Sega CD 101: A Beginner’s Guide

Note from racketboy: Special thanks goes to Scooter for putting this guide together!  The RetroGaming 101 series is aimed at gamers who are just starting out in the classic gaming scene or are curious about an older console that they don’t know much about yet. 

After Sega established a strong lead in the console market in the early 1990’s, the company saw the possibilities that the new CD-ROM format could bring to gaming.  Sega produced the Sega CD add-on for the Genesis to bring the technology to the many Genesis owners around the world without requiring them to invest in a completely new system.  Unfortunately, they did not completely follow through with their vision.  Even though it was not a commercial success, that does not mean that a Sega CD isn’t worth picking up for a reasonable price to expand on one’s classic Sega collection.  The Sega CD is still an interesting piece of hardware and has some games that are still worth checking out.

Note:  Sega’s 16-bit wonder was titled the Mega Drive in all markets except North America where the name had previously been copyrighted and was thus named the Genesis in that market.  For purposes of this article, the term Genesis will be used but should be noted that it is interchangeable with the name Mega Drive.  Appropriately, the Sega CD was named the Mega CD outside North America and in this article the term Sega CD will be used but should be noted that it is interchangeable with the name Mega CD.

Historical Impact

  • Sega CD was the first peripheral offered by Sega intended to expand the capabilities of and extend the life cycle of a basic gaming console (the Genesis).
  • While the Sega CD was not the first unit to bring optical disc technology to a gaming environment, it was the most widely distributed unit in its day.
  • The system attempted to fill the technology and release date gaps between a waning console (Genesis) and the next generation (Saturn).  Sega hyped the add-on quite well to keep bleeding-edge gamers from switching sides.
  • The shortcomings of the system (price, limited unique library) and the subsequent lack of success of the unit in the marketplace was the first major misstep by Sega in the hardware market.  This and additional missteps led to some amount of consumer mistrust and played at least a part in the eventual exit of Sega from the hardware market.
  • A number of Sega CD games were exclusive to the system and also sold in limited quantities making these games some of the most highly collectible games for the more mainstream retro console market.
  • Sega CD provided full motion video (FMV) as a video game element to the masses.  While not the first system to provide such a graphical interface, FMV was heavily pursued as the “wave of the future”.
  • Provided access to games otherwise relegated to a PC-only environment due to the increased data storage capacity of the CD media.
  • More information on the Sega CD on Wikipedia



  • The Sega CD expands the Genesis library (albeit, many games are available in both Genesis and Sega CD formats).
  • The systems are fairly reliable and durable.
  • The systems also function as a full featured audio CD player.
  • Both main versions are compatible with all Genesis consoles released by Sega.
  • The CD based media can provide lengthy and CD audio quality soundtracks, sound effects and voice to the game playing environment.
  • When properly installed, the system mixes the Genesis, Sega CD, and if also installed, 32X audio into a single stereo output source.  The stereo signal provided by the Sega CD unit is overall superior to the signal provided by the Genesis alone.
  • Very simple and easy to use operating controls.
  • The systems have built in game save memory (although the memory capacity is relatively small).
  • The units are only moderately sought after, especially the Sega CD-2 and as such can typically be acquired at moderate cost.
  • Exceptionally good system exclusive games justify the cost of acquiring and installing the system.


  • The system never sold in large numbers even though it was widely distributed in all major markets.  Finding complete boxed system can be difficult.  This is especially true of the first version.
  • Much of the software library for the add-on system is either rehashed pre-existing Genesis games with little to no additional features on the CD version of the game or shovelware.  A good portion of the game library consists of FMV based games.
  • Many games experience excessively long load times at the initial game load and inside the game, especially when loading upcoming video segments.
  • North American game packaging is bulky and fragile.
  • The system is bulky and will greatly increase either the vertical (version 1) or horizontal (version 2) space needed to house the unit when attached to a Genesis console.
  • The systems are not compatible with the Genesis 3 distributed by Majesco.


