Linked by Tony Bourke on Wed 21st Jan 2004 02:41 UTC
Oracle and SUN A few weeks ago, I stubbed my toe on my old Sun Ultra 5 as it sat there lifeless and unused in my apartment. Once my primary desktop, the envy of my geek friends, and a way to woo the ladies, its glory days have long since passed. As much as I would like to let it live out its days looking sexy and taking up space, I live on the island of Manhattan, where space is a premium. Since I can't charge it rent, I decided I'd better use it or lose it. But what to use it for? What operating system would I run on it? Solaris? What about Linux? FreeBSD? NetBSD? OpenBSD? They all run on the SPARC platform, so I thought why not do a quick review.
Order by: Score:
just what I wanted....NAY! needed
by JVM on Wed 21st Jan 2004 02:56 UTC

thanks osnews,
just got an ultra 10 for $200 on ebay, I'll be anxiously waiting for the next articles

Sun, memories, and old hardware
by number9 on Wed 21st Jan 2004 03:03 UTC

Well, I have been running Linux on Sun for quite a while too.
My old SparcStation 20 is still running Mandrake, my Ultra 2
dual CPU is running RedHat 6.2 for sparc and my U30 has
gone by the wayside. Enough about me, I personally look
forward to reading comparisons, as I have not played with
anything but RedHat and Mandrake and Gentoo on sparc.

For the interested, you can see the dmesg outputs from
some of my old Linux on Sun at:

Oh, and the author is correct, but I think a little high
on the price estimate, an ebay Sun (U1,U2,U5,U10,U30) should be
really cheap, unless you want to get into dual cpu's over

I look forward to the next installment of this article.

Thank you.

debian sid + kernel 2.6
by Otto Solares on Wed 21st Jan 2004 03:17 UTC

The author should benchmark debian sid as is much faster than woody. In fact much faster than solaris in my observations. Yea is a good idea to benchmark it with kernel 2.6.

I am happy with sparcs they are truly stable hardware. I ran 5 ultrasparcs, 4 with both sid and 2.6, they are truly stable. Well, in my opinion 2.6 is more stable than 2.4, just my opinion...

mmmm... benchmarks
by Jeffrey Boulier on Wed 21st Jan 2004 03:20 UTC

I'd think it awfully spiffy if you were able to compare benchmarks between some of the different operating systems - prog.c compiled and running on Solaris vs. compiled and running on NetBSD vs. compiled on Solaris but running on NetBSD (I vaguely recall this as possible, but haven't run anything on SPARC except for old-fashioned SunOS).

I've got to say this is inspirational. I eagerly await your next update!

Yours truly,
Jeffrey Boulier

Classic Teaser
by root on Wed 21st Jan 2004 03:23 UTC

Now you've left me salivating. :-)

Not to be a "prude"
by Ray on Wed 21st Jan 2004 03:56 UTC

...but how about removing the "F" word from the article, it simply isn't needed and in my opinion uncalled for.

Uncalled for
by TonyB on Wed 21st Jan 2004 03:58 UTC

$405 for a PCI video card, *that's* uncalled for ;)

sun ultra 10
by jared on Wed 21st Jan 2004 04:07 UTC

I just bought an ultra 10 off ebay that arrived today. Only problem is I need to wait for the keyboard and mouse (had to buy them separate) so I can actually use it ;)

Ultra 5 can only support 512 MB, not 1 GB
by TonyB on Wed 21st Jan 2004 04:10 UTC

I'm glad I preficed it by saying "I believe the max" ;)

Thanks to Robert Escue for saying that it only supported 512 MB. I thought that too, but I found a Sun document listing a 1 GB configuration.

Scroll down a bit, and you'll see it.

Turns out they memory module they listed is an Ultra 10 only module, and after seeing a picture of it, I can see why. They DIMMs are huge. As it stands, the short DIMMS barefly fit in the Ultra 5. You'd have to take the floppy drive out (no big loss) to try to make them fit, and even then, I couldn't say for sure.

So while they may work if you pull out the floppy, I can't say for certain.

Re: Not to be a "prude"
by pjm on Wed 21st Jan 2004 04:12 UTC

...but how about removing the "F" word from the article, it simply isn't needed and in my opinion uncalled for.

I know what you mean. If he said "free" one more time....


Really looking forward to the rest of his articles
by t.covenant on Wed 21st Jan 2004 04:23 UTC

as this was something I wanted to do a couple of years ago.
I had access to some castoff Ultra 5s, an Ultra 60 and an Enterprise 250 that wasn't being used much as the company was in a tailspin.
While I'd installed Linux on the Ultra 5s and Solaris 8 on the
60, I didn't have a chance to upgrade the 250 before we were locked out.
Some of the other employees managed to help some of the hardware walk out the door but I didn't take advantage.
Since they turned around and screwed some of us out of back pay, that's a decision I now regret

ultra 10
by adapt on Wed 21st Jan 2004 04:25 UTC

Ive got an new (only booted it 2wice) Ultra 10 sitting in my closet. I'll be happy to read the follow up articles to see what the progress for all the OS's are for these boxes.

BTW -- Why does Sun hardware (in my experience at least) scroll the terminals SO slow? Always bothered me. What causes this?

the f word
by paul on Wed 21st Jan 2004 04:40 UTC

the word free Its a joke linux aint free mandrake wants a contribution oh well

Ultra 5
by Patrick on Wed 21st Jan 2004 04:59 UTC

I love my Ultra 5. It's being server now, running Gentoo Linux. Too bad SILO has trouble booting larger kernels, though...

On my older SUN hardware
by Roberto J. Dohnert on Wed 21st Jan 2004 05:11 UTC

I run FreeBSD. I personally dont like Linux on the SPARC. Alpha, x86, PowerPC Linux is king if I want to run an Open Source OS.

by Anonymous on Wed 21st Jan 2004 05:13 UTC

Where can I find a girl that can be woo'ed by an Ultra SPARC ???

by jared on Wed 21st Jan 2004 05:22 UTC

Where can I find a girl that can be woo'ed by an Ultra SPARC ???

