New life for my old Sun Ultra5

I acquired my little Sun Ultra 5 in 2003 for $100 from the asset auction of a dead .com company. I didn’t really realize it at the time but I got a pretty good deal, the system was in mint shape and looked as if it had never been used.

Over the years I’ve played with Solaris on it and various *nix sparc ports. It’s served as a desktop machine and a server for me and always worked well. Last January my group did their annual storage room cleanout where we go through our storage area and recycle all the equipment and parts that are just taking up space. One such item was a Sun Ultra 10 with a bad CPU module and no nvram.

I grabbed it from the recycling pile and took it home to see if there was any memory in it that would work with my Ultra 5. Luckily for me, there was 1GB of ram installed! The only problem is it was full height memory which interfered with the floppy mount in my ultra 5.

So I stripped both systems down to the bare components. I put my ultra 5 motherboard and cpu into the Ultra 10 chassis. Then I took the memory, SCSI card, and Elite 3D framebuffer from the old Ultra 10 and a 73gb 10K rpm scsi disk and DVD-Rom I had from an old pc and put them all into the Ultra 10. The old leftover parts went back to the computer recyclers, where all electronics waste should be (not in the garbage!).

So here are the specs of the new machine:

System Configuration: Sun Microsystems sun4u Sun Ultra 5/10 UPA/PCI (UltraSPARC-IIi 400MHz)
System clock frequency: 100 MHz
Memory size: 1024 Megabytes

========================= CPUs =========================

Run Ecache CPU CPU
Brd CPU Module MHz MB Impl. Mask
--- --- ------- ----- ------ ------ ----
0 0 0 400 2.0 12 9.1

========================= IO Cards =========================

Bus# Freq
Brd Type MHz Slot Name Model
--- ---- ---- ---- -------------------------------- ----------------------
0 PCI-1 33 1 ebus
0 PCI-1 33 1 network-SUNW,hme
0 PCI-1 33 2 SUNW,m64B ATY,GT-C
0 PCI-1 33 3 ide-pci1095,646.1095.646.3
0 PCI-2 33 4 scsi-glm Symbios,53C875

No failures found in System

========================= HW Revisions =========================

ASIC Revisions:
Cheerio: ebus Rev 1

System PROM revisions:
OBP 3.31.0 2001/07/25 20:36 POST 3.1.0 2000/06/27 13:56

It’s like a new machine! Solaris 9 is pretty responsive on it, the addition of a SCSI drive to replace the slow IDE made a big difference. Now that’s true computer recycling!

The commoditization of Sun hardware

The company I work at as a Unix Administrator has a side business supporting Sun hardware for numerous companies in town. I think this side business grew over the years as a way for my employer to subsidize the cost of maintaining a large spare hardware inventory for their own Sun equipment. Before they got heavily into Linux clustering on commodity hardware they were almost exclusively a sun shop.

Having a hardware background I was chosen to support a couple of our clients. One of my clients has several hundred Sun Ultra 40 desktops, some in warranty, some out of warranty. These machines are essentially PC’s designed by Sun. They have a well engineered case and have a good, solid construction. However, some of the items they ship with are complete garbage in my opinion.

These workstations retail for seven thousand dollars or more and yet they ship with a Sun Type 7 rev2 keyboard that is so cheap and flimsy it feels like a keyboard you’d get at the dollar store. Plus, the pre revision 3 keyboards have a poorly engineered USB hub in them that causes the keyboard to become unresponsive.

They also feature Nvidia Quadro FX 3500’s which cost roughly $900 to replace. These cards seem to have an exceptionally high rate of failure, I’ve replaced 8 or 9 of them now since January, all with the exact same problems. The card develops artifacts on the display that appear even at the machine’s post. It appears to be an issue with the memory on the cards and I have a feeling it has to do with the memory being in a BGA type package. Similar to the XBOX 360’s BGA chip issues with heat.

I realize that the market for expensive sun hardware is limited but you can’t expect customers to pay that sun premium for garbage they could buy from Dell or HP for half the cost. By charging the premium Sun price but delivering marginal PC hardware they are going to alienate their existing enterprise customer base who expect a certain level of quality for buying Sun. I know the customers I talk to are not impressed at all with the recent AMD based hardware.

UPDATE: As of July 18th 2008 we have replaced 18 percent of the deployed Sun Nvidia Quadro FX 3500s. Sun has since discontinued that part and replaced it with a Nvidia Quadro FX 4600, which is $1495 USD, twice the price of the 3500s. We have decided to replace the sun part with a generic FX3500. I seriously doubt that those workstations will be replaced with Sun hardware in a few months when it’s time to replace them, a similarly equiped HP workstation is less than half the price and it comes with a 3 year warranty.

Warning: You may not have enough white boys to play your funky music.

Tonight I was compiling the OS X Core Audio plugin for XMMS (since iTunes is evil and has no place on my mac). Jammed in with the usual configure script checking output I noticed the following:

checking for xmms-config… /opt/local/bin/xmms-config
checking for gawk… (cached) awk
checking for XMMS – version >= 1.2.0… yes

checking for white_boys in… no
Warning: You may not have enough white boys to play your funky music.
Please obtain additional funky white boys.

configure: creating ./config.status

Now while I’m not sure I have enough funky white boys in house there is an abundance of funky white girl. Since this is 2007 and we’re a PC society I’m sure my funky white girl will be more than enough to satisfy this programs requirements.

The world could use a little more configure time humor.

Holding the floor down, IBM style

I finally received my newest e-bay purchase, an RS/6000 server to hone my AIX kung-foo with. IBM doesn’t mess around when they build a box, this RS/6000 server has to weigh at least 75 lbs. It’s the heaviest box I own and prob one of the slowest since it only has a 603e (think 90’s power mac) processor at 200Mhz. I think I paid $65 for it plus shipping. Not bad at all, cheaper than a decent AIX book.

It’s surprisingly quiet… until the SCSI disks spin up, they sound like 25 year old MFM drives. They are plain old 80 pin SCA disks so I will have to replace them with some quiet ones I have here. Should make for a fun project over the next few weeks.

231 Watts of HP-UX Glory

I recently bought a UPM EM100 power meter to get an idea of how much power my gear consumes. My little server room consists of my P3 NAS server, a Sun Ultra 5, misc switching hardware and my HP Visualize C3000 Workstation. Normally I don’t run the HP box because it heats up my little closet quite a bit but I ran it for a couple hours tonight to see how much total power those boxes use. All the gear running consumes 346 Watts of power (ouch!) but with the HP box turned off the total is only 115 watts. I guess that’s why it heats up the closet, it consumes 231 Watts of power!

On a side note my MythTV box consumes a paltry 42 Watts of power. I guess I’m not too worried about how much power my office consumes!