The Power of Naomi

Naomi, an anagram for New Arcade Operation Machine Idea, is Sega's newest arcade board. Naomi, in Japanese, is a name that means, "above all beauty". And beauty is what the Naomi is capable of. SEGA first showed the Naomi board at JAMMA (Japan Amusement Machinery Manufacturers Association), which took place from September 17th to the 20th, this year in Japan.

As the follow up to the massively powerful Model 3 step 2 board which was capable of almost 2 million polygons per second, Naomi had some big shoes to fill. It does more than live up to its expectations though. With hardware pretty much identical to the Sega DreamCast, Naomi can push around 4 million polygons per second. It uses the same Hitachi SH-4 CPU and the same Power VR Second Generation graphics processor, as well as the same Yamaha sound system. The only major difference is in the amount of main and graphics RAM, as well as storage options.

The RAM needs to be higher in the arcade system simply because load time is an intolerable hindrance for an arcade game. Arcades are more about instant gratification over a short period of time and usually contain a large amount of RAM so that the entire game can be fed into the RAM before playing. Home consoles can live with some loading time as it is a more casual game-playing situation. The difference in RAM between Naomi and DreamCast isn't large enough to warrant much concern for arcade conversions. The DC main RAM is 16 Mbytes and the Naomi is 32. Video RAM for DC is 8 Mbytes with 16 for Naomi. It is double the amount of RAM to eliminate any load time, and it shouldn't have any effect whatsoever on graphical or gameplay performance.

The storage options for Naomi differ from DreamCast in that it allows for banks of ROM chips to be used for storage, as well as the specialized Sega GDROM's (1 Gigabyte CD-ROM discs). The GDROM's are the exact same storage units that will be used with the DreamCast. The ROM expansion chips are there for games that will require over 1 Gigabyte of storage. Again, this is because of loading times and cost. A multiple GDROM disc changer would cost too much and it would create load time when the discs had to be switched. This would never work in an arcade situation. With the extra ROM chips developers can utilize unlimited storage with no loading time.

Here are the exact Naomi specifications:

CPU: SH-4 64-bit RISC CPU (200 MHz 360 MIPS / 1.4 GFLOPS)
Graphic Engine: PowerVR (PVR2DC)
Sound Engine: Super Intelligent Sound Processor (with internal 32-bit RISC CPU, 64 channel ADPCM)
Main Memory: 32 Mbytes
Graphic Memory: 16 Mbytes
Media: ROM Board
Simultaneous Number of Colors: Approx. 16,770,000
Additional Features: Bump Mapping, Fog, Alpha-Bending (transparency), Mip Mapping (polygon-texture auto switch), Tri-Linear Filtering, Anti-Aliasing, Environment Mapping, and Specular Effect.
Optional: GDROM (gigabyte Disk-ROM)

What will Naomi mean to Sega? Well, the most positive aspect of the Naomi for Sega is the price point. The Model 3 cabinets would cost arcade managers around $20,000 US dollars. This is the main reason why Sega's arcade line-up has very little notoriety in North America. The arcade owners simply aren't willing to cough up that much for an unknown quantity. Not when they can purchase Namco's System 12 cabinets or Midway cabinets for around 10 times less than a Model 3 cabinet. But Naomi will change that as it will only cost approximately $2000 US dollars for a Naomi set-up. This is a large difference and a price that will make Naomi very attractive in comparison to less powerful cabinets that will cost more. The Naomi will allow Sega to break into the mainstream of the arcade market that has consistently eluded them, the North American market. And with the current state of the Japanese economy, this is a more important market than it ever was.

Another important piece of the Naomi puzzle is the appeal it presents to third party developers. Already more than 20 developers have signed on to use the Naomi board. This is an amazing number as most companies prefer to use their own proprietary hardware. But the price point and power of Naomi has proven to be far too tempting. Capcom may even replace their CPS III 2D hardware with Naomi because it can perform as well at a much lower cost. It has also been rumored that Namco may either sign up with Naomi or that Sony will create a duplicate arcade board for Namco to use. Sony may also use a duplicate set-up for their PSX 2 system so as not to risk losing any third party support to the DreamCast exclusively. Sega has yet again found the magic formula and everyone wants a piece of it. The DC will have massive third party support due to the appeal of Naomi and easy portability.

House of the Dead 2 from Sega will be the first game released on Naomi this month in Japan, and around the world next year. Sega expects 9,000 HotD 2 cabinets to ship in that time frame and that there will eventually 500,000 Naomi cabinets sold worldwide.