I have long pondered that question myself. Perhaps we should put a focus group together to tackle the problem.

by Eugenia on Wed 21st Jan 2004 05:28 UTC

>Where can I find a girl that can be woo'ed by an Ultra SPARC ???

Right here. Theoretically.

In fact, I was using a SPARC machine with solaris 8 last year. Too bad its graphics performance were slow (Nautilus was unbearable on that $3000 machine) and so I won't be able to get woo'ed anymore by "normal" Sun hardware.

by t3RRa on Wed 21st Jan 2004 06:08 UTC

Physically, Eugenia, you're over grown to be a girl, I rekon. :p but you can be a lady that can be woo'ed by an Ultra SPARC.

Just a joke. ;)

It's not the latest, or the greatest ...
by Kady Mae on Wed 21st Jan 2004 06:12 UTC

Tony sez:
"While not the fastest piece of hardware, it's incredibly relevant for a system of its age. It's a great learning tool for a variety of operating systems, as it's widely supported, and great for exploring the 64-bit realm. "

But what is anybody going to do on their designated "kanoodle" box that's massively intensive?

(And what is a Sun Desktop box used for any way? Where I work we've got about $300k of Suns in the server room, but nobody, not even the systems folk have a Sun Desktop.)


Oh, and Gents, you're never going to woo a lady with a Sun box. They're so boxy and bordinary* looking and you can't make really cool home movies, like, say, Jurassic Park on them.

The 64 bit path into a woman's heart comes by way of one of those technicolored, beautifully sculpted, looks like a work of art, ILM wants to make a home movie with FX like this! drop dead sexy SGI computers. And as everybody knows, SILICON is used in all of the best "adult" toys, not to mention chest upgrades.

(If you want to light a fire in her heart you gotta at least have some FUEL. And if you're lucky, that will get you some High Impact.)


* Boring+Ordinary = bordinary.


Note to self: Start a business called Silicon Gratification Inc.

by Eugenia on Wed 21st Jan 2004 06:14 UTC

Yup, I am getting 31 this coming May. But hey, I still feel young. Otherwise I wouldn't be messing up with things like osnews. ;)

BTW, I got a greek friend (22) who would be woo'ed by such hardware and unix. But I won't give you her phone number just yet. ;)

Regarding the SPARCs, I think we see Sun getting away from them grandually and try to make business with AMD Opteron and maybe even Itanium in the future. We'll see.

You are the B O M B...
by Scott Barlow on Wed 21st Jan 2004 06:32 UTC

I c-a-n-n-o-t wait until the next article. Your writing of a choice topic has kept me coming back to OS News for a long time now. Thanks for addressing this, and keep up the good work.

Ultra 5's for life!
by billd on Wed 21st Jan 2004 07:43 UTC

Currently I have an ultra 5 running debian sid (bought it for $150 off a friend). Very reliable mail server/web server, love the darn thing especially it's little sun quirks.

My friends work @ an ISP and they recycle their old ultra 5's to use as incoming mail servers (they have about 5 of them or so iirc in addition to other sun boxes). As the spam/email level increases they just plug another ultra 5 in ;) .

Darn things just last forever.

Eugenia, I know what OSNews needs --- a dating section ;) .

Ultra 5.
by PlayerX on Wed 21st Jan 2004 07:58 UTC

I wish I could reminisce about the old Sun Ultra 5's - instead of still being forced to use one for work. I'm entering this now on my work machine, an Ultra 5 with an AMD K6/400 PC card, because management have the misguided view that a machine that can run Solaris and Windows simultaneously increases productivity, despite it being slow as molasses.

I dream of having an Ultra 5 in the corner not doing anything, instead of being on my desk and being the only thing I can use. ;)

I have to say, though, that for a machine that runs 24/7, I have had no trouble with it whatsoever.

say no to ultra5's.
by df on Wed 21st Jan 2004 08:03 UTC

ultra5s are suckage. ultra2/10/30/60/80's rock. 30s are sweet.

its a shame, ultra5's have the wost and most buggy IDE chipset ever invented.

save money and buy a dual ultra2 instead of a 5 or pay a lil bit more and try and get an ultra30 or a maxed out ultra10...

id stay away from utlra5's.

I hope to
by t3RRa on Wed 21st Jan 2004 08:08 UTC

get a ultra sparc machine near future to get hand dirty. currently i only have a sparcstation ipx which is too old and that i cannot get working ;)

Ultra 5's for life!

dating section for geek boys & girls? thats pretty interesting idea. haha ;)

FreeBSD on Ultra5
by Scott on Wed 21st Jan 2004 08:38 UTC

I'll be interested in how the Author got on with FreeBSD. As part of the install it asks which type of terminal you are using:

1 for standard ANSI
2 VT100
3 FreeBSD console (colour)
4 FreebSD console (mono)
5 xterm

No matter which one I choose the screen will not format properly with the text wrapping round the next lines. That combined with the arrow keys not working makes the installation almost impossible.

Anyone know how to make the Sun console work properly with the FreeBSD installation? I can't find the answer anywhere (although I've found plenty of people with the same problem).


Linux on old SPARCs
by Ade on Wed 21st Jan 2004 11:10 UTC

I used a SPARCClassic running Red Hat (in 24Mb!) at home for years (see ) until I got tired of the s-l-o-w 8 bit graphics card and bought my SO a new PC so I could use her old one instead. I tried a SPARC 5 (non-Ultra) too with Aurora Linux but again, graphics performance for something like Mozilla (even running remotely) was abysmal. I considered using it as a hardened firewall on my dial-up but the serial ports on old SPARCs are also slow. I could use it as a firewall on my cable connection, but I'd have to source a second NIC first. Still, the hardware is like the Volkswagen of computing and an UltraSPARC with 24 bit gfx ought to be much nicer. Looking forward to more articles.