  • A number of region-specific games can provide an expanded library of games to those willing to address the technical requirements to make access to such games possible given their home television environment.  For example, North American based units can have easy access to Japanese games with the use of a cartridge slot based unit such as the Game Genie, yet access to European based games can potentially require much more involved technical accommodations.

Playing Backups (Burned Discs)

  • No modifications are needed to play burned discs on the Sega CD.  CD burners were extremely expensive at the time of the Sega CDs release, so there is not any copy protection implemented.
  • If you need turtorials for burning discs, please check out these guides for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux
  • If you want to be able to rip your own CD games to files, here’s a guide for Windows



  • Since the units sold were roughly 1 Sega CD for every 5 Genesis console sold, Sega CD consoles are not entirely common nor entirely rare.  The initial popularity tends to carry over to today allowing the retro gamer to obtain a Sega CD relatively easily and relatively affordably.  Functioning systems can be obtained for less than $50.
  • Complete boxed systems can command higher prices, easily reaching into the $100-$125 range and higher, especially for the first version of the system which is somewhat less common than the second version.
  • Some of the more uncommon configurations can be quite uncommon and command substantial prices often exceeding $200, much more for some of the even more rare configurations.
  • Many of the more popular games can be obtained locally in larger cities with stores which cater to older games for $10 or less.  Loose games without packaging can often be obtained for just a few dollars.

Hardware Variations

  Model 1
This unit is sometimes referred to as the front loader model.  This model sits entirely underneath the Genesis unit and shares the same footprint size as the Model 1 Genesis.  This unit is compatible with all Model 1 and Model 2 Genesis units, though it is more aesthetically matched to the Model 1 unit.  This item is somewhat more rare, more collectible and therefore more expensive even though it is considered somewhat less reliable than the later version.  Malfunctions in the sliding disc tray are usually the most common failure point.
Model 2
This unit is sometimes referred to as the top loader model.  The unit sits partially under and partially beside the Genesis unit.  The disc drive section of the unit is placed to the side of the Genesis with the remainder being under the Genesis, thus requiring a substantially larger footprint than the Genesis model alone.  However, since the moving disc tray mechanism of the Model 1 version is no longer present, this unit is typically considered overall more reliable.  Model 2 versions were produced in much larger numbers than the Model 1 version and as such are easier to locate and less expensive to obtain.  These units are compatible with both the Model 1 and Model 2 Genesis units though are more aesthetically matched to the Model 2 Genesis
Sega CDX
This is a relatively compact unit that combines the hardware of both the Genesis and Sega CD into one relatively small unit.  The unit provides two control pad outputs at the front, a small array of CD system control buttons at the front top edge, a CD system door in the middle top and a cartridge slot at the top rear.  AV outputs and AC inputs are found on the sides of the unit.
  JVC X’eye/WonderMega
These units combine the Genesis and Sega CD hardware into one complete package.

Sega CD Software

  • Approximately 200 games were made for the Sega CD, yet a good portion of that library was also available in similar form as Genesis cartridge based games. Some Sega CD games include exclusive content, most often in the form of expanded cut scenes or an expanded soundtrack, yet seldom in actual game play enhancements or additional levels or actual game content.
  • A handful of games were entirely exclusive to the Sega CD such as Heart of the Alien and Snatcher and a number of Working Designs RPGs and as such these games are highly desirable and can be expensive to obtain.
  • A good portion of the Sega CD library also contains games based in part or in whole on Full Motion Video (FMV) which are live video clips that are used as the basis for the game play.  Given the system’s limited graphics ability the graphics are typically grainy and lacking color depth and game play itself is somewhat limited.  Most FMV games have a quirky, “you either hate it or love it” feel to them.
  • Genesis 32X CD – A total of five games were made which exploited both the Sega CD and the 32X hardware (since all three pieces of hardware are required to play these particular games).  All five games are FMV games.  The games do provide modestly improved color and video resolution, but the video quality is still quite low.  None of the games were exclusive to the 32X CD format (all were available on the more accessible Sega CD format).
  • Games That Defined The Sega CD –  Unfortunately for those that had a Sega CD in its prime time, most of the best games for the console were not widely available or promoted much. While publishers were mainly promoting quick ports of popular Genesis titles with enhanced sound like NBA Jam and Full Motion Video games like Slam City with Scottie Pippin, there were actually a very nice collection of unique RPGs, shooter, and platformers that are still relevant to today’s hardcore gamers. So, instead of focusing on what games defined the Sega CD when it was on store shelves, we highlight games that motivate retro gamers to actually pick up a Sega CD in this modern era.
  • The Cheapest Sega CD Games Worth Your Time – If you want to build your Sega CD collection quickly on a budget, take a look at this guide to get your the values


