the much-lauded 32-bit disc-based Saturn game console. Many major games were released for the system, but it lost out to the Nintendo 64 and was discontinued just four years after it first became available.

That means that the Saturn is difficult for retro fans to find today. And to make matters worse, the system’s CD-ROM drive has been known to fail over time.

Engineer James Laird-Wah wanted to figure out a way to make Saturns work forever; so after picking up a working console in Japan, he began dissecting its hardware and built-in operating system to figure out a way to allow it to run games by reading USB drives instead of relying on copy-protected discs, which are now rare and prone to failure.

Years of tinkering later, Laird-Wah – who goes by the moniker Dr. Abrasive and previously created a USB-based Game Boy ROM reading cartridge – has made his dream a reality. In addition to running games, his modified Saturn can also write data to USB drives, allowing him to store game save files and even chiptune tracks, which he creates using the console’s standalone audio CPU and programmable DSP.

The DRM-cracking product isn’t yet commercially available as there’s still some work to be done. You can learn more about Dr. Abrasive’s reverse engineering project in the detailed interview above.

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Published July 12, 2016 — 07:42 UTC