A Guide to Sun Hardware for NextStep, Part 1

Started by crimsonRE, March 26, 2006, 07:37:40 PM

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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.

OpenBoot PROM:

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...

Hard drives:

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

Product Documentation'...

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 :-).