Archive for the 'Sparc Station' Category

01
Jun
17

SparcStation Desktop project.

Unfortunately I’ve been neglecting my poor old Sun hardware, mostly because of time and space constraints. I thought I’d try to go some way to correcting this by actually beginning the process of setting up the SparcStation 20 as a vintage desktop work station. I’d been planning on doing this for ages, as long ago as when I built the replacement server machine.

Hardware wise I’ve not acquired anything new, although everything needed a test and some basic cleaning to get it working. I’m still having issues, but I’m unsure if it’s an hardware fault or a problem with the software I’m installing. We’ll get to the software in a moment, first we’ll look at the hardware installed.

At the moment I have 3 CPUs in the machine. They are all V8 Supersparcs with two 50Mhz chips on one module and a 60Mhz one on a module on it’s own. Each module has 1Mb of cache memory which doesn’t sound like much now, but was a large amount when these machines first appeared.

Frame Buffer

Frame Buffer

I’ve currently got about 304Mb of memory installed, I had more but unfortunately one of the sticks that was in it fails to detect anymore. I’d like to have a VSIMM as that would allow me to use the built in cg14 frame buffer (graphics card) which is probably the best performing one available for machines of it’s type. I managed to purchase a 2Mb TGX+ frame buffer and adapter to connect it to a VGA screen, which is doing an odd resolution of 1152×900 at 8 bits per pixel. It’s obviously not the fastest, but it does the job. I’ve selected an 136Gb 10K RPM SCA drive for the hard disk, certainly a bit of overkill, but it would just be sitting on my shelf otherwise.

The initial issue I had was stack under run errors after the boot screen came up and the machine attempted to boot. My first instinct was of course failed memory, which lead me to find the undetected memory module. But no matter which memory I ran I had the same problem. After some poking into the system environment (kinda like the BIOS settings in the PC but without the nice interface.) I found some items that were not at their defaults and changing them back seems to have fixed the stack under run.

Dual CPU MBUS module

Dual CPU MBUS module

Unfortunately that’s not the end of the issues, as after installing and running NetBSD for a while the machine will hang, reset or have a watchdog timer trigger. This certainly could be faulty RAM, but the power supply is also a potential suspect as is the operating system itself. I need to follow this up with some more testing, unfortunately I don’t have a spare PSU to test with.

Software wise I’m much more prepared and have had much more success. I’ve been using Qemu, which does full-system emulation for a number of old and different platforms, including Sparc systems. Qemu has been useful for building packages and the kernel specifically for my machine. Something I had done ages ago when I first intended to do the install.

At the time I built for NetBSD 6.1.4 which is the OS I’ve installed and tried out on the machine. It’s out of date by quite some margin now, so I’ve set up a new virtual machine to start work on getting 7.1 packages and kernel built. It has a bunch of improved hardware support, particularly in the frame buffer acceleration, so I’m keen to see how it goes. I’m still building packages I want for it, but I’m happy with 7.1 under qemu so far. I’m hoping the improved hardware support helps with the hang/watch dog/reset issues.

When it’s all done, I’ll post about what it’s like to use the machine for specific tasks, like say browsing the web and checking email.

20
Oct
14

3rd Aniversary and Work on the Sparcstation

This weekend marks the third year I’ve been writing this blog. The first thing I wrote about was my Sparcstation 20, which I had just acquired at the time. I installed NetBSD 4.01 on it, which was reasonable then, but has become quite out of date now. So 186 posts and 3 years later I’m in the process of upgrading the machine to NetBSD 6.1.5.

Machine without the PSU

Machine without the PSU

This has been a long time coming, and there are a number of reasons for the upgrade. Firstly, the older version of NetBSD was becoming more difficult to keep software up to date on. I had stuck with 4.01 for some time because of performance issues I had when trying out 6.1.2 last year. But some packages didn’t update properly lately and I had been left with some software working and others just becoming broken. I could have stuck with an older version of pkgsrc, but that has problems as well.

Another reason is I’ve received the hardware required to use the machine as a desktop machine with screen,keyboard and mouse instead of a headless server. I retired the machine from active server duty and built a replacement server quite recently to facilitate both upgrading the OS and hardware to try and make it a practical desktop workstation. I was very fortunate to receive a donation of a keyboard and mouse suitable for the machine, and have since bought the frame buffer card and adapter to complete the hardware necessary.