Memory Cartridges

Memory Cartridges:  Memory carts greatly expanded the memory capacity of the Sega CD unit.  Some games are so memory intensive that they would entirely consume the Sega CD memory capacity requiring the gamer to either delete their game saves or obtain a memory cart to allow them to play and save other games.  The memory carts were available from Sega and third party sources.

  • Official Sega Memory Cartridge [eBay / Amazon] – if you really want to get the original way that the Sega CD game stored game saves.  Getting rather pricey these days
  • Ultra CD RAM Cart (modern Third Party cart) [Castlemania Games] – a nice modern solution at a fair price.

Light Guns

Some Sega CD games were compatible with and even a few were packaged with a light gun.  A number of such light gun capable games combined FMV with light gun use.  The light guns required were also compatible with similar Genesis cartridge based games.
Check eBay for Sega Light Guns

Hooking Up The Sega CD

  • If you don’t have the original Sega CD manual, check out these scans from the manual: Flickr Photset / PDF Download
  • A MK1 Genesis to either Sega CD requires an audio mixing cable.  It goes from the headphone jack on the Genesis to the Mixing input on the back of the CD.  Output is (if you want stereo) audio from the CD from the CD’s RCA jacks and the video from the Genesis.
  • With a Mk2, no mixing cable is required, just get the audio from the CD and the video from the Genesis.
  • The mixer cable isn’t anything special.  It’s simply a mini-pin stereo cable, male plug on both ends.  You could get something that would work at Radio Shack for a few bucks.  The official Sega version has one of those noise reduder things molded into the cable, not sure how necessary it is.
  • If so desired, all audio (mono) and video can be gotten out of the RF output on the Genesis.
  • When the 32X is involved, there are no additional connections concerning the SCD, but the connections between the Genesis and 32X get more complicated.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can I play Sega Genesis / Megadrive ROMs on the Sega CD via a CD-R?  Nope.  You would most likely need an emulator of some sort and that hasn’t been developed. See here for more detail and discussion.
  • Can I use a Model 1 Genesis with a Model 2 Sega CD or a Model 2 Genesis with a Model 1 Sega CD?  You sure can.  In fact, for the longest time, I personally used a Model 2 Genesis with a Model 1 SCD as that’s the only SCD model my local Funcoland had.

When you click on links to various merchants on this site and make a purchase, this can result in this site earning a commission.
Affiliate programs and affiliations include, but are not limited to, the eBay Partner Network or Amazon Associates.


ott0bot says:

Nice job guys! I was waiting for this article. It hits almost everything. It would be good to have a link on how to replace the back up battery, which in most model 2’s, die. It’s pretty simple to do, and neccessary to save. Even if you can find or afford the back-up genesis style cart, having the time and date pop up everytime is quite annoying.

Some into on digital press:
Sadly, I couldn’t find anything with pictures.

Also, more info on emulating on MAC’s and buring back ups would be great. I’ve asked around in the forums, but I’ve not found much info. I’m guessing it’s either not an option(emulating or buring .bin/.cue roms)or maybe not done too often. Any other info would be great.