Very motivating article - thanks
by W Tarchalski on Wed 21st Jan 2004 11:27 UTC

OK now!
It's time for my Ultra AXi (UltraSPARC IIi 333 MHz/2MB) to wake up ;)

by xmp on Wed 21st Jan 2004 11:32 UTC

That ipc might run debian good. I ran debian on sparc classic just fine. Someone told me that i needed to recompile for sun4m, but it worked for me just fine without that. It's not decent as a desktop but ok as server.

I see surplus ultras for $40 and up a lot. Some of the slightly more pricey ones include a nice video card too.

And yeah SGI is the sweetest looking machine there is, but Sparc is no slouch either.

old unix box's
by dubhthach on Wed 21st Jan 2004 11:50 UTC

havn't played around with old Sun box's but my 2nd desktop at home is a dual processor SGI Octane with a gig of RAM (can be upgraded to 8GB's of RAM) :-)

by mario on Wed 21st Jan 2004 12:08 UTC

I just bought an ultra 10 off ebay that arrived today. Only problem is I need to wait for the keyboard and mouse (had to buy them separate) so I can actually use it ;)

Bullshit. Sun computers are not PCs: you can connect a terminal (or a computer with a terminal program) to the Sun's serial port, and you get complete control over it. This is called console access, and in addition it allows you to manage the OpenBoot prompt.

freebsd, gentoo, ... (sun ultra 1)
by eugene on Wed 21st Jan 2004 12:28 UTC


i own a sun ultra 1, but i guess the results of the benchmarks and testdrives the author is going to do will fit for this one too...

its old harsdware too... but it does have scsi... (yeah, i am one of those guys preferring old scsi instead of new fast ide stuff... - when i dont need size (big hard drives))... but for some geeking and servering (what a word) 4 gb is enough for me...

well, this ultra1 still runs the latest solaris without problems... (if u dont use java- because its slow... the admintool is rewritten in java, but who needs this anyway)...

the first issue i had was the rom... the processor has got an issue with 64bit, and it warns me of a possibly security leak... a wrong combination of opcodes (gcc doenst produce this ;-) can crash the machine or so...

the next issue is... i love freebsd, but freebsd just isnt able to handle an ultra1... ultra5 should run fine... my scsi isnt supportet *hmpf*... i hope someone will port this stuff from netbsd... but it seems some folkz dont want freebsd supporting sparc... only for having a reference for *endian to make freebsd more clean and portable...

then i had not much choice i guess... i dont like openbsd... and netbsd is nur cutting edge enough i feel?! though its the cleanest os ever... so now i have gentoo linux installed... and it runs very smoothly... though 2.6 kernel is marked as very experimental and i fear to break the system by installing it and a 64bit compiler (i want to try though some day...)

well... love that box...

thanx to the author for this series of articles comming up now...

oh and why is ssh so slow he asked... is it?? i feel its fast... and the console is fast scrolling too... fb is good supportet at least under linux... solaris is indeed scrolling slowly... i dunno why... have no source ;-)... and hey... xfree4 finaly supports cgsix for x11 :-)

ssh is very very slow on mk680xx processors *g*... i have a "next" too and i dislike sshing there ;-)

but u can play mp3 smoothly on this slow machine... *g*

anyways... bye bye,

memory u5
by Dmitriy on Wed 21st Jan 2004 12:47 UTC

U5 has the same motherboard as u10. Darwin or Darwin+, as I remember. I think that it's sun's marketing, that cut memory from 1Gb to 512 Mb from U5 :-)

You people are killing me!
by XaosSlaad on Wed 21st Jan 2004 12:48 UTC

Sun workstations and servers hanging around, boxes being used as doorstops, or stuffed in closets? Arrggghhh sacrilege! Even a Sun Ultra 5 with 128 MB RAM runs Solaris 9 nicely; and best of all for educational or development (my understanding... might not be true); it's free to use as long as you're not trying to turn a profit. If you don't want to deal with the 'not free' aspect use Linux or BSD.

Even an 'old junker' runs with such stability its uncanny. I bought mine off Ebay and it looks beautiful; as though it was hardly ever used. My friend did the same thing and it looks like it was used on the German front line in WWII to decrypt enigma. The amazing thing is that his, even with the obvious neglect and abuse, runs as well as mine does.

x86 just can't hold up in the light of sun. Sure you pay more, which makes it hard on those wanting to learn, (so turn to ebay get something for around $250; might take a few weeks but you'll find a nice deal), but that old saying, you get what you pay for holds true in this case.

Linux on ultra one sparc
by djamé on Wed 21st Jan 2004 12:53 UTC

in my own experience I installed several flavor of Linux on ultra one (128 meg of ram and scsi disk)
I tried :
debian potataoe
mandrake 7.2
and aurora sparc linux
result :
I didn't get debian and gentoo passed the second stage install, I don't know why, really I tried irc, faq and all, it should have been workin but nothing
but the mandrake 7.2 (and old, old version of mandrake) was perfect, fast enough, install without problems, nothing to say, it was mandrake
but the mandrake 7.2 was good in its age (equl to redhat 6.2 I guess) so I tried the aurora sparc linux which is a project to port the last incarnation of redhat to this kind of machine, and the installation was great, everything was fine, except one thing, one tiny little thing, it was so slow.... incredible, zero reactivity, so slow that I was thinking they forgot to activate the cache (exactly as the first version of BootX for linuxPPC for the old mac world) in the kernel.......
in conclusion, I ran for few weeks the ultraone in order to be a mysql server in mandrake 7.2 mode, but it was not as reactive than my own celeron 450 so I gave up ultimately....

so here's my advice for your ultra 5, have a look to aurora, it's a recent distrib just as good than any last flavor of redhat if your machine is fast enough.......

My Ultra 5 (Smooth as silk!)
by Trollboy on Wed 21st Jan 2004 12:59 UTC

I run gentoo on my Ultra 5 (A 270 with 512MB ram).
I have replaced the HD with a 80GB Seagata Baracuda (7200rpm) and the CD with a Kenwood 72x. I love the machines consistent performance. It not fast but it handles loads much better the the x86 hardware, never had the machine sit around waiting for an interrupt or stall cause a write took longer then expected. Never had a panic or other problems. (It will probably die now since I wrote this...)

