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    These machines trigger some nostalgia for me. We had a bunch of them and SPARCStation 2s in the computer society’s room when I started as an undergrad. Engineering had given them to us as a cheaper alternative than a skip. We used them as dumb X servers, connected to a PC (a 133MHz Pentium, as I recall) running Linux.

    I’m not sure if it’s still true, but back then Linux didn’t correctly use the tagged TLB on SPARC, so every context switch was a full TLB shoot-down. NetBSD was around 50% faster. My housemates salvaged a bunch of them when the computer society threw them out. One of them also bought an analogue telephone switch from eBay so we all had a landline phone (with intercom functionality) in our rooms. The switch logged the calls to the serial port, so we could see who made which calls and figure out who owed what on the phone bill at the end of each month. We had an IPX in the corner of the landing recording this and displaying it on a VT100 (yes, a real one - one of my housemates really liked picking up old hardware).

    In spite of that, I’m very glad not to ever have to deal with those machines again. In addition to being painfully slow even by the standards of 15 years ago, they had weird proprietary everything. They had a non-standard display interface, which drove displays at non-standard resolutions and refresh rates, which X.org hated. They had an Apple-like floppy disk drive with no hardware eject button (that was fun - people would put floppy disks in the machines in the computer society room and then need to find an admin with root access who could eject them). The NIC used an incredibly expensive external transceiver. If ever there were machines I’d be happy to see die, these 32-bit SPARCs were near the top of the list.

    These were from near the start of Sun in full-on price gouging mode. A little bit later, high-end graphics card makers sold two variants of their cards. One with a tiny ROM as a PC BIOS extension. The other with a larger ROM (or, often, EEPROM) containing OpenFirmware code. The second variant was more expensive because it had a larger ROM and was a smaller market. Sun workstation owners would typically buy these cards from Apple, because Apple’s hugely inflated margins made the cards around a third of the price of the exact same hardware with a Sun sticker on it. Larry Ellison probably felt this fitted very well with Oracle’s customer model.

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      Larry Ellison probably felt this fitted very well with Oracle’s customer model


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        I was given one by a colleague in 1998, as he had heard me reminiscing about OpenLook and how I had loved the look and feel of these old Sun machines.

        I had to buy a ridiculously expensive proprietary monitor cable to get to to work. When it did, it was incredibly slow.

        My previous experience had been at university, where hardly anything was run locally - we ran nearly everything off the significantly faster Solaris servers.

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          problem was that the serial ports on these used the NeXT / Apple style din plug plugs so if you wanted to run them headless and the machine had to be setup, you’d have to get yet another cable. The lunch boxes look very cool fully stacked with many peripherals, if you liked stack hi-fi :)