Posts Tagged ‘OpenBSD

04
Sep
14

OpenBSD on a Sunfire 280R

Last weekend I tried a number of different operating systems on my Sunfire V440 in an attempt to get the Wildcat expert3D-lite frame buffer I have working. None of the systems I tried had any luck on the v440 and the one system that has official support for the wildcat – OpenBSD – would not install because of crashes during the process. I have another Sunfire machine which also needed a new operating system, this one a Sunfire 280R, so I transferred the frame buffer card into the 66Mhz slot in the 280R and began the OpenBSD install process.

Like last time, I was not impressed with the installer. It is very simplistic at best, and not very noob friendly. Fortunately since I’ve installed the other BSD systems a few times I managed to work out how to get it set up. I’d say the least intuitive part would have to be setting up your hard disk partitions, this is done with a command-line utility that wasn’t very easy to use. At least this installer can be run from the machines console instead of over the serial line.

So I booted the new installation up and was happy to see in the kernel messages that the frame buffer is indeed supported by the ifb kernel driver. So I set up xdm to start the X server and configured X with the wildcatfb driver. After rebooting I was greeted with a graphical login! I logged in and found a hideously out of date FVWM installed as the default window manager, time to install some software!

I tried out installing some of the binary packages available, but found the package system a little bit clunky, so I downloaded the ports system for OpenBSD to build stuff from source. It’s often a good idea to build your packages from source with any of the BSD systems as you usually get better performance and can choose features in the software you want to use. Binaries are often compiled for the lowest common processor on the architecture you’ve installed, this makes them slower and they have only the default options enabled.

I installed the latest FVWM from ports and various other bits of software. I found the ports system was fairly easy to use, but it doesn’t have as many packages available as the other BSDs. Many of the packages I installed were also older version than those found on other systems.

It wasn’t until I tried to run some software, such as a web-browser, that I discovered something annoying about the support for the frame buffer. The supported pixel depth for the display is 7 bits per pixel! This was quite annoying and most software is looking for 8bpp at a minimum, and 7bpp has never really been used historically. I may be able to run the display on a lower depth (I haven’t tried this yet), but that probably won’t help for the vast majority of software.

In the end I did manage to find and install some X software that works at 7bpp, but I don’t feel like I have a workable workstation. I couldn’t find all the bits of software I felt I wanted on the machine, and many in the ports collection wouldn’t run on the local X server. Given that OpenBSD isn’t really a desktop OS this is hardly surprising. I’ll be looking for a copy of Sun Solaris for this machine now, as that will have proper support for the frame buffer and I can use either pkgsrc (from NetBSD) or FreeBSD ports to install free software.

24
Aug
14

OS Shootout: Trying to get the Sun Frame Buffer to work.

Frame buffer

Frame buffer

Quite a while ago I bought a Sun frame buffer (Wildcat Expert3d-lite) on ebay in the hopes of turning either my Sun Fire machines into a workstation. I had FreeBSD on the 280R and Gentoo Linux on the V440. FreeBSD didn’t like the card as it doesn’t have support for it, the version I have installed has become out of date and was having trouble updating packages. The Gentoo install had suffered a similar fate, I went to update it and found that the package system had become broken and couldn’t download the latest update.

So this weekend I decided to try a number of different operating systems to see if I could get the frame buffer working and see if there was a newer OS that would work better. Here are some notes about the different systems I’ve tried.

I decided to use the V440 as the base machine for performing the tests. I had been using Gentoo linux on it and had some minor success using the frame buffer. I was able to get a basic text console working beautifully, and it even displayed Tux the Linux penguin during boot up. But unfortunately the fbdev driver for X didn’t work producing some horrific corruption on screen, but the mouse and keyboard appeared to work.

Sunfire V440

Sunfire V440

The first fresh OS I decided to try out was NetBSD as it works well on my older Sparc machine. The installation went relatively smoothly, but I had to use the serial console in order to do it. I looked for support for my particular frame buffer but didn’t find any, even for some of the other available hardware. At this point I went to the documentaion online and realised I need not have tried it as the UltaSparc machines I have are not in the supported list for NetBSD. Although most hardware works, it seems that older machine are supported much better.

Next I decided to try the latest FreeBSD, the first time around I was using 8.3 which was quickly superseeded, but it was the only one that worked on the Sunfire 280R. So I downloaded the latest at the time of writing this, 10.0. Reading the documentation seemed to indicate that I’d be unlikely to get anything on this frame buffer at all, but if I buy a different type in the future there is good support. The installer was much easier than last time, again it required the serial terminal but it had everything set up very quickly. Of course the downside is the amount of time needed to build packages from ports, but thats a minor inconvenience if you leave it to build over night. I built and installed X, and with no surprise this frame buffer didn’t work.