The first thing I did was get more memory for the box. I got 2x256 from MemoryX 8MX7032A) at 196USD+shipping (02/08/2003). With the original memory It was thrashing when I ran lynx!

I started with OpenBSD but the install was so bad. No support for the ATI video and no keyboard maps. I never tryed to install with a terminal console, that would probably have worked better.
The Gentoo install went smooth, stage 1 install took about three days. ;-) The install don't require much interaction so that not much of a problem.

Next thing I will try is getting a ieee1394 card running in it and get an external drive on it.

Sofar I have had no problems what so ever with any hardware (IDE or other). If it has a buggy IDE chipset it don't show it. I will try to get my hands on some more old sun boxes now that Gentoo puts back some spring in there steps. a 450 would be nice!

To: adapt; Scroll speed.
by Trollboy on Wed 21st Jan 2004 13:13 UTC

When you get Gentoo or Debian(I have only ran these on Ultra 5), with Framebuffer support, running the scroll speed is fast enough. Almost like runing text mode on a PC. You will not notice a difference when you work on it. Only if you really _really_ look.

Good read!
by Sean Pecor on Wed 21st Jan 2004 14:20 UTC

Thanks for an interesting article. I hope to see more from Tony on OSNews!

@ Anonymous
by dpi on Wed 21st Jan 2004 15:12 UTC

"Where can I find a girl that can be woo'ed by an Ultra SPARC ???"

Tattoo'ed is also ok?
Even better! :")

Sun kit.
by Hugh on Wed 21st Jan 2004 15:49 UTC

An interesting read; personally I have just taken delivery of an immaculate dual 450MHz processor Ultra 60 with 1Gb RAM, two 18 Gb SCSI drives and an Elite 3D graphics card. I am awaiting delivery of the latest Solaris 9 (12/03) installation media kit. I tried installing Mandrake 7.2, but it locks up at the beginning of the second disk. Tried with a second downloaded copy and got the same result. Any one got an idea why? Thanks everso.

by Aaron Mitti on Wed 21st Jan 2004 16:09 UTC

I've got 4 of these 300mhz dual sparc's in my garage.. Beowulf cluster? I really haven't a use for them, maybe I'll just sell them..


IF you're going to buy one of these things, don't bother with the 5's and 10's. The architecture is mediocre at best and basically just a PC with a different CPU. The Ultra 2 has a real crossbar for memory access and a 300mhz Ultra 2 will smoke one of the (generally) more expensive 400ish mhz 5/10's as a server. CPU is where its at for interactive stuff I admit. The 2's were still built like tanks unlike the 5/10s. Don't let the fact that its sbus scare you off, sbus cards are dirt cheap and perform every bit as well or better than their pci counterparts in the old Suns. The 2's are also SCSI which runs 100x better than IDE on these things for a server.

by Kady Mae on Wed 21st Jan 2004 16:50 UTC

2nd desktop at home is a dual processor SGI Octane with a gig of RAM (can be upgraded to 8GB's of RAM) :-)


I have only vague ideas about how to run and play with all that IRIXy goodness, but damn if I'm not jealous of how insanely fast that beautiful teal behemoth must be.

(Off to go re-read EL-Q's story of her adventures with IRIX on an Octane DP.)

Ultra 30s are nicer
by JimD on Wed 21st Jan 2004 16:51 UTC

I am running gentoo on an Ultra 30 as my stable desktop, which leaves my x86 for play. The Ultra 30 has a Creator 3D Series 3 graphic card which works well with X11, 256MB of memory and 18Gig SCSI. I wish the CPU was a little faster, but it is sufficient for a desktop, just watch out for those gentoo compiles :-), XFree86 & Mozilla take forever. I got this on ebay for $274.00.

memory upgrades
by Fernando Pereira on Wed 21st Jan 2004 16:55 UTC

Crucial ( had memory upgrades for the Sparc5. I don't know if they still sell those, but it worked well for me. I am still using it as an Oracle on Solaris/Sparc test server for some development.

Ultra 10
by mark on Wed 21st Jan 2004 16:58 UTC

Great article, look forward to the next exciting installments:-)

My Ultra has been relegated to a VNC window on WinXP because the monitor is so huge. This however has some advantages, I now have scroll wheel operation and smoother fonts. Using Blackbox as the WM the speed decrease in running Solaris 9 over vncserver is barely noticeable.

by jimmy on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:01 UTC

Okay, maybe I sound like a huge loser, but I have a tricked-out (in the spirit of flavah-flav) Sparc5 110MHz - S24 24-bit graphics, 18GB SCSI HDD, SBus video capture, and 10/100 card, with 256MB of RAM, running Solaris 8; it has an internal CDROM drive, and uses an external Sun QIC-150 (535MB) tape drive.

I use it as an FTP server and for a few other things, and the box runs amazingly well. It *never* crashes, runs GCC (and thus all of my apps which don't require tons of speed) extremely well, and it a truly amazing box. It is a tribute to Sun and the Solaris developers in how they truly understood quality engineering in how they produced something that was manufactured in 1995, and is still relevant and useful 8 years later...

Ultra5 w/Solaris 9 and Gnome
by R on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:02 UTC

When starting a grad program, i had the option of an old windows box or a never booted, 3 year old Ultra 5 (400mhz, 256MB). I was new to Unix/Linux, but it was a great learning tool.

Its now one of my desktops and runs Solaris 9 and Gnome. Not to get into a desktop war, but Gnome runs very nicely on it. Not the fastest combination around, but incredibly stable.

I also do mapping, seismic data processing, and data gridding on it, and the 64 bit USparc shines on some of those jobs.

I also have the SunPCI card, which is a 32-bit processor on a PCI card meant to boot Windows, but Linux can also be loaded on it. There's a HOW-TO out there on it. Thats one of my next projects when i find the time.


