posted by Tony Bourke on Wed 21st Jan 2004 02:41 UTC

"Sun Ultra 5 review, Page 2"

For those that wish to trick out your Ultra 5, there are a few options depending on your needs and budget. Storage: The case fits a single standard sized 3 inch IDE drive, although some say you can remove the floppy drive and put in two (but be careful about heat dissipation). The Ultra 5 should take any standard IDE drive, although it probably won't handle over 137 GB. Also, it should be noted that the IDE interface on the Ultra 5 is UDMA2, or 33 MB/s. I've put in a 40 and 80 GB Western Digital drives and they ran fine.

As far as DVD ROM drives and CD burners, I really couldn't say, as I've never tried to install either.

Memory: Memory is an issue, though, as memory upgrades, even off eBay, can be almost as expensive as the system itself. It's just not standard RAM. Currently I've got 256 MB on my system, and even as a desktop, it's not bad. The max RAM you can put in is 512 MB. There are 4 memory slots, and they must be installed in pairs.

Video: For video upgrades, you're stuck with slower PCI-video cards, and if you're using Solaris, expensive slow PCI-video cards. Sun has offered up the PGX32 and PGX64 PCI-based video cards which offer 8 MB of VRAM.

The PGX64 is listed on Sun's site for $405, which for a 8MB PCI video card seems a little pricey. If the subtleties of irony didn't translate over my mangling of the English language, $405 for a PCI video card is a lot pricey.

You can find the PGX32 cards, and even some PGX64 cards much cheaper off of eBay. Because of the way Sun's X works, you can't run the desktop in 16-bit modes. It's either 8-bit or 24-bit, which is a bit of an annoyance, because the VRAM is sufficient to run 1280x1024 in 16-bit mode, which is better suited for large monitors.

However, if you run Linux you could probably run any PCI-video card that had a XFree86 driver. Because the Sun video requires special ROMs, you wouldn't be able to use it in console mode; only X11. You can pick an 8 MB ATI PCI card for about $15 on eBay. Linux also allows you to run 16-bit graphics, so you can 1280x1024 with the PGX24 built-in video on an Ultra 5. Remember though, it is PCI graphics, so even a faster card isn't going to be that much faster. The video port is a standard VGA HD-15 pin configuration so just about any display should work, without a need for a Sun-branded adapter.

Keyboard/Mouse: Unfortunately, you're stuck with Sun keyboards and mice, as the connector is Sun-specific, as well as certain specialty keys. There may be adapters, but I don't know how well they'll work with the specialized keys.


So in the next series of articles (two will be published on OSNews this week, the rest very soon), I'm going to be reviewing several aspects of the Ultra 5. Available operating systems, compiler performance, and 64-bit versus 32-bit binary issues will be addressed. Here are the articles that are ready and will be released shortly.

Are 32-bit Binaries Really Slower (on Solaris SPARC)?
Sun's C compiler versus GCC (both 3.3.2 and 2.95.3)
SPARC platform operating system overview
Solaris 9, SPARC
Linux (Debian Woody release, and others)

Plus a few more as I get them completed. If you've got any particular questions or suggestions for benchmarks, please feel free to drop me a line. And yes, I will be using Felix's benchmarks from here, although because of porting issues, it will probably be limited. The purpose of these articles is to evaluate this hardware in a way that hasn't really been evaluated before (at least that I've seen, forward me any links if my assumption is incorrect).


This system sure brought back a lot of memories, back to a time when SPARC meant something. It meant power and elegance, in a way that no longer quite applies. It brings me back to the days of hanging HyperSPARC processors around our necks, akin to Flavah Flav.

It reminded me of when my friend Josh, who personally owned more Sun hardware than anyone I've ever known, including two VME-based systems, and he owned them for no other reason other than as a hobby.

He since has gotten rid of most of his hardware, holding onto only a dual-processor Ultra 2. He did donate one of the VME systems to the effort to port FreeBSD to the sun4c systems (FreeBSD currently only works on sun4u, UltraSPARCs).


So why should you be interested in a 5 year old piece of hardware?

If you're looking to play with 64-bit operating systems but aren't willing to sink the dough in an AMD x86-64 solution, the Ultra 5 is a good place to start. I've seen them on eBay for anywhere from $200 to $400, depending on the configuration.

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.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy, and maybe learn a little bit about this piece of inexpensive hardware that I've grown a newfound, deeper respect for.

Table of contents
  1. "Sun Ultra 5 review, Page 1"
  2. "Sun Ultra 5 review, Page 2"
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