Sparc Lunchboxes - Openstep Success and Failures

Started by barcher174, January 12, 2020, 11:52:29 PM

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I have a few lunchbox systems and decided to get them all going tonight. My goal was to get openstep going on at least one of them. 

System 1: Sparcstation LX - Cycle5 upgrade installed
Power supply needed to be recapped. This ships with a microsparc CPU at 50mhz, but is not supported by Openstep. I put in a Cycle5 Sparc 5 upgrade board to get a microparc II at 110mhz. The board now reports it is a "classic II". Openstep install is broken at reinitializing the SCSI chain. I think the SCSI chip is newer than a standard sparcstation 5. Anyone have any ideas? For now I put Solaris on it and will try openstep for Solaris. 

System 2: Sparcstation IPC
Power supply recapped. Not supported by openstep. Upgraded RAM to 48MB. Will try Solaris 1.0 on it.

System 3: Sparcstation IPC w/ Cycle 5 upgrade board
This had been a bucket list item for me. I've been checking ebay for years and finally got one. It's the 70mhz model. I upgraded the RAM to 128MB. Power supply needed a recap (notice a trend?). Openstep install went through with no issues. I have put in a 110mhz CPU, but the system does not recognize the higher frequency. I suspect there are jumpers or resistors on the board somewhere to set the speed, but nothing is labeled. If anyone has ideas please let me know. Otherwise everything is running great, and I love this form factor.

Rob Blessin Black Hole

Rob Blessin President computerpowwow ebay  [email protected]
303-741-9998 Serving the NeXT Community  since 2/9/93


Some updated research:

The sparcstation 5 and cycle5-ipc boards use a STP2000QFP controller. This contains Ethernet, parallel port, and SCSI in a single package. The integrated SCSI controller is a NCR53C9x. This is fully compatible with nextstep. 

The LX upgrade board has a STP2002QFP. This is the updated version of the same chip, but now with an incompatible QLogic FAS366. The package type is also incompatible with the previous version, so no chip swapping. They must be very close though, because I can boot from the CDROM, but can not reset the SCSI bus.


This reminds me of how many systems I have recapped in the last 10 years...  I caught my SS20s before the electrolyte damaged the PCBs: SPARCstation 20 PSU Recap

Really curious to see if you get it going.  Openstep of course runs well on SS20.


Recapping my SS20 power supply is on my list. Your pics don't make me excited to do it. :D It's actually one of my favorite machines. I have an 85mhz Supersparc and VSIMM in mine.


Quote from: barcher174 on January 20, 2020, 02:40:49 AMRecapping my SS20 power supply is on my list. Your pics don't make me excited to do it. :D It's actually one of my favorite machines. I have an 85mhz Supersparc and VSIMM in mine.

Yes, it was a bit more involved than normal due to the daughterboards. But nowhere near as bad as the NextStation power supplies.  Here is my parts list: SPARCstation 20 PSU Recap 2013-12-14.pdf

Mmmm, the elusive VSIMM!  I've been looking for one at a reasonable price for a while but gave up in the end.  My SS20 is maxed out with RAM and has a SuperSparc II CPU, but I do not recall the speed. 


I may have a spare VSIMM or two. I will check. Feel free to bug me if you don't hear in a reasonable amount of time.


Quote from: Scutboy on January 21, 2020, 06:54:43 AMI may have a spare VSIMM or two. I will check. Feel free to bug me if you don't hear in a reasonable amount of time.

That would be lovely if you have no need for it!  Thank you!


Nice to hear about the upgrade for the IPC! That was my first UNIX box at home. Max of 48MB!
I have SunOS 4.1.3 on it, and it is currently purring behind me in the other corner of my (crowded)
computing cave. I need to see how looks in Netscape 4.x....
And Sparcstation 20 is my favorite of the line - I have 4 of 'em. One with 2x75MHz SuperSPARC II's
was my main workstation for years - fileserver, PPP link, firewall, router, etc etc etc.
I'll need to add the Cycle 5 board to (pinned) Guide to NS on Sun - has it really been almost 14
years since I posted that here???
Cheers! (coming at you from a NextStation TurboColor)


Update on the Cycle5 upgraded LX:

I have openstep booting (with limitations)! I found an sbus SCSI card with a supported chip. There were a couple of problems:

1) The SCSI card did not have s 50pin header populated, but there was a position for one. I pulled one from a parts board and attached.

2) My boot prom knowledge has completely escaped me over time. The sun machines build a device tree in the PROM. Aliases like "disk0" or "cdrom" asssume the default scsi location (the onboard). So we need a new alias to keep things simple.

Some useful commands:
module-info : print out the CPU and sbus frequency - this is important because some sbus cards won't like too high a frequency.
probe-scsi-all : list the scsi devices
devalias: list of existing device aliases

After listing the SCSI devices I used the devalias command to map to the sbus scsi card:
devalias osdisk /iommu/sbus/esp@0,200000/sd@3,0
devalias oscdrom /iommu/sbus/esp@0,200000/sd@6,0

Then set the default boot device:
setenv boot-device osdisk

The following currently don't work:
onboard video - easily fixed with an sbus video card
ethernet untested but currently assumed not working


More on the Cycle5 Upgraded LX:

The Cycle5 board is actually a replacement for the sparc classic. Same chassis, but the sparcclassic had lower specs for video and sound.

1) The onboard video is a CG3. I have seen references in the news groups to someone modifying the CG6 driver to work with it. Anyone have details on how to do this?

Some good info on PROM detection here:

2) The onboard sound is an AMD 79c30. This is only 8bit sound and not supported by nextstep.

Some good info on Sparc sound here:

3) The fast ethernet onboard is also not working. Sun lance Ethernet is seemingly the only supported networking on Sparc.

Sound I can live without. I would like to have networking though. If I could get the CG3 video working then I could use the remaining 2 SBUS slots for SCSI and network. There is a combo SCSI and net card that could work, but there is no room for an internal 50pin, which means an external drive. I think that defeats the purpose of the small form factor (I already have a 20).



Here's another detail.

The Sun SCSI driver can only handle 1 interface card. If you have multiple cards the system will lock up when trying to register the device on boot. So that means no combo Ethernet card.


I had some time to work on the Cycle5 upgraded LX. Glad to report I now have SCSI, Network, and Video all working. Still no sound but I'm fine with that. I've filled both sbus slots now so no room for further expansion.

Video: I simply installed a turbo GX Sbus video card. It was detected and worked as-is.

Network and SCSI combo card: This was a little trickier. I designed a small board which breaks out the SCSI signals at the onboard termination resistor packs.

I also installed a SCSI2SD. A few notes:
Turn off termination
Enable Parity
Enable SCSI 2 Compatibility
 "sectorsPerTrack" to 139 and "headsPerCylinder" to 4
Good info source:

This would have been a super cool machine for openstep during it's prime. I can understand why no one would have hacked at hardware this expensive though!


I did some updates to the board design to fit the case better. The SCSI connector had clearance issues with the power supply:


I've been working with a fellow forum member on some really cool 3D printed projects. Tonight I installed a scsi2sd in the lunchbox using a 3d printed bracket. I also created a custom length cable to better fit the enclosure.

In addition I upgraded the RAM to 192MB using 72 pin 32MB Parity simms (parity is mandatory). This is quickly becoming one of my favorite machines.