Still fun hardware
by Justin on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:21 UTC

Last year I owned a Sun Ultra 2, 2x300MHz, 512MB ram. I used Solaris 9 on it, and I really grew accustomed to it. I wish I didn't have to sell it, but other expenses came up and I couldn't justify keeping it over its cash equivalent since I had a dual-boot x86 sitting next to it.

Running Solaris 9 I found it somewhat slow, but far from unuseable.

These SPARC projects are very fun and different, and I highly recommend them to anyone interested in them.

Recent graphics cards work too!
by phayes on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:24 UTC

Hi all,

I recently installed a racked Sun Fire V240 here at work. For some unknown reason, it was ordered with an XVR-100 & a 18" LCD screen. Rather than letting them go unused on a server I tried installing the XVR-100 card in a U10 I have handy. The XVR-100 is an ATI Radeon based card with dual outputs which supports 1600x1200x24 on both ports in Xinerama. The XVR-100 is not a supported on the U10 according to Sun, but the card & software installed without a hitch.

As the LCD only supported 1280x1024, I farmed it out to another U10 so that I could steal it's 20" CRT & setup Xinerama. So, I now have a 3200x1200x24 desktop. Mmmmmm, nice...

Source for RAM
by David Kilzer on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:44 UTC

I've used Rocky Mountain Ram in the past for PC, Mac and Sun memory and never had an issue with any of it. I'm not sure how their prices would compare with Sun memory on eBay, but it's MUCH more affordable than memory directly from Sun.

NOTE: I am not affiliated with Rocky Mountain Ram in any way other than as a satisfied customer.

RE: ultra 10
by Dave on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:45 UTC

adapt asks:
BTW -- Why does Sun hardware (in my experience at least) scroll the terminals SO slow? Always bothered me. What causes this?
At least on earlier Suns, & probably the Ultra 5, plug-in cards contained initialisation code is ROM. To make this code smaller, it was implemented in forth. This extended to the implementation of console mode, ie. it's running forth out of ROM. Console mode was only really intended for usr while booting, once the window system was started thing got much faster.


by Me on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:46 UTC

It's "black hole" not "block hole" silly.

RE: Ultra 10 scrolling speed
by Joe Smith on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:48 UTC

adapt wrote: Why does Sun hardware (in my experience at least) scroll the terminals SO slow? Always bothered me. What causes this?

The OpenBoot PROM monitor operates even when the main system is halted. Scrolling is done without DMA - it updates the frame buffer with interrupts off. For faster scrolling, run a GUI or use /dev/ttya. When logged in at the raw console, I type 'cat', ESCape [ 2 4 r Enter Control-D. That causes scrolling to happen 24 lines at a time instead of one line at a time. Return to "normal" with ESCape [ r Enter Control-D.

RE: sparc5
by Dave on Wed 21st Jan 2004 17:52 UTC

Hi Jimmy,
I'm glad I'm not the only one running a sparc5 ;-)
One thing I've found when running gcc for them is that it's worth using the -mcpu=v8 switch to enable the use of the hardware integer multiply & divide instructions, especially for ssh. My machine accpts ssh connections in about 1/3 the time since I recompiled using that option.


CD-R drives work fine under Solaris 7
by Steve H on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:02 UTC

I've been using IDE CD-RW drives on "my" stable of Sun Ultra 5's for several years, using the cdrtools package compiled with gcc 2.95 from the site. Works great, you just need to turn off volume management before using cdrecord by killing vold.

I wish Sun were bright enough to sell and support CD recorders like the rest of the world; their sales folks even shared my opinion and amazement. It's not as though it were technically tough. Sun could have charged their usual inflated hardware prices, and I'd have paid gladly...

Solaris 8, OTOH, is a nightmare scenario. It breaks the SCSI emulation driver for IDE CD-RW drives, and I had to use an external SCSI CD-RW drive. Sol 9 allegedly fixes this, but it wasn't an option for me.

I started in 64-bit computing in 1999 with the purchase of my first DEC Alpha (a PWS433a workstation). I started out running Linux on it, but switched to FreeBSD in 2001. I also picked up a DEC Server 3300R -- an awesome server (also running FreeBSD). I would heartily recommend old Alpha hardware to someone interested in 64-bit stuff.

These old DEC machines are built to standards unheard of in the commodity PC world. I used the workstation as a workstation until I switched to a laptop, now both are servers (dev and production).

Tony and I worked together for a few years in the 1990s and I can't wait to see the results of his tests!!

And USB works great and...
by Michaell on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:11 UTC


Just like to add that standard USB 1.1 and 2.0 PCI cards work great if using Solaris 8 with a patch from sunsolve,USB 2.0 cards works on Solaris 9 if the DDK 0.9 is installed otherwise sticmk with USB 1.1 cards until next Solaris 9 in 2 months time.

ATI radeon 7000 MAC edition should work on Solaris 9 and late 8 fully patched since it is the same board as SUN resells.


Sparc5 GCC Tip
by jimmy on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:13 UTC


Thanks a million for the gcc comment. Will give it a try very soon...anything to speed up the ol' Sparc5 is a huge help.


My Ultra 5 experience
by hsnewman on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:27 UTC

Well, I saw one on usenet for sale, and called the guy. He was selling an UNOPENED U5 with UNOPENED 17 inch monitor for "best offer". I offered him $75 TODAY, he accepted.

It came with an opened box of Solaris 8 as well.

Well, I pulled the 8 gig drive and put in a 40 (I had problems with my 160 gig drives working, unfortunately).

At that time (1/2 year ago), I was really into Mythtv. I tried all the flavors of Linux and BSD, but couldn't get both high resolution and sound working. So I went back to Solaris 8.

Next, I added a WinGo/TV card. . .and a SunPCI II card.

At this time, my U5 is running both Solaris 8 and Linux 2.4. Under Solaris 8 I'm running the KLH10 emulator with TOPS-20. Under the linux system I'm running the SIMH emulator with TOPS-10.

4 OS's on 1 desktop. Oh, and BTW=> the TV works great under Solaris.

Beat that, geeks.

