Anyone know much about SPARCs?

I have this old SPARC-1 (it looks like a pizza box) that a friend gave me. I would like to play around with it a bit, but I don’t know anything about Sun hardware.

The video port appears to be the same as the old-style Apple video ports, before they started to use VGA. If it is the same, I have an old Apple monitor that I can use with it. If it isn’t the same, is it possible to boot the thing through a serial terminal? The serial ports appear to be Apple-style as well.

I don’t know if any OS is installed on it or not. If not, is it possible to boot it with a SPARC Linux boot disk or something? If it is, I’ll just install Linux on it.

Oh, also, I need to find a keyboard that I can use with one of these things.

I only know enough to know you’re going to have a tough time without some equipment which is generally no longer available. I’ve worked with some SPARC stations and even a few standalone SPARC processor boards.

  1. There is probably NOT an OS installed. There will be a ROM bootstrap program that is just smart enough to ask where it should look for the real OS.

1a) SPARCs are new enough that they are looking for Solaris, Sun’s own version of UNIX. I doubt you can find a compatible version of Linux. There are OS’s out there that will work but they tend to be special use (i.e. expensive) proprietary software.

  1. The serial ports are probably not Apple compatible, nor are the video ports. You can probably get some response if you hook up a serial terminal if you put the terminal in VT-100 emulation mode. If you don’t know what a VT-100 is you’re going to spend more time learning about old hardware than you’ll spend playing with your new toy. Your VT-100 could serve as your keyboard as well.

  2. IIRC, Sun used a fairly standard video output – if you have a monitor with a fairly wide set of acceptable input frequencies you might get a stable output.

Maybe you can tell from my post that I didn’t have good experiences with SPARC hardware. It wasn’t Sun’s fault – I was just working in a lab that got hand-me-down hardware. But even with the original documentation and a lot of hardware from the same era it was a pain to kludge a system together.

I used to be an amateur sysadmin for a little ring of SPARCs. You’ll definitely need to install an OS - Solaris used to be expensive but I think I heard that you can get it for about $75 now. Used copies should be fairly plentiful, also.

Once I liberated an old broken-down (but big) Sun monitor to use with my PC, but I never got it to work. Don’t know about Apple compatibility.

Old Sun hardware is fun to play with.

First of all, when they are booted without a keyboard plugged in they will automatically switch to a serial console. Hook it up with a null-modem calbe to a PC and use a terminal emulator and you should be able to watch it boot. If there’s no OS it’ll probably tell you as much.

As for the video output, I think they’re sync-on-green. I have no idea whether an old Apple monitor will work, but I’m pretty sure you can buy an adapter to plug a VGA monitor in. In any case it probably won’t be too much fun to try to run X on such an old machine, and you might want to just stick with the serial console.

As far as OSes go, I wouldn’t recommend Solaris unless you really want to use it. It’s expensive and it’s slow on uniprocessor machines. You can run Linux, OpenBSD, or NetBSD instead. If you have an external SCSI cd-rom (I assume it doesn’t have a cd-rom drive), I think you can just put the OS install CD in the drive and type “boot cdrom” at the OK prompt. The SPARC firmware also supports netbooting, which is more complicated but doesn’t require any extra hardware. You can find everything you need to know about putting Linux on it here.

Good luck!

Thanks! I will attempt to boot it via null-modem -> terminal emulator tomorrow. All I’m looking for is a confirmation that the thing generally works. Another friend tells me that he can get me an old version of Solaris to run on it.

Obviously, I won’t attempt to run X.

A couple things I forgot about serial console stuff. I think you have to plug into the A serial port. You probably would have figured this out for yourself.

The other, less obvious one is that sending a BREAK via the terminal emulator does the same thing as stop-A on the Sun keyboard. If you don’t know what stop-A does, it suspends the OS (if one is running) or whatever else the machine is doing and gives you the firmware prompt (the “ok” prompt). You have to watch out for terminal emulators that send BREAKs at inopportune times, e.g. when the program starts or exits. This can be most confusing if you don’t know about it. If this happens to you, you can get the OS running again by typing “go” at the ok prompt.

The way to avoid running into this is to always have the serial cable hooked up and the terminal emulator running before you boot it, and if you want to shut down the terminal emulator and leave the machine running, unhook the serial cable first.