Phillyman says:

Thanks for this, I stopped buying Sega products after the Genesis. This will help me catch up now 🙂

Caleb says:

Note that the bulk of the Snatcher CD images out there are in .mp3 format that can only be played on emulators. If you try to play it on an actual Sega CD it will work up to a point but you will be missing a lot of audio and it will lock up.

If you want to get a copy to work on the Sega CD you have to use the .cue sheet and instruction found on the Home of the Underdogs website. Basically you have to use Winamp to turn all the MP3s into .wav files.

It’s a pain but I suppose a lot of people don’t want to bother playing games on the actual system they came out on.

I personally think playing Snatcher on a console is a much better experience.

Caleb says:

Oh and when you get older Sega CD systems from garage sales it’s a good bet that the contacts between the Sega CD and Genesis will have corrosion.

Just use some contact cleaner or clean off the contact with a pink pencil eraser.

9 times out of 10 this is whats happening if someone thinks the system is “broke”.

This seems to happen more when you have a model 1 genesis hooked up to a model 2 Sega CD.

J.Emmett Turner says:

The Sega CD manual even says to clean the contacts with an eraser, so they knew it was a problem! 🙂 I should point out that the majority of the time the problem with “broken” Sega CD systems is the fuse. Surprised it wasn’t mentioned in the article.

Helliant1 says:

You realize the posting you replied to is over 10 years old, most likely will never see it! For Sega knowing about the problem is correct, but not in some nefarious way that you are thinking. The truth is that copper is the main source of material used in the electronics industry for PCB’s, the traces and contacts that send the electrical current. And over time, due to moisture, air and heat, copper will oxidize. The oxidation is call patina and creates a film over the copper and reduces the ability to make a complete circuit! As for the reason why Sega mentions how to clean the contacts in the manual is most likely due to the reason given above and using an eraser is the best way without damage to the contacts.

J.Emmett Turner says:

I was perfectly aware that the record hadn’t been set straight in 10 years. That people are still finding this *undated* article 10 years later and still not seeing that fuses are, by far, the main problem is even more reason to correct it.

I read through the article and saw prices and other things where the date it was written were kinda needed for context but I could only find dates in the comments. It appears to be a hub article that was probably updated as the linked articles were added. It could probably use another update and it would be good if the update includes such information.

I wasn’t implying anything nefarious from Sega. I’m saying that this advice about cleaning the contacts with an eraser is part of the official setup instructions. Not everyone has the original manual.

racketboy says:

Thanks for the info! The person should still get an email alert unless they have a different address now. But it is nice to share info.

I will plan on updating these guides over time as well and it’s always nice to be able to incorporate suggestions from the comments.

racketboy says:

Thanks for the suggestions and info — we’ll add to it in the near future 🙂

Tyler says:

Excellent article… AGAIN. Net time I can go to my local Flea Market, I’ll keep an eye out for one. Too bad I can’t buy one… I have about -$36!

Matthew says:

RacketBoy, great job on the article. I have been on a Sega kick lately, working through some Genesis games I wish I’d played back then, and now I’ve got the chance. I had been very confused about Sega CD/Megadrive/Saturn, and this cleared it up quite a bit. I’ve been contemplating getting a 32x or a SegaCD for a few months now.

The pictures you posted were especially helpful. I really wish the Sega CDX model was more available, that one looks very awesome.

Great work with the site, look browsing articles of this nature.

racketboy says:

All thanks should go to Scooter — but glad you enjoyed it!

marurun says:

Scooter, I would want to see verification in some fashion of the following:

“While the Sega CD was not the first unit to bring optical disc technology to a gaming environment, it was the most widely distributed unit in its day.”

The PCE CD add-ons in Japan out-sold the Mega CD like mad. Unless the anemic US sales and EU sales made up for the difference the PCE CD variants likely collectively out-sold the Mega CD variants.

Jack says:

So is the Sega CD region locked?