Still going strong on mine...
by Dave Booth on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:32 UTC

This ultra 5 is still my primary workstation in the office. Only by having a SPARC box running Solaris can I get away from the "corporate standard" of XP, which for a full-time unix admin tends to suck...

It may not be as fast as the newer machines but its still beefy enough to handle everything I throw at it on Solaris 9. Its also still the envy of coworkers doomed to MS-land as scrounging through the spares box allowed me to put a pair of 21" monitors on it and even old as it is it handles Enlightenment and a couple of displays full of transparent Eterms well enough to trigger the "cool shiny kit syndrome" in my fellow cube-warriors. The only thing I couldnt get working right was xinerama and with the way I work its not missed - I prefer the two displays to be separate anyway so I can flip around the virtual desktops on one and leave the other undisturbed.

Re: Kernel image too large for SILO
by K. Engel on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:42 UTC

strip -R .comment -R .note vmlinux
gzip vmlinux

Rename and move as you please. Generally whatever size kernel you have (+4MB) will be around 1.5MB.

SILO has no problem whatsoever dealing with that.

by TonyB on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:44 UTC

You don't actually need to zip up the kernel image on SPARC, and the SILO restriction isn't based on the zipped size, rather it's the unzipped size.

Striping it is probably a good idea, however. As I'll outline, I did wrestle with the kernel size.

Max kernel size is without modules.
by Trollboy on Wed 21st Jan 2004 18:48 UTC

Also the max kernel size is without modules. A lot of stuff can be moved to modules so kernel size should not really be a problem. (Mine is about 3.1MB, no modules and no stripping)

by Tom on Wed 21st Jan 2004 19:07 UTC

I had a 4 processor 690MP running Redhat 5 for kicks. Sounded like a jet engine running. Only 2 boards were populated in a huge case that could have had 10 boards in the backplane.

I was back over at the research group at school the other day and I found out that they'd thrown it in the trash. Damn shame - I could've made it into a mini-fridge.

re: Beat that, geeks
by Smartpatrol on Wed 21st Jan 2004 19:44 UTC

I picked up a Dual 300Mhz UE2 with 1.5GB ram and two 9.1 Scsi drives for $350(with shipping) off ebay. I was given a quad 10/100 sbus ethernet card that i promptly installed. Of course its abouy 7000 miles away in my crawl space next to my alpha 500 workstation and my HP C180 workstation. DAMN EBAY! i can never pass up a good hardware deal. So i have all this cool hardware sitting around not doing much ;) . I am going back soon for a visit i plan on dragging it out and turning it into my firewall box probably using Solaris. I will have to prop it next to by Dual 1GHZ p-III hp visulaize workstation that i got off ebay for $125 running redhat 9. i am going to pick up a HP B2000 when i find one the right price just becasue i always wanted one. I guess i will just add it to the stack after i mess around with HP-UX 11i on it.

One question does the size of a guys Sparc matter when presenting it to girls that are woooed by such?

by jared on Wed 21st Jan 2004 20:18 UTC

Bullshit. Sun computers are not PCs: you can connect a terminal (or a computer with a terminal program) to the Sun's serial port, and you get complete control over it. This is called console access, and in addition it allows you to manage the OpenBoot prompt.

I know what it is. I just don't consider it the same. Gotta love those sun keyboards

Sparcs are cooooool!!!
by BSDero on Wed 21st Jan 2004 21:42 UTC

I've got some old sun4m machines (one ss5, two dual ss10, and a ss20). The SS20 is my home workstation. It has dual SuperSparc II processors, 256 MBytes RAM and a 9 GB SCSI HD. It works perfectly. I installed Aurora Linux there, but xmms sounds terrible. So it is working with Solaris 9. the other sparcs are running aurora lnx.

I would like to install some BSD, but SMP/sparc32 is experimental in these OS.. or completely unsupported.. would be great if Tony would cover sparc32 engines too.

I'm about to get a dual Sun Ultra 10. And I can't wait to have this little toy in my hands.. (what would i install into it?)


RE: My Sun Ultra 5 And Me
by Sid Boyce on Wed 21st Jan 2004 21:57 UTC

I've been tempted to bring Linux up on "my" Ultra 5 when I first got it, but my boss asked me not to in case they needed it back, I upgraded to a 20G HD, so it sleeps under my desk at home until it's needed to test something out on Solaris 8. Going back further, when the old SPARC 5's would crawl using Solaris, Linux was quite speedy on them, but alas I couldn't get one for free, there that "F" word again. If ever I get hold of another SPARC box, I shall install Linux on it, I quite liked the project I did some years ago that used an E3500 running Linux, quite fun. I'm also looking into installing SPARC Linux on a partition of a big-iron Fujitsu Primepower M2000 I have sitting idle at work, it would be a good demo with perhaps 24 CPU's and 48 Gig. in a domain to play with, I just need some time.

by Adam Moniz on Wed 21st Jan 2004 22:38 UTC

Good place to buy this sort of stuff on ebay is

Handy firewall
by Perriko on Wed 21st Jan 2004 22:42 UTC

I picked up an old ultra 5 from work that was retired and collecting dust in the hallway. I took it home and now use it as a firewall/squid proxy/NAT box between my home network and my cable connection. It runs Debian (woody), has no screen or keyboard and sits under the crockery cupboard out of sight in the dining room. It hasn't missed a beat in 12 months.

a great use for an old workhorse...


old SPARCs
by Big Gums on Wed 21st Jan 2004 23:20 UTC

Old SPARCs run just about any modern OS (which supports the hw, that is) just fine. Sure, compiling on a SS5 or SS20 is a pain and rather tedious, but for daily work all one needs is a run through the Solaris kernel parameters list for tweaking the system. Aside from the constant whine from the old-ass SCSI drives, my SS5, 3 SS20s and U1 have consistently worked like champs for me.

The biggest problem with the U5 was the wack IDE chipset. Other than that, they still make great desktops. I ran Debian on one for ~3yrs as my daily desktop and never had reason to complain (ok, lack of Shockwave/Flash support; there's one gripe).

