The 16-bit era had been a success for Sega, with their Mega Drive / Genesis having come out as one of the two big winners of that period's console wars. Now the time had come for a follow-up. The Saturn was originally intended as a 2D-exclusive system, like the Mega Drive had been, but 3D support was added in later (some would say at the last minute). Although powerful in 3D, it was a difficult arrangement to program for, and 2D was clearly the system's strongpoint. While gamers flocked to the newly-emerging Playstation, the Saturn put up a brave fight, becoming a haven for 2D games (many from that other great 2D company, SNK) and carrying many excellent first-party titles such as Panzer Dragoon.
This was the final system of the console lineage Sega started with the SG-1000 back in the 80's. From that console's release up to the Saturn, the 'current' system's CPU would be used as the sound processor in the next, meaning backwards-compatibility was ensured. This was shown with the Mega Drive's "Power Base Converter" which allowed play of Master System titles, bypassing the 68K CPU for the Z80 sound processor. Not that this really mattered with the Saturn, as there was no way of inserting a Mega Drive cart into it. If the relavant adaptor was made, though, it would be possible.
The Western Saturn featured a completely different logo and case to the Japanese, but internally was the same machine (although carrying region protection, etc.) The Japanese white-coloured Saturn was an especially nice-looking piece of kit, but all models looked pretty durned cool (far more so than the rather dull, grey Playstation). The more common black finish to the machines fitted in nicely with the established Sega lineup.
The Bog-standard Saturn, as seen by everyone outside of Japan. You want it, don't you...
Processors: Two 32-bit Hitachi SH2 RISC processors at 28.6Mhz, a 32-bit Hitachi SH1 RISC, two 32-bit video processors (VDP1 and VDP2), the Saturn Control Unit (SCU), a Motorola 16-bit 68EC000 sound processor, and finally a Yamaha FH1 DSP sound processor. (Whew)
RAM: 2Mb Internal Memory, 1.54Mb Video Memory, 540Kb audio memory, 540Kb CD-ROM cache, and 32Kb NVRAM (battery-backed)
Screen Resolution: 352x240, 640x240, and 704x480 supported
Maximum on-screen colours: 16.7 Million Colours
Sound Channels: 32 PCM Channels, and 8FM Channels
Control Pad: A nice 6-button affair... if you lived in Japan, that was. The Western pad was considered to be inferior to that from the Land of the Rising Sun, and eventually Sega released that pad worldwide. Fanboys across the globe cheered, despite having already imported a Japanese pad already...
RAM Cart: A wonderful little device that was copied by the Nintendo 64. This allowed for more storage space for textures, sprites, and other data games may require. It was used mostly by those arch-rivals of the arcade world, Capcom and SNK.
Backup Cart: Although one could save games to the Saturn's internal RAM, that's no fun if you want to take your save somewhere else. Enter the backup cart, which was essentially a memory card for the Sega faithful. Plugged into the same interface as the RAM cart, and allowed games to be saved to it instead. Hurrah.