In searching the internet for systems that support this particular device I came across OpenBSD. I had not really tried it out before so I didn’t know what to expect, but my hardware was listed as supported including the frame buffer. So I downloaded the install CD and began the process of installing. Compared to the other systems the installer is very _very_ basic, but at least you could do it from the computers console. Unfortunately I couldn’t get this one to complete installing, as the system rebooted every time it tried to extract the base system. At first I thought it likely this would be a hardware fault (as I had some in preparation for this) but I ran the system through its diagnostics multiple times and it passed every time. I may transfer the frame buffer into the SunFire 280R and try this system out again, but I think there’s something wrong with the installer/disc. The real shame is I saw in the kernel messages that it does indeed support my card!

Lastly I returned to an old favourite, Debian Linux. It is similar to Gentoo in that it supports the basic hardware and some framebuffers. Since Gentoo had some basic functionality I hope Debian might work better. I booted up the installer and was surprised to get the normal console-based Debian installer on the machines frame buffer. The installer was nice and easy, no major problems. I reboot into the new installation to see what would happen. Just like Gentoo the text console worked beautifully on the frame buffer, but X didn’t work. You could see the login screen behind some kind of strange corruption, but it seemed the keyboard and mouse were working as I could log in! I suspect Debian would work very nicely if I had a different frame buffer, but perhaps the guys working on the kernel will eventually fix the wildcat support.

So to summarise I found that Debian and FreeBSD would be quite workable if I had another frame buffer (or didn’t want to use it) and that OpenBSD might work well with this one if I could just manage to work out why it is crashing during install. NetBSD just doesn’t support the newer UltraSparc hardware well enough to use with a frame buffer, but might work quite well as a server. Basically I’m going to have to get another frame buffer card, then I can install either FreeBSD or Debian and have quite a nice Sun workstation.

26
Nov
12

Freeciv on FreeBSD

Main Menu

Main Menu

Quite some time ago I worked at a radio telescope for 3 months as part of my work experience for my engineering degree. During that time I had an incredibly old machine as my work station, it was an original Pentium running at 77 Mhz. Because it was so old and because of the job I was doing I installed Linux on it. I used my favourite old school window manager (FVWM) and had it set up pretty sweet.

One of my duties for a short period of time was looking after the telescope after hours. This was called being the duty astronomer and was something everyone did at sometime during the year. Basically you were on call for if something happened to the equipment that the remote astronomer couldn’t handle. Most of the people using the telescope were often some distance away and did observations remotely thanks to the power of the net.

The main view

The main view

So I was spending many hours at my workstation after work hours, not working, and watching the telescope and waiting for something to happen. This is when I installed freeciv and started playing. Surprisingly even on that hideously old machine the game played quite well and was quite enjoyable.

The city screen

The city screen

Recently I compiled and installed it on my sun fire R280 machine which is running FreeBSD. The machine is headless so I was accessing the machine via XDMCP in order to play. There are too many graphics to play the game via a VPN connection, but it works very well over a LAN connection, mine is 100Mbps so it would be significantly better on gigabit.

City production

City production

I was playing on the standard GTK based client, but there are other clients with support for the Xaw, Xaw3d and SDL toolkits so you can get it to work on systems without GTK installed. Most of the clients look pretty much the same with the exception of the SDL client which imitates the interface of the newer civilization games.

Research tree

Research tree

The graphics for units and the terrain are consistent across all the clients so you won’t be confused trying to identify units or terrain. There are several tile-sets to choose from as well so you can customise the way the game looks. Unfortunately the newer versions of freeciv don’t have as many tile-sets available as the older ones. Some times I have found some of the text is difficult to read because it is so small.

Other civilisations

Other civilisations

If your platform supports sound there are some sound effects for events such as combat. On the sun machine I didn’t have sound, however I do have it working on my macbook running the SDL client for freeciv. The sound is reasonably good, but not essential to game play. There isn’t any music in the game, but this leaves you room to play some of your own.

The SDL client

The SDL client

The game play is of course very much like civilization. The default rules most resemble the rules of civilization II with some differences. There are different rule sets that you can use, for instance there is a rule set for the first civilization game. There are unfortunately many subtle differences in game play that may annoy some players. The main draw card here is that multiplayer games are supported. This is reflected in the way diplomacy works differently to the commercial games.

Personally I actually prefer the original civ II game play, graphics and sound, but freeciv has some merit of its own. There are some features that are nice such as extremely large maps, and many more players in one game. The rules are subtly different which can change some of the strategies for play, but for the most part the same strategies will work. It still is fun to play for me, but it really will be a matter of personal preference as to whether you enjoy it or not.

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