The Neo Geo CD is the second home video game console of SNK Corporation’s Neo Geo family, released in September 9, 1994, four years after its cartridge-based equivalent. This is the same platform, converted to the cheaper CD format retailing at $49 to $79 per title, compared to the $300 cartridges. The system was originally priced at US$399, or £399 in the UK. The unit’s 1X CD-ROM drive is slow, with very long loading times. The system can also play Audio CDs. All three versions of the system have no region-lock. The Neo Geo CD was launched bundled with a control pad instead of a joystick like the AES version. However, the original AES joystick can be used with all three Neo Geo CD models.
As of March 1997, there had been 570,000 Neo Geo CD units sold worldwide.
The Neo Geo CD was first unveiled at the 1994 Tokyo Toy Show. The console uses the same CPU set-up as the arcade and cartridge-based Neo Geo systems, facilitating conversions. SNK planned to release Neo Geo CD versions of every Neo Geo game still in the arcades.
Three versions of the Neo Geo CD were released:
- A front-loading version, only distributed in Japan, with 25,000 total units built.
- A top-loading version, marketed worldwide, as the most common model.
- The Neo Geo CDZ, an upgraded, faster-loading version, released in Japan only.
The front-loading version is the original console design, with the top-loading version having been developed shortly before the Neo Geo CD launch as a scaled-down, cheaper alternative model. The CDZ was released on December 29, 1995 as the Japanese market replacement for SNK’s previous efforts (the “front loader” and the “top loader”). The Neo Geo CD had met with limited success due to it being plagued with slow loading times that could vary from 30 to 60 seconds between loads, depending on the game.
In response to criticism of the Neo Geo CD’s long load times, SNK planned to produce a model with a double speed CD-ROM drive for North America, compared to the single speed drive of the Japanese and European models. However, the system missed its planned North American launch date of October 1995, and while SNK declined to give a specific reason for the delay, in their announcement of the new January 1996 launch date they stated that they had decided against using a double speed drive. Their Japanese division had produced an excess number of single speed units and found that modifying these units to double speed was more expensive than they had initially thought, so SNK opted to sell them as they were, postponing production of a double speed model until they had sold off the stock of single speed units.
The CDZ was only officially sold in Japan during its production. However, its faster loading times, lack of a “region lock”, and the fact that it could play older CD software, made it a popular import item for enthusiasts in both Europe and North America. The system’s technical specs are identical to the previous models except that it includes a double-speed CD-ROM drive.
In response to reader inquiries about Neo Geo CD software, GamePro reported in an issue cover dated May 1997 that SNK had quietly discontinued the console by this time.