Note: This article exists because I think we’ve seen the spreading of a false narrative around the SNES/Super Famicom and Genesis/Mega Drive consoles in recent times, which basically conveys that the SNES really only has more colours than Genesis but is otherwise just very slow, and that the Genesis basically does everything else better and/or can simply duplicate anything SNES does anyway through pretty much sheer CPU power alone, which simply isn’t the objective truth at all.
So, this a list full of things the stock SNES does better than the stock Genesis in terms of technical specs, plus some things it does that Genesis simply can’t, as well as some ways it just measurably beat the Genesis based on official numbers like sales and such–and all of them are facts:
Can display four times as many colours onscreen total (256 vs 64, before any standard HDMA, colour math or special raster tricks).
Has a master palette of colours to choose from that is 64 times larger (32,768 vs 512).
Can use up to twice as many full-screen, fully overlapping background layers (4 vs 2).
SNES’ max tilemap size is 64×64 tiles at 16×16 pixels per tile (1024×1024 or 1,048,576 total pixels) vs Genesis’ 64×64 or 128×32/32×128 tiles at 8×8 pixels per tile (512×512 or 1024×256/256×1024 or 262,144 total pixels).
SNES’ max number of unique background tiles is 4096 (in Mode 0) vs Genesis’ 2048 (in its only mode). This is not accounting for the likes of tilemaps and sprites, which take up memory and would reduce available tiles on both systems similarly.
Can process a max 128 sprites vs Genesis’ max of 80.
Its largest in-built sprite size is 64×64 vs Genesis 32×32.
Can display a max 32 sprites per scanline vs Genesis’ max of 20.
Can do column scrolling down to every 8 pixels vs every 16 on Genesis (lower is better here).
Can use two window/shape masks to either visibly draw shapes on top of or cut shapes out of one/some/all layers, which is used to create various effects like spotlights or beams of light (when combined with colour math), interesting shapes when fading in/out the screen, hiding certain objects or parts of the level from view, faking simple additional layer/sprite elements, etc.
Can do proper colour math for the likes of transparency effects on both sprites and backgrounds.
Has built-in mosaicing.
Has built-in HDMA that can be used to change the main background colours every single scanline, change scroll speeds on up to four layers at once on every scanline, can be used for afine transforations of a background layer to create all the Mode 7 effects the SNES is known for, can adjust the two window/layer maskes on a per-scanline basis, and much more besides.
Has a higher maximum resolution of 512×448 vs Genesis 320×448.
Can actually use the 448 interlaced mode to properly double the vertical resolution at no extra VRAM or processing cost when in Modes 5 and 6, which is done by allowing the use of built-in double-height background tiles that take the vertical resolution doubling into account (at the cost of the usual third background layer). This works similarly in horizontal 512 mode too.
Can have up to eight channels of PCM sampled sound, and can output audio at a max of 32KHz and 16-bit depth in stereo, which is more than Genesis when playing like for like.
Can do Dobly Surround Sound.
It has eight times as much audio RAM, at 64KB vs 8KB.
Has twice as much work RAM at 128KB vs Genesis’ 64KB.
Can apparently compute roughly 1.7 million CPU instructions per second vs Genesis’ roughly 900,000 (min I’ve read) to 1.4 million (max I’ve read), due the fact the SNES can execute instructions in fewer clock cycles than Genesis (I’ve read 2-3 cycles on SNES and 4-8 cycles on Genesis). And this seems like it’s along the same lines: “every time the m68000 accessed memory, it’s 4 clock cycles wait per 16 bits, whereas the 65816 [is] 1 clock cycle per byte [a byte is 8 bits]. So for instance doing 8-bit operations (very common then), 65816 would have an advantage over the m68000 and be roughly equal for 16-bit operations, just by memory wait time.” Basically, even though the Genesis has a faster CPU, it typically takes more clock cycles to perform instructions.
The standard controller that comes free in the box has nine main inputs, four more than Genesis’ 3-button pad and one more even that Genesis 6-button pad (which over half of Genesis systems didn’t ship with and owners had to pay extra for), with a far more versatile design.
SNES’ total library of official games is roughly 1757 vs Genesis’ at roughly 878.
SNES sold 49.1 million units worldwide. Genesis sold around 35 million (including the bargain-bin $50 Genesis 3 and the various Brazilian models).
SNES has 49 games that sold over one millions copies vs 18 on Genesis.
SNES’ top selling game sold 20.6 million copies. Genesis’ top selling game sold 15 million.
More SNES games still appear in pretty much every Top 100 Games of All Time list than Genesis. For example, IGN’s latest list has seven for SNES and zero for Genesis.
Genesis is very cool and all, and it does indeed have quite a few advantages over SNES, just as SNES clearly has quite a few notable advantages over Genesis, which I think more people should be aware of in modern times, just to make sure the narrative and indeed the facts around these two classsic systems aren’t being constantly distorted and history re-written by certain bad actors.
Now, anyone from the Genesis camp is free to post their own similar list of facts.
Note: I have tried to be as accurate as possible with all the data here, but, if you spot any mistakes, please let me know. If you’re being honest, I’ll update the details accordingly.
PS. Oh, and you can apply the same thinking to some SNES vs PC Engine debate also.