Does Sega Saturn Need A BIOS?

Modern emulators do an excellent job of replicating retro game systems such as Atari, NES, Genesis, etc. In addition, they can also play games from the 5th console generation (Saturn, PS1, N64). But, emulators don’t include copyrighted software/ firmware and you have to procure those files by yourself (such as the BIOS).

Does Sega Saturn need a BIOS? Yes it does. The Saturn BIOS is responsible for initializing and testing hardware components as the system boots up. It also handles services related to data saving and power control, in addition to the synchronization of various processors on Saturn’s motherboard.

Normally, this BIOS would reside in a ROM chip on Saturn. And you’d require a specialized EEPROM programmer tool to extract it off the chip. You can also download the BIOS from online sites that I shall not name here (do a quick Google search) if you want to emulate your old Saturn games.

What Do BIOS Files Do?

Depending on the system and BIOS type, it can fulfill a variety of functions. On the most elementary level, the Basic Input/ Output System (BIOS) is responsible for a power-on self-test (POST). Which is nothing but a test of the various hardware components (processor, memory, storage, etc.) to make sure they are functioning according to established protocols as your system boots up.

The boot process itself is managed by the BIOS. It transitions the computer/ game console from its BIOS phase to the OS phase by using what’s called a bootloader. This bootloader loads up the operating system kernel as your system is booting up.

Often, the BIOS for a computer or game console is tailored to work with its unique hardware components. Because in addition to POST and boot loading, the BIOS exposes that can be used by programmers. It can also control power profiles, I/O, and interrupt calls.

On the Sega Saturn, the BIOS handles POST and runs a bootloader for the OS kernel. It also takes care of processor synchronization and saved games (since CD-ROMs can’t store player progress). Saturn saves data to the console’s built-in memory.

Why Does The Sega Saturn Need A BIOS?

The Sega Saturn utilizes a BIOS for tasks like Power On Self Test (POST) and hardware initialization. This BIOS program is also responsible for runtime functions like processor synchronization (Saturn has multiple processors) and data saving. As Sega Saturn has a CD-Drive, it requires an OS kernel to interface with this piece of hardware.

Mind you, this is not a full operating system and certainly not one you can interact with. But it exists in the background, handling low-level tasks. The BIOS is needed to run this shell as the system boots up.

If you own a Sega Saturn, you shouldn’t have to worry about its BIOS (assuming the console is still functional). However, you do need a copy of the BIOS for emulation. These days, you can get a Sega Saturn at very cheap prices on the used market.

How to Extract the BIOS From the Sega Saturn?

Get one, and dump the BIOS using an old Gameshark cartridge that has the 25-pin connector on top. A Sega Saturn USB Datalink board is also required, which is a device that lets you extract the BIOS and saved game files from your console to your PC. If you can’t find either of these, you can just download the BIOS file online (there are plenty of sites that host it).

Once you have the BIOS file, you can use it within the emulator of your choice to run Sega Saturn games. You can also download multi-system BIOS file packs for frontends like RetroArch. These contain BIOS dumps of multiple consoles, across several versions and regions.

If you’re playing Japanese Saturn games, you require the BIOS from a Japanese console. The BIOS version you use will have no impact on game performance, it’s just a prerequisite for compatibility. Check out this video to learn where you should load your Sega Saturn BIOS files.

Where Is BIOS In RetroArch Saturn?

Before you get started, you need to set a few things up. First, make sure you’ve got RetroArch installed with the ROM for at least one Sega Saturn game. Then, you need to procure the BIOS files for your Sega Saturn.

If you’re going to play North American games, get the BIOS file corresponding to that region. For EU and Japanese games, get the BIOS files for EU/ Japanese Saturn systems. This will help you save time later because you only have to deal with configuring your game.

You can procure the BIOS file by dumping it from the hardware of a Saturn console (requires special tools), or you can just download the file online. Once you have the BIOS file, go into the folder where RetroArch is installed on your PC (usually C). Enter the “System” folder in RetroArch and paste the BIOS file there.

Next, you want to make sure you’re using the Beetle Saturn core as it’s the most reliable emulator for that console. Update core info files and databases within RetroArch. Create a playlist by selecting and scanning your ROM folder for games, and you’re good to go.

Do You Need BIOS Files For RetroArch?

Yes, because emulator cores are just virtual representations of the hardware. Circuits are useless unless you have the relevant firmware to instruct them. A BIOS file is required if you’re going to emulate old consoles or arcade systems.

And these BIOS files aren’t included within RetroArch or its emulation cores because the firmware is copyright material. Someone’s copyrighted intellectual property can’t be legally included within these open-source emulation platforms. So you either have to dump a BIOS file from your own Saturn console, or download it online (which is a legal grey area).

How Do You Set Up A Sega Saturn?

We’ve already talked about setting up a Sega Saturn in RetroArch, so let’s take a look at the real thing this time. To set up your Saturn console, you need a few things. First, you need the console itself (duh?), along with at least one game disc.

Then, you want the power supply cable that goes into the wall. Plug this into your Saturn, and attach the AV cables. You can use either composite or S-video.

Modern TVs may not have composite inputs, so you’ll need a composite to HDMI adapter such as this one. Composite or RCA cables are color-coded yellow (video), white (left audio), and red (right audio). Plug this into your TV, turn on the console, and insert a game disc.

Did The Sega Saturn Have Internet?

While Dreamcast is the first console ever to have its own built-in modem, it isn’t the first online console. That award goes to the Sega Saturn which could go online via the Net Link modem attachment. This is something you purchased separately, and goes into the cartridge port on top of Saturn.

You could even hook up a keyboard for web browsing, using the PS/2 adapter. Sega even sold an official keyboard for Saturn (rebranded third-party product). The Saturn Net Link modem supported speeds up to 28.8 kbits/s via dial-up and included a web browser made by PlanetWeb.


I hope this article helped you understand how the Sega Saturn BIOS works. You need one if you’re going to emulate your Saturn game collection on PC. Emulators don’t come with a BIOS, as that’s copyrighted material.

So you’ll either have to dump the BIOS from the ROM chip in your Saturn or download a BIOS file from the internet. If you’re using RetroArch, the Beetle Saturn core is what I recommend due to its stability. Make sure the BIOS file is for the same region that your games were released in.

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As long as I can remember myself I always enjoyed video games. I had amazing moments playing them and that's why I became a game developer, to create amazing experiences for the players. Read More About Me

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