Oh, and maybe things have improved over the last year since I've last touched it, but Linux on sparc32 is masochistic; blow your money and (more importantly) time on a dominatrix instead.

What is "whack" with the IDE chipset?
by Trollboy on Wed 21st Jan 2004 23:27 UTC

I have found nothing wrong with the IDE chipset. What problems are people having with it? (Apart from it not being scsi)

It's not SCSI...
by Big Gums on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 00:20 UTC

The CMD646 had DMA problems associated with it. I don't know how Sun dealt with it; watching the Linux and FreeBSD developers wrangle with it years ago made me sympathize with them.

But, more importantly, you're right - it's not SCSI ;)

heh, maybe you have a point. (CMD646)
by Trollboy on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 00:57 UTC

Straight from the hourses mouth:
/* $Id: cmd64x.c,v 1.21 2000/01/30 23:23:16
* linux/drivers/ide/pci/cmd64x.c Version 1.30 Sept 10, 2002
* cmd64x.c: Enable interrupts at initialization time on Ultra/PCI machines.
* Note, this driver is not used at all on other systems because
* there the "BIOS" has done all of the following already.
* Due to massive hardware bugs, UltraDMA is only supported
* on the 646U2 and not on the 646U.
* Copyright (C) 1998 Eddie C. Dost (
* Copyright (C) 1998 David S. Miller (
* Copyright (C) 1999-2002 Andre Hedrick <>

by James on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 01:36 UTC

Debian linux on Ultra10
Absolutely bulletproof.. running almost 2 years now 24/7

Love the articles; keep em coming.

just how many computers do you geeks need?
by dr_gonzo on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 01:41 UTC

a computer from 1998 isn't very old, especially when running unix/linux on it. i've been learning about computers for about four years now and i only have 2 computers, a packard bell that i got 4 years ago and an ibook that i got 2 months ago. even at that i feel a tad guilty about having 2 computers 'cause i only really need one, in fact i could probably do all my college work fine with just using the computers in the labs at college.

why do you (i'm not having a go here, i class myself as a bit of a geek too ;) have a need to constantly change your linux distro every few months and have 10 computers in your attic? just curious...

Sun gag
by Ed Carp on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 01:43 UTC

Reminds me of a gag I pulled at Sun back in early 1992. I loaded Linux on a 386/16 Leading Edge laptop with 4 MB of RAM and a 60MB HD, then scrounged one of those metal Sun logos (the ones they used to put on the front of the Sun 2 boxes), set it up in my office running the Sun logo screensaver, and waited for my first victim to walk by. One of the developers who was known to smoke dope nights and weekends wandered by to say hi, and he of course was interested, I guess he thought he was still stoned or something ("wow, cool, man!"). I told him (and several other people at Sun who wandered by that day, including several managers who should've known better!) that it was Sun's new laptop. They were inpressed, I just tried not to giggle ;)

Sun gag
by Ed Carp on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 01:44 UTC

Reminds me of a gag I pulled at Sun back in early 1992. I loaded Linux on a 386/16 Leading Edge laptop with 4 MB of RAM and a 60MB HD, then scrounged one of those metal Sun logos (the ones they used to put on the front of the Sun 2 boxes), set it up in my office running the Sun logo screensaver, and waited for my first victim to walk by. One of the developers who was known to smoke dope nights and weekends wandered by to say hi, and he of course was interested, I guess he thought he was still stoned or something ("wow, cool, man!"). I told him (and several other people at Sun who wandered by that day, including several managers who should've known better!) that it was Sun's new laptop. They were impressed, I just tried not to giggle ;)

Gentoo Linux Sparc5
by joespr on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 01:47 UTC

re Linux on Sun HW.
Just installed Gentoo Linux on a SparcStation5. 96 Mg Ram.
No floppy, no CD rom. Booted from network to install Gentoo on the disk, then boot directly from disk.
Runs just fine, if slow.

RE: FreeBSD on Ultra5
by TilJ on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 04:50 UTC

If you check the freebsd-sparc64@ mailing list archives, this comes up every few weeks. There's two solutions:

1) Use a real serial console!
2) suffer with the system console until -CURRENT gets it sorted out (planned to be done by release 5.3, I believe) by using control-n and control-p for next and previous.

Really, use the serial console. Everything looks and acts normal then.

Memory size
by Jesper Monsted on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 06:52 UTC

The 512 MB maximum memory that's specified in the article (and the comments) is wrong. My U5 gladly works with 768 MB and one at work was running with 1024.

by TonyB on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 07:01 UTC

What memory modules did you use?

Re: Memory
by Jesper Monsted on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 07:25 UTC

It has 2x256 and 2x128.

It's offline at the moment so i can't show any proof, though ;)

by TonyB on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 08:10 UTC

How big are the 2x256 modules? Did you have to take anything out? Are they Sun modules?

freebsd would be my choice
by sharplin on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 16:17 UTC

after recently going to linux mandrake homepage an getting this contribution thing before i could download i dont have or use credit cards. When i saw that not sure if they changed it lately. i was convinced that linux is not free
an i still am. So for now ill stick with freebsd or netbsd.
I just wish the lie would stop. How can linux be free if they are trying make give them a contribution before u can

RE: freebsd would be my choice
by w_Tarchalski on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 17:12 UTC

<quote> How can linux be free if they are trying make give them a contribution before u can

Try this then

Mine !!!
by ltiu on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 17:17 UTC

lyndon@SunONE ~>uname -an
SunOS SunONE.server.unix 5.8 Generic_108528-15 sun4u sparc SUNW,Ultra-5_10
lyndon@SunONE ~>psrinfo -v
Status of processor 0 as of: 01/22/04 09:16:55
Processor has been on-line since 01/22/04 07:08:13.
The sparcv9 processor operates at 333 MHz,
and has a sparcv9 floating point processor.
lyndon@SunONE ~>

Here at my office we've got a legacy system from the 80s now running on an UltraSPARC-IIi. We had a clone system set up for backup and then the original's HD died so now there's just the clone, and we've been having some trouble getting the original going again. We're running Solaris 7 (Oct 1998 release) on the working machine, but I've only got the install media for the next version, the Aug 1999 release. The legacy system appears to be sensitive to the underlying OS and I want to make an exact clone. If anybody has Solaris 7 (SunOS 5.7) Oct 1998 install disks, I'll make an offer on 'em. Otherwise if you know anything about Sparcs, Solaris, etc and you can help me, there'd be a reward. Contact me at clark AT thirteen DOT net.