Frame Buffer

Frame Buffer

I got the hardware up and running last weekend and powered up the machine with everything set up for the first time. I was happy that without upgrading the OS, I had the display, keyboard and mouse all working with an X server with little effort. I was impressed that the X server seemed quite speedy compared to what I expected. However X server (Xsun) was really outdated and didn’t seem to support everything thrown at it.

So I began to install NetBSD 6.1.4. I found it was best to use the serial console for the install as the install disk does not handle the sun console on the frame buffer properly. It seems that it just doesn’t have the TERMCAP entries for the sun console, as once the system is installed the console works fine. The install worked pretty much the same as the older version with a few minor changes. The performance of 6.1.4 seemed better than the last time I tried an upgrade, but still isn’t as fast as the older 4.01 release.

So I’ve begun building the system from sources to take advantage of the V8 Supersparc. I’m assuming the binary distributions you download are actually built for the slower V7 Sparc that can be common in some of the other older and slower machines. The build process is surprisingly very easy to follow. We will see if there is any significant difference when it’s finished building.

 

21
Sep
14

Restoring the Sun Keyboard and other Randomness

A few weeks ago I had a Sun type 5c keyboard and mouse donated to me by a co-worker. It is significant because it will allow me to convert my Sparcstation 20 into a desktop workstation. I have a sbus frame buffer card on order and just need to get a 13w3 to VGA converter to complete the machine. I had previously been using it as a server for VPN, HTTP and SVN duties.

Sun Keyboard and Mouse

Sun Keyboard and Mouse

Continue reading ‘Restoring the Sun Keyboard and other Randomness’

01
Dec
13

Some NetBSD Games

XV

XV

Having recently upgraded the disk space on the Sparcstation I decided I would go about installing a bunch more useful utilities and some games. I installed some image processing and capture software called XV so I could capture screenshots on the machine, this is what I’ve used to capture todays screenshots. Todays games were too small to justify a whole post to themselves, so I thought I’d post about a few of them together.

greed

greed

Greed

One of the first games I built and tried was greed. It runs in a colour terminal and can be played via SSH or telnet. The game is very simple, you are an @ symbol in a playfield full of numbers. You move in the direction of one of the numbers which causes you to move that distance, erasing numbers as you go. In order to be allowed to move in a direction you must be able to travel the full distance specified by the number without hitting a border or an area you’ve already erased. The game ends when you can’t make any more valid moves.

You use the numeric keypad to move, which for me felt reasonably intuitive. The game has some nice in game help, and is simple to get running and play. It doesn’t take long to play so it’s good to for a quick distraction.

icbm3d

icbm3d

Icbm3d

This game is modeled after missile command from the arcades, but with one difference, it’s in 3d. The vector graphics are quite nice but can be a little slow over a network connection for some reason. Fortunately the game has some built in commands to change the graphics settings. The controls are also a bit awkward, I found that it was too sensitive, such that small mouse movements often moved my targetting reticule way too far. Fortunately the difficulty curve isn’t too steep, but the control for this really let it down.

xbomber

xbomber

XBomber

Xbomber is based on the bomberman series of games. It is interestingly a multiplayer game, but not implemented the way you might expect. The one program can connect to multiple X servers, allowing two players per server sharing the one keyboard. There is a maximum of four players over four X servers. You can also play solo against the computer AI, but it really is quite a weak player, it looks like it is just making random movements. It is probably not the easiest thing to set up the multiple displays, X authority stuff would surely get in the way, but I’m sure it can be done.

xjump

xjump

XJump

XJump is a simple platform game where you have to climb a tower. If you fall off the bottom of the screen the game is over. Controls are simply the arrow keys and work quite well. The part of game that will catch you out most often is the seemingly frictionless movement of your character. It is quite easy to jump and fly off the other end of the platform you’re jumping for. So it means you have to be quite careful how fast you move when jumping larger distances. Another game that is quite fun, but short.

xroads

xroads

XRoads

I’m not sure where the name from this one comes from, it is a simple maze shooter, where you have to collect a number of animating stars around the level. You have to either avoid or shoot the badies around the levels, some of them will shoot at you. I’ve been caught out by bullets wrapping around the edges of the screen, I often shot myself! You can use this to your advantage, but more often than not it ends up hurting you. It’s a good little distraction, but the graphics could have been a little prettier.

xworm

xworm

XWorm

Finally XWorm is basically a snake game plain and simple. It has some nice graphics, and simple controls that are easy to use. It plays quite fast, so you have to have pretty good reflexes to play for very long. There is only a bunch of mushrooms on screen to avoid, and a fence around the edge, so even Qbasic Nibbles has a bit more variety! Otherwise it plays quite well.

