Posted in IT Issues, Linux, OpenBSD, Personal, Solaris, SUN

Streching the EOL on old hardware.

A couple of weeks ago a friends from work was clearing out their place, I assume she had something to do with it, but in any case my collection of computers grew a bit when he offered to gift them to me. So now I own a Sun SPARCstation 5 and a Sun SparcStation IPX along with other bits and bobs. Now as a rule I only take systems that work, and they do, however the passwords have been lost in the annals of time.

So I was left with a marginal SparcStation 5 with a missing CD drive, which booted to Solaris 2.7, but no further. But I’m a geek, and undaunted by this minor setback, I set out looking for a workaround. The googling net is full of solutions for password recovery … if you have a bootable cd (yes CD not DVD), Ok, next does eBay still have Solaris stuff that old … not cheaply, so what next.

While googling, OpenBSD presented itself, and I downloaded and burned some generic ISO’s of version 4.8. and then to solve the other hardware issue, the Sun IPX was delivered with a cartridge loading CD, but the IPX drive was housed in an external SCSI 1 case, and the SS5 was wired with a SCSI II system externally. so I dismantled the CD drive and searched for a CD cartridge carrier which as any self-respecting Geek, I had stashed away for a rainy day. Then armed with the hardware I jumpered the SCSI CD drive into the SS5 chassis, and bingo a complete and bootable SS5.

Now attempting to boot the OpenBSD was no problem, which surprised me to no end. But then I attempted a password recovery on the Solaris disk and no joy. but I did manage to mount it, and more or less destroy it (latter I found a way to fix it) and determined to go ahead and install the full OpenBSD system. Which more or less worked, there were issues with the X-Fonts archive but I found the tarball contained another version, which worked. It now booted on the internal disk, but I had to add and modify the XF86Config file to find the display, mouse and keyboard. My result does not match the examples of this file you might find on the net. So if you are interested, contact me, the Sun GB keyboard was hell to make work. but TADA:

And I even now have a browser in the form of Links

However, while it can compile most anything, there isn’t much left on the 1GB disk to compile TO. So unless I find some pre-compiled SMALL binaries, or a very cheap internal SCSI Disk to upgrade with, I’m stuck.

There may be more coming for this system, but just to make a comparison with modern hardware;

SparcStation 5 Nokia N900 smartphone
Screen 1024 x 768 (9 screens) 800 x 480 (4 screens)
Memory 64 MBytes 256 MBytes
CPU Freq 110 Mhz 600 Mhz
Storage 1 GByte 32 Gbyte
Price (new) 8,000.00$ to 10,000.00$ ~500.00$

UPDATE: I found amongst the archives another external 1.2GB SCSI disk, which fits nicely in the same connector that the CD-Drive was in, so now the SS5 is without the CD-Drive but has a massive 2.2GB of disks, Impressive 🙂



With 40 years experience in software development, systems design and engineering and IT operations, and Infrastructure Architecture issues. I am versed in multiple programming languages, Operating Systems and RDBMS, I have work experience ranging from microcomputers and PC’s to multiprocessor mid range Unix systems and clusters. I have experience with both wireless and wired network protocols and mediums. And I've help migrate systems into the Amazon EC2 Cloud from self hosted configurations. I collect old working computers, I'm a published Astro-photographer, I tutor, and teach almost every subject I am knowledgeable in. I have had one internet email or another since 1991. I developed Gopher sites prior to the formation of HTTP/HTML and a few websites since then. I wrote my first 'database' on a DEC PDP-11 for the DECUS Library in 1984. Specialties I specialize in Database systems, and am familiar with almost all types of RDBMS and ISAM systems short of Mainframes. I habitually reverse engineer and document everything I touch.

2 thoughts on “Streching the EOL on old hardware.

  1. Congrats! Your Nokia comparison suggests your challenge is to now hookup a mic and a headset to get 1) a home phone and 2) if you put it in the basement, an auxiliary heater. 😉

    1. SparcStation 5 Does have mic and speaker input, the challenge would be getting a 3G SIM card into it, or maybe a USB adapter. As a Aux heater, brilliant, however it’s portability as a mobile phone falls well below that of a Osborne-1.

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