Upgrading the SparcStation

This weekend I was fortunate in that I finally got another mbus module for my Sparcstation 20. I was however  unfortunate in that my data drive in it has failed. Because I back up on a regular basis, nothing much was lost, just some work I had done over the week that I also have stored elsewhere.

The machine had only 2 2Gb drives in it previously so I decided I would take the opportunity to also upgrade the hard disks. I had two fujitsu 18G  10K rpm drives set aside for just this purpose. Seeing as this would mean re-installing the OS, I thought I’d give the latest NetBSD (6.1.2) a try on the machine.

The mbus module I got is a SM61 that fortunately works out-of-the-box with the dual 50Mhz processor board I already have. Sun Sparc machines are unusual in that they support mismatched processors running in the same system. In this case as long as the motherboard is happy, and the processors are the same architecture (supersparc) everything is peachy.

So I burned a copy of the NetBSD 6.1.2 install disk and began the installation process. I noticed straight away a performance difference between 6.1.2 and the older 4.0.1. It seemed bogged down and slow compared to the older release for some reason, and the install disk would not extract the system from the CD. I had to instead use HTTP to get the base system installed.

I installed some packages including a benchmark utility called bytebench. Benchmarks like it are useful for determining if there is any change in speed of the system. I was unimpressed that the test results said the machine was _slower_ despite having an extra processor and faster hard disks. The old NetBSD with old hard disks and only 2 cpus would get about 7.2, where as the new setup maxed out at 6.2.

It may be possible that it requires a recompile to make it work faster. I suspect the distribution is compiled for the lowest cpu in mind, a V7 sparc. This system has V8 processors and should be faster. I however don’t really want to spend the time compiling the entire system, just for what might be a small gain.

Instead I’m reinstalling the old 4.0.1 version of NetBSD. Fortunately there isn’t much disadvantage in doing so. I’ve been able to build packages from recent versions of pkgsrc without a problem, and everything seems to work. I noticed the improved speed as soon as I fired up the installer. I have a bunch of binary package builds from the last install I had so that will also save me some time. I may try building this system from sources eventually if I have time, we’ll see if it makes a difference.

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