So there you have it, a few simple games that work on pretty much anything you can run NetBSD on with an X server (or from an XTerminal). Most of these were simple little distraction type games rather than anything you’d spend a lot of time playing. They are for the most part quite fun, and a reminder of what games under *nix like systems used to be like.

17
Nov
13

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.

16
Apr
13

Cleaning my Sparcstation 20

Tape drive enclosure

Tape drive enclosure

Every change of season I find it’s a good idea to service any of your main computers that you run the most. My Sparcstation 20 is basically in use at the moment as a SVN server and a few other services so is on pretty much all the time. So I decided that it would be a good idea to take it apart and give it a good clean.

PSU crud

PSU crud

The main places that need cleaning in computers are usually around the important fans in a system, so this is usually a good place to start. The SS20 has no fans except for the two within the PSU that draw cool air in around the CPU MBUS modules, so this is where pretty much all the dust should be (and was). I also decided to clean the external tape drive.

Machine without the PSU

Machine without the PSU

To clean a machine I like to use soft brushes like a long bristle paint brush and soft tooth brush. They are often better than compressed air for moving larger lumps of dust caught in grills. Compressed air is a useful tool for cleaning where the brush can’t go.

Dual CPU MBUS module

Dual CPU MBUS module

The SS20 doesn’t have any heat sinks that need to be cleaned, but most newer machines with faster processors do. It’s important to remove shrouds and fans when cleaning them so you can get the worst of the dust off and out of the fins. It’s sometimes a good idea to remove the heat sink altogether so you can clean it more effectively and to refresh the thermal paste. Thermal paste eventually dries out and loses it’s heat conductivity, so it’s a good idea to change it occasionally. Running a stress test is usually a good indication as to whether you need to replace the paste.

RAM slots.

RAM slots.

I would like to mod the machine to have better cooling and filter out the dust from the air intake, I need to get some fans to add to the case and work out a decent scheme of filtering that won’t make the PSU overheat. A temperature probe for the CPU area would also be nice so I could tell how hot the machine is running.

02
Oct
12

XBlast on NetBSD

XBlast was created by Oliver Vogel and Garth Denley between 1993 and 2006. It is a multi-player game that is based on the Bomberman games which were popular on many old home consoles as early as 1983. I had never previously played a Bomberman game before so I have very little frame of reference for comparison to the older original games,  many of which I’ve read about have a similar multi-player facility. I built XBlast on my old Sparc hardware as I have done for many of the old X based Unix game. It built with out any problems and seems to run quite well even via XDMCP over the network. I haven’t tried building it on other platforms but I suspect that it would work on most Unix like systems.

The graphics for the game are colourful, and look fairly nice. Like I said they seem to work over the network with very little to no performance issues at all. The user interface has many options and I found it a little confusing to use, in particular when trying to use the network play options on what they call central. The game has an option for sound, but that did not work for me on the Sun platform so I can’t really comment on the quality of it.

There is no single player option really for this game, you can play multi-player games over a LAN, the internet, or on the local machine by sharing a keyboard or using multiple controllers. I wasn’t really able to get multi-player working, either because there is no-one on-line or because I couldn’t work out how to get the internet play working properly. I was able to play against an AI on the local machine and found the game was a little confusing to play at first. The controls for movement seemed to worked fine, but when I tried dropping bombs I’d find that it was a bit slow to do so, or wouldn’t do it at all for some unexplained reason. The game basically involves running around trying to get power-ups whilst avoiding bombs and laying your own to get your opponent. There was little of any kind of puzzle element and after a period of time the level space would start shrinking until some one gets killed or caught in the new wall sections appearing. There are many different levels/arenas for you to play in each with it’s own rules for game play. Some are quite large whilst others are relatively small. They change your strategy in where you try to place your bombs, and how you go about avoiding bombs placed by other players.

I think the software itself and the graphics are crafted quite well, but the game does get old fairly quickly. I think that it would definitely benefit from having a single player campaign with puzzle elements much like the original Bomberman games. I found myself getting bored fairly quickly, and I didn’t really enjoy the experience. This may be different for you if you liked the multi-player elements of the Bomberman games, or if you were a fan of them. Otherwise I’d suggest you’d probably be better off finding another way to entertain yourself.




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