As in, can I buy US games and play them on a PAL system? I’m assuming no.

Bradley says:

Yes, the Sega CD is region locked to a point. It requires extensive modification to play a PAL game on an NTSC system. Japanese NTSC-J are easier, but you still need a few things.

Don’t forget that lovely little fuse buried in the hardware that makes the system die when it blows. At least the sucker is cheap…

I picked up a combination Genesis MK-II and SegaCD MK-II for 40.00 bucks on eBay, because the guy didn’t know how to fix that fuse (or that it existed, for that matter). He used the wrong power adapter for it.

Julie says:

Ah Sega CD, a pleasant memory!

Tashay says:

i didn’t even know they made a sega cd till i visited this site, but i do know that sega was the best when i was little. i use to love playing sonic the hedgehog on there.

mike says:

i have never herd of the sega cd but it seems like a game i would get because i did like the sega

Geoff says:

Mmmm the Sega CD…….

Mike23 says:

I’m just starting to get into Retro Gaming( thank’s racketboy for the great site, even if it made me spend way to much money on classic games 😉 and bought myself a German Sega Mega Drive + Sega CD. I know that you can’t use it to play NTSC games(without modding the console) but is there a region lock for other European countries like the UK, if not than SNATCHER for the Sega CD it is!!!

racketboy says:

Hope you enjoy it… sometimes you can also change the region codes on the games 🙂

Sega Boy says:

I recently got back into the sega/sega cd when my mom cleaned out her garage and told me to come over and pick up my stuff. I had forgotten that I even had a sega genesis, sega cd and sega 32X. The only bad part it seems is I can’t find the rf unit and I’m missing the power brick for the sega cd. I’ve been looking online for these items and for some old sega cd games I missed the first time around and found that these items are booming. I’m trying to get these items on the cheap. Thanks for all the info. Love the site.

racketboy says:

Well best of luck on your search… the Sega CD has some great titles on it. and glad you enjoyed the post!

77Bullit says:

I just picked up a Sega CDX off Ebay. I forgot how much I really loved the Sega CD. I owned model 1 and 2 Genesis and Cd when they came out when I was young. By far the Sega CDX is the coolest of the three. Its small and portable and its both combined into one. I haven’t stop playing it since I got it and i bought some games to. I hope someone will com out with an emulator so you can burn Genesis and Sega CD Roms to disk and play them on the Sega CD. That would be awesome.

XoMB13 says:

1st thanks for the site info on sat and dreamcast has been very helpfull. Now i find my self with problems, got a mega cd top loader with mega drive II but no cables mega drive cables are easyly found (but about the same price as a new mwga drive)but the mega cd needs its own DC10v 1.2A power surply. I found one with the same stats and conections on a spare cable broadband rooter . i have pluged it in but no red light on the mega cd dose it come on without mega drive atached? and i heared about a fuse inside theat meay have blown i opened it up but cant see one . any help geting me goin or on where to get the rite power adapter please

Alex says:

stupid question you need the metal plate for the model 1 cd with the model 1 genesis?

racketboy says:

I don’t think the metal plates are a requirement. The just help keep things together in case you bump the console around.

alex says:

how do keep the sega cd’s format on system memory instead of cartridge for some reason when i reformat it goes back to cartridge please i just found mine in the atic and i decided to hook it up and that keeps hapening

Ashram says:

“how do keep the sega cd’s format on system memory instead of cartridge for some reason when i reformat it goes back to cartridge please i just found mine in the atic and i decided to hook it up and that keeps hapening”

If your Sega CD has been sitting unused for an extended period of time, you may need to recharge the Sega CD’s internal battery.

Simply leave the Genesis/Sega CD combo turned on overnight.

After the internal battery has charged, format the internal backup RAM.

Plus, this article has missed another Sega CD system: the Pioneer CLD-A100 LaserActive LaserDisc player with the PAC-S10 Sega module.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get a nice roundup of new retro gaming content once or twice a month.