Ultra's are Bulletproof
by Anonymous on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 21:39 UTC

I had an Ultra 1 workstation at my last job that ran w/o any crashes for over 3 years (save power outtages). The only problem I experienced was related to a faulty SCSI CDrom. I liked them so much that I now have an Ultra 1 and and Ultra 2 Dual proc. at home. They are very interesting machines (albeit very loud). Keep up the great articles!

by Larry on Thu 22nd Jan 2004 23:52 UTC

That was a really neat tip that the fellow posted above, to change the console scroll rate.

About the Ultra_5 versus others (Ultra_2, Ultra_10, Ultra_60) I think the built-in video and
storage (I/O) differences are significant. What I liked in the Ultra workstations (aside from
the processor/memory architecture) were the higher UPA graphics and fast SCSI options.
In the Ultra_60, you could use the built-in SCSI and/or add LVD SCSI via a PCI card ... and
no simba issues (the initial Darwin Ultra_10 had some bad issues with balancing the bus bridges).

So, for really good graphics you want an Ultra_10 with FFB2+ (UPA graphics). For simultaneous high
storage and network throughput, you want an Ultra_60 with PCI cards for LVD SCSI and multiple
network ports. The Ultra_60 and Ultra_2 (for example) should ideally have both processors.
The Ultra_80 expanded beyond the Ultra_60, in size/capacity.

The I/O bandwidth of the Ultra_10 was a limiting factor but with the Creator3D (FFB2+) Graphics
board installed, it is a really super desktop workstation. (Sun's Type 5 keyboard is still my
favorite, but use the Type 6 i.e. Crossbow mouse!)

The UltraSPARC and UltraSPARC-IIi-based workstations are going to be worthwhile for many, many
years to come. Thanks for this forum; Larry.

by Larry on Fri 23rd Jan 2004 00:47 UTC

I forgot to mention, something not everyone knew (and, Sun didn't talk about too much)
but for anyone who had an Ultra_10 with the UPA video board installed, that means you
have two framebuffers -- the onboard (PGX24) and the Creator (FFB). If you don't mind
running the desktop graphics according to the lower plane depth, then two displays
(one plugged into each graphics adapter) gives you a Xinerama desktop (two tubes but one
logical display :0.0). I always used to use Xinerama on my Ultra_10 (using Xsun, you
can do that in Solaris 7 and above), it was way cool. Doing similar using PCI
graphics adapters is also no problem, but all of our systems only had a single SCSI
adapter in the PCI slots (most folks didn't know they had both graphics adapters
but the on-board PGX24 really isn't that spectacular;) Larry.

Ultra 60
by Larry on Fri 23rd Jan 2004 00:55 UTC

The Ultra_60 had *two* UPA graphics slots (as opposed to one
in the Ultra_10 and zero in the Ultra_5).
I think the Ultra_80 may have had more than two (or was it up to 4 CPUs and 2 UPA slots?)

And, somewhat similar to the Ultra_5 versus Ultra_10 difference: the Ultra_1E had wide SCSI, hme (fast Ethernet) and the Creator3D graphics
i.e. UPA graphics board, versus the Ultra_1 which had only narrow SCSI, le (10 Mbps Ethernet) and the lower graphics
(but you could add a single SBus card to the Ultra_1 which
would give it wide SCSI and hme i.e. fast Ethernet;) Larry.

by drsmithy on Fri 23rd Jan 2004 02:31 UTC

The Ultra 5's memory isn't non-standard, it's just very uncommon. You need standard 60ns ECC EDO DIMMs which, outside of x86 servers and other Sun hardware from the the same era are practically unheard of (the PC world had well and truly moved on to SDRAM by then).

Along with the website already mentioned, might have what you need. Or look on ebay for "EDO DIMMs", as most of them will be ECC and compatible.

by TonyB on Fri 23rd Jan 2004 20:25 UTC

Have you ever used non-Sun EDO DIMM in an Ultra?

Mmmm Sun Sparc
by Donut on Fri 23rd Jan 2004 21:14 UTC

Still a die hard Sun Fan...

Has an E10K to play with a while back, but didn't get a chance to test Aurora...

Other than that, at home I have an Ultra 5/Solaris 9, an Ultra 10(elite3D)/Solaris 9+Aurora 1.0, an Ultra 2(creator3D)/Solaris 9, and a Sparc 10/Aurora 1.0 all purchased off eBay and run like a dream - have next to no problems with these up against PC hardware...

Ultra 5/10 Question - Off topic...
by DeadSmiley on Fri 23rd Jan 2004 21:44 UTC

What is the real difference between the Ultra 5 and the Ultra 10? I know that one has a destop case and the other has a tower case. The Ultra 5 is limited to 512MB, I think the Ultra 10 will go to 1GB.

Anything else?

e: TonyB (IP:
by drsmithy on Sat 24th Jan 2004 00:15 UTC

Have you ever used non-Sun EDO DIMM in an Ultra?

Yep. Can't remember the exact make and model, but they were pulled from an old HP server before they went into the U5 (4x128).

re: memory u5
by Steve W on Tue 27th Jan 2004 07:06 UTC

U5 has the same motherboard as u10. Darwin or Darwin+, as I remember. I think that it's sun's marketing, that cut memory from 1Gb to 512 Mb from U5 :-)

Actually it's just the design of the case. The taller higher capacity chips don't fit unless you remove the floppy or something. I haven't seen a U5 for a while.