Sunfire V440 working!

I recently got all the parts together for finally testing and installing an operating system on the Sunfire V440 machines I had donated to me quite some time ago. The last piece of the puzzle arrived whilst I was sick, it is a system configuration card. It was a little difficult to find, and I only found one, so I can only get one of the two machines to work.

The first hurdle to get over was working out how to connect to the ALOM card via serial cable. I have a couple of DTE adapters to connect serial via RJ 45 cable (ethernet cable basically) so I initially tried just using these with a simple cat 6 cable to get a connection. Strangely it didn’t work. After a bit of googling and reading of sun manuals for the machine I found out that the serial connection requires a Null Modem adapter/cable.

I have several null modem cables, one being dual connector (9 pin and 25 pin) that is extremely useful. So after getting a 9 pin D-shell gender bender adapter I was able to cobble together a cable that worked. The ALOM messages came through to my terminal program and asked for a login. Fortunately as the SCC was new to the machine I should be able to use the default user/password to log in to the ALOM when I eventually need it, but in the mean time I just wait for the timeout to display the serial console for the machine.

Now having the serial connection I could finally turn the machines on and see the OpenBoot ROM messages and test the machines in diagnostics mode. One of the machines turns out to have something serious wrong with it as it fails a memory/CPU test quite badly. The text scrolled past quite fast so it was difficult to determine what exactly was wrong, but this will be something to investigate in the near future. The other machine however passed its diagnostics and even booted the Debian Linux Net install disc! Time to set up an OS!

I’ve been fortunate enough to recently get some nice 10,000 rpm drives for the machine, so I went about installing and testing them for bad sectors (using the Debian rescue function on the install disc). Luckily both hard drives passed their tests and I was ready to install an operating system.

I have already got NetBSD and FreeBSD running on two other Sparc systems, so I chose to install the Sparc64 edition of Debian on this particular machine. The install went pretty smoothly for the most part and everything server wise worked like a dream. There was even a package for installing the OpenJDK on the system, something the BSDs have yet to accomplish. Clearly Debian is a viable OS for running a server on these types of machines, but when I went to install a desktop environment such as Gnome I found that Gnome didn’t work at all. Unfortunately this also seemed to break many of the useful X11 applications that you can install. Other window managers seemed to work, but with applications being broken it was hardly worth the effort.

So installing Debian was only mildly successful. I was hoping to be able to log into the system via XDMCP, but with Gnome being as broken as it is under Sparc64 this isn’t really an option. I will be looking to install something else instead, but am now unsure as to what I will try. I could of course install something I know works well such as FreeBSD or NetBSD, but I’d like something different for this machine. I did think about installing Solaris, but I’m unsure if I can because of licensing. Whilst I have several Sparc machines, I don’t have any Solaris Licenses, so I don’t know if I am allowed to install it on this machine.

Does anyone else have any suggestions as to what OS I could install? Is Solaris an option? If I install Solaris would I be able to install free software? (via ports or pkgsrsc?) It seems I have some research and work to do!

2 Responses to “Sunfire V440 working!”

  1. 1 Tobias Moon
    April 9, 2014 at 6:46 am

    Hi there, I was just wondering if you had any links/advice on this. I’ve recently acquired a Sun Fire v440 with nothing on the hard drives and I’m finding it difficult to find consistent information on exactly what cables I need, the correct places to plug them in and just how to connect to the server. I’m wanting to do this so I can get Solaris installed but it’s being quite the nightmare.

    If you had time to have a quick chat about it I’d really appreciate it. Thanks Sparcie!

    • April 9, 2014 at 11:39 am

      Hi Tobias, Thanks for the message.

      First things first, you should make sure your machine is complete, you should have a key for the diagnostic switch on the front, a Sun configuration card (a smart card) and a complete set of hardware.

      I can tell you the cables that you need as I had to find them myself. To install any OS via the serial port you need to connect to the serial port on the ALOM card, you’ll notice that it is an RJ45 ethernet style connecter with a symbol that looks like . There is an adapter you can buy that converts RJ45 into either a 9 or 25 pin serial connecter, with a CAT5/6 cable you then have a more traditional connecter. Many serial terminals used to use them. The ALOM card requires you use a Null modem (also known as crossover) serial cable between the adapter and your machine so you may need a gender bender. To summarise here’s what I had … ALOM Serial port –> CAT5 Cable –> RJ45 to 9 pin serial converter –> gender bender –> Null modem cable –> PC serial port. The Sun manuals for the V440 are still available online in PDF form so use that for reference if you need it. Otherwise just power cables and an ethernet cable for the network port (once you get that far).

      The serial settings are basically your standard 9600 baud terminal.

      This will get you basic serial access to the machine and ALOM card. If you don’t have a login for the ALOM card you just need to wait for the login timeout and it will switch over to the boot ROM of the machine. From there you can go about installing an OS, but you’ll need to know how to use the boot ROM so google the Sun OpenBoot ROM guide, there are lots of resources still online for help. There is some built-in help through the command line if you type help.

      You are supposed to be able to reset the ALOM password from within Solaris, but I have no experience using either. I had to buy a Sun configuration card so its configuration was set to default, I just haven’t bothered doing anything with it. There may be a way in hardware to reset the ALOM password but I don’t know what it is. You may need to reset its configuration as it can be configured to not enable the serial port and only communicate via its own ethernet port. Of course if you know the password for it there’s nothing to worry about.

      Another way you can get access to the machine to boot and install an OS is to have a compatible Frame Buffer Card. I used a standard PC USB keyboard connected to USB port 0 and that seemed to work fine with Gentoo Linux, but Solaris may be less tolerant. You may need a Sun keyboard in addition to the card. It is much easier to get working, requires less cabling, and avoids worrying about the ALOM card at all. However it can be difficult getting a hold of a Frame Buffer and Sun keyboard.

      I hope some of this helps you, let me know how you go or if you have some more specific questions.


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