A lot of gamers complain about their PS4 Pro or Xbox One X sounding like jet engines. But I’m willing to bet most of them didn’t grow up with the Sega Dreamcast. Because Dreamcast isn’t just loud, it generates a grating sound that can be quite annoying- forcing you to turn up the volume on your speakers.
Why is the Sega Dreamcast so loud? There are two sources of noise within the console- its disc drive and cooling fan. The former generates a sharp and melancholic grinding noise, while the latter whines in the background like a leaf blower.
Many Dreamcast owners consider this unique noise combo to be one of the defining characteristics of this underrated console. For some, the disc-loading sound acts as a precursor to an upcoming boss battle. As they say, your Dreamcast is probably dead if it isn’t making lots of noise while playing games.
Why Is The Sega Dreamcast So Loud?
Dreamcast noise issues arise from two different parts of the console, combining to create a cacophony of annoying noises. First, you have the disc drive gears which drive a spindle that moves the laser reader. This is the harshest sound made by Dreamcast consoles and happens only when data needs to be read from the GD-ROM.
Then, you have the high-pitched whine of the cooling fan. While not as loud as the disc drive gears, this fan spins continuously and functions like white noise in the background. It gets worse when your Dreamcast is really old (one of the early production models) because the fan bearings lose their lubrication and start grinding against each other.
To fix the GD-ROM gears, you must open up your Dreamcast and take apart the disc drive. Once you have the top plate removed, you should be able to see the gears and spindles. Apply some silicone grease with a toothpick, and your Dreamcast will run a lot quieter.
You must disconnect your Dreamcast from the wall and remove the PSU before greasing the disc drive. Check out this video guide if you have never opened a Dreamcast before. You don’t need any special tools, just a Philips #2 screwdriver to get the shell open.
With just the disc drive gear lubrication, your Dreamcast will run significantly quieter. But you can go even further with a fan mod that replaces the default fan with a Noctua fan. You need a 3D-printed fan housing and cable adapter for this mod, along with the Noctua NF-A4x10 5V fan.
There are fan replacement kits for Dreamcast that you can purchase online. Once you have the kit, follow this video guide for installation. Remember- you also need that specific model of Noctua fan (NF-A4x10).
If you have a 3D printer at home, you can create the fan mounting bracket by yourself. There is also a new switch for the “Open” button that has to be 3D printed because the regular one won’t fit over the Noctua fan. That’s because the Noctua fan is larger than the default one installed by Sega.
For a true zero-noise build, you need to replace the disc drive with a GDEMU board. There are several GDEMU clones you can purchase online; these will set you back about $150. The advantage of using GDEMU is that you don’t need to play games from discs.
No disc means no loading noise and faster loading times. You can put all your games on an SD card (standard size, not the microSD format). Old Dreamcast GD-ROM lasers can break down with regular usage, so installing the emulator board removes that potential failure point.
Troubleshooting Common Issues With The Dreamcast
Apart from the noise issues, Dreamcast has a few other design flaws. Remember, this console was rushed to market by Sega because they needed an immediate answer to N64 and PS1. While it is a powerful machine in terms of processing power, there are engineering flaws that got carried over to the commercial product.
Like the power supply connector which is responsible for taking 110V-240V AC from the wall and converting it into 12V DC for Dreamcast. There is a set of 6 pins that connect the motherboard to this power supply. Unfortunately, these can get bent out of shape and fail to make contact with the PSU.
Then, you have the lid sensor which is a lever that moves based on the top cover position. If this lever malfunctions, your Dreamcast might think there is no disc in the tray and will try to reset itself.
Finally, there are the solder joints for the cable that supplies power to Dreamcast’s cooling fan. These solder joints tend to crack, causing the console to overheat and shut down. A fix requires you to reflow the solder joints.
Was The Dreamcast A Failure?
Initially, Sega sold quite a few of these. In America, Dreamcast sold a million units within the first 2 weeks. Even in Japan, where the reception was more lukewarm, it sold hundreds of thousands of units.
However, Sega couldn’t shake off the stigma of being a company that releases one shiny product after another, abandoning the previous customer base. Gamers saw what happened with the Sega CD, 32X, and Saturn. Each console promised to be a massive leap over the previous one.
Yet, Sega just couldn’t deliver on the software. Their marketing lacked focus. And 3rd party companies were growing tired of jumping from one platform to another before they got the chance to familiarize themselves with the last one.
While the performance of Dreamcast was beyond anything that Nintendo and Sony could provide in the late 1990s, it lacked basic features. Like backward compatibility with Saturn, which had been released just 4 years prior. As a result, Sega sold just 9 million Dreamcasts- much fewer than Nintendo’s 33 million N64s and Sony’s 102 million PS1s.
What Was Unique About The Sega Dreamcast?
This one is a toss-up between the built-in modem and Visual Memory Unit (VMU). The former gave Dreamcast online connectivity through SegaNet. With the latter, you got a handheld game console that could play minigames and acted as a 2nd display.
Imagine that- a console within your console. Yes, this is how far Sega was willing to go back then to steal market share from Nintendo and Sony. Sega wasn’t the first console manufacturer to have online play.
However, it was the first console manufacturer to include a modem within the console. Dreamcast came with either a 33.6K or 56K dial-up modem. A couple of years later, Sega released a broadband adapter that supported speeds of 10/ 100 Mbps via Ethernet.
Is The Dreamcast Powerful?
When it was released, no other console could compete with Dreamcast. It handily beat N64 and PS1 in terms of CPU and GPU performance, plus it packed more memory than its competitors. Dreamcast is the first 6th gen console, predating PS2 by 2 years.
Sure, the PS2 has a faster CPU and more RAM. But the Dreamcast has superior texture compression and anti-aliasing. Flagship titles like Shenmue push Dreamcast hardware to its limits and showcase what is possible with the peak of 1990s console technology.
How Much RAM Did The Dreamcast Have?
There is 16MB of system RAM, along with 8MB of texture RAM and 2MB of sound RAM. Dreamcast can do both interlaced and progressive scans at a resolution of 640 x 480. The NEC PowerVR2 GPU can draw over 3 million polygons per second.
I hope this article helped you understand why your Dreamcast is so loud. It is primarily due to a few plastic gears in the GD-ROM drive that grind against each other. Some silicone grease should make them a lot less noisy.
But if you want a true zero-noise Dreamcast, you must install a GDEMU board that replaces the disc drive with an SD card loader. You can also do a fan mod on your Dreamcast which replaces the old fan with a Noctua NF-A4x10.