Joined: 29 Jan 2006
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia, USA
|Posted: Sun Mar 26, 2006 7:37 pm Post subject: A Guide to Sun Hardware for NextStep, Part 1
|I thought I would put together a guide to the Sun hardware on which
the SPARC version of NextStep 3.3 runs. This first post will contain
info. on just the machines. A later post will cover the graphics
(framebuffer) options and monitors, and another with the eBay searches
I've used to find the hardware.
Bottom line: runs only on Sun4m architecture machines with
microSPARC-II (SPARCstation 4 & 5) and SuperSPARC (I & II) CPU's
(SPARCstation 10, 10SX, & 20). Also works on the Voyager, the rare
SPARCstation luggable that Sun made which has a microSPARC-II.
So note, no UltraSPARC machines or use of HyperSPARC modules in
the SS10 or 20.
ALSO: no 170MHz SS5, which uses the TurboSPARC processor, not
All of these machines, and any parts - graphics cards, keyboards,
mice, memory, drives (hard, CD-ROM, floppy), processors, cables,
monitors, OpenBoot PROMS - are easily available on eBay (6 of my
7 Suns are eBay purchases).
SPARCstation 10 & 20:
The processors in these are on separate modules which plug into
the Mbus slots on the motherboard, so upgrading is very easy. Note
that going from SuperSPARC-I to SuperSPARC-II requires a reinstall
of the OS.
NextStep 3.3 runs quite swiftly (usable for everyday work, IMHO)
with the 75MHz SuperSPARC-II processor; these are available very
cheaply on eBay (<$10 US). Occasionally you'll see the 85MHz version,
but I've never seen the 90MHz (the website referred to below says
they are very rare). And whole SPARCstation 10 and 20 machines are
only a few dollars on eBay (in the U.S.). Memory is easily available
for them: it's the same 200-pin ECC DRAM DIMMs as are used in the
Ultra 1/1E,2,30,60,80, & 450, though only up to 64MB/DIMM. This
does allow the 10 & 20 to have 512MB of RAM, which should be
SPARCstation 4 & 5:
I find the 110MHz microSPARC-II in the SPARCstation 5 runs NextStep
pretty nicely as well, and are also very cheap these days. Note
the SS4 can only take up to 160MB of RAM, while the SS5 can go to
256MB (plenty for running lots of NS apps.); this RAM is specific
to the SS4 & 5 (168-pin parity DIMMs, 8 & 32MB/DIMM).
They all have 10B-T Ethernet (RJ-45 connector), and parallel and
serial ports, as well as microphone, speaker, and SCSI connectors,
EXCEPT for the SS4: it has no audio I/O connectors - a separate
board is needed for these.
This is the Sun equivalent of a PeeCee's BIOS, though far more
sophisticated: it includes an entire FORTH interpreter. OpenBoot
is actually an industry standard, and Apple has used it for
Macintoshes for quite a few years.
There are OpenBoot PROM restrictions for running NextStep,
but the PROMs are readily available as well. You're supposed to
have a version >=2.12 (the version is given in the onscreen banner
that comes up when you power any of these machines on), but I've
used 2.10 successfully...
These require SCSI hard drives. I think all these machines have
room for 2 internal drives, and all have HD50 SCSI connectors on
rear in order to attach drives in external cases (e.g. Sun 411
'lunchbox'). The SS10 has cables with the old 50-pin connector with
separate 4-pin power lead. You can use SCSI drives with other
connectors (68-pin & SCA) with readily available adapters. The
other machines have internal bays with SCA (Single Connect Attach)
connectors where the data and power pins are all in one connector.
Moreover, the machines were designed to have the drives be mounted
on a sled that slides the drives into position; nice design, but
can be bypassed by propping the drives up on little bits of foam.
For more ease of configuration, the internal bays already have the SCSI
ID assigned (bottom is 3, top is 1) so don't have to chase down the
user manual for your (possibly ancient) HD.
NOTE: Make sure you do NOT get drives with FC (Fiber Channel)
CD-ROM and floppy drives:
NextStep 3.3 comes on a CD so you'll need a SCSI CD-ROM drive that
works with the Sun. It will need to be able to send 512 byte data
chunks (e.g., the block size of the filesystem on the CD; the OS
CD has a UNIX fs on it, not ISO; same goes for the Solaris OS CD's).
Nicest is to have one in the internal bay, but external ones work
great too. A floppy drive also fits into an internal bay but really
is a luxury, not a necessity, especially since you can network
these machines so easily (and is not needed for the installation
of the OS, unlike on NeXT black hardware and on Intel boxes).
Keyboards & mice:
Get the Type 4 or Type 5 (incl. Type 5c 'compact') keyboards and
mice. The Type 4 mice are, I think, all optical mice which need
the specific mouse pad made of aluminum silkscreened with a fine
grid. Type 5 mice are plain old mechanical ones.
And sorry, no USB or FireWire: these weren't very available in 1995.
Great Resources on the WWW:
The service manuals for the SS4,5,20, & Voyager are available:
For the SS10, go to
http://sunsolve.sun.com/handbook_pub/Systems and find the link for
the SPARCstation10 Handbook down at the bottom (& you can see the
links to all the other machines Sun has made).
More info. is available on http://docs.sun.com - this is from where
much of my data concerning the graphics boards comes, most easily
by 'Seach all books for'. Try drilling down in through 'Browse
See http://mbus.sunhelp.org for great info. on the Mbus modules
and http://www.sunstuff.org for an excellent, comprehensive list
of Sun component/subsystem part numbers (even available sorted into
categories like graphics, memory, etc).
Sun Field Engineer Handbooks (FEH) and System Handbooks are also
available courtesy of Craig Dewick:
All of his Sunshack site is full of great information.
The USENET newsgroups under comp.sys.next.* and comp.sys.sun.* are
great info sources concerning these older machines. Try restricting
the Advanced Search to these groups for a quick way to find plumb
the knowledge of quite experienced people: http://groups.google.com/advanced_search?q=&
The groups themselves can be accessed via
Google itself is, of course, your friend .
Last edited by crimsonRE on Tue Mar 28, 2006 5:27 am; edited 1 time in total
Joined: 22 Oct 2005
Location: Littleton, Colorado USA
|Posted: Wed Nov 08, 2006 12:57 am Post subject:
|Thanks for the excellent guide.
||All times are GMT - 7 Hours
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