My unnatural obsession with Sun computers has reached a new peak. I have DosBox running usably on 2002-vintage Solaris servers.
Pics or it didn't happen.
For a little background, I bought a lot of 31 Sun Microsystems computers at a state auction. I paid about $200 for the lot of them. They are all UltraSparc machines, not an x86 box in the bunch of them. They are all from 2001-2004, but they were quite high end when they were new.
Some folks wonder why I would be so obsessed with my silicon not being Intel. It's just a fascination that I have. I enjoy how these so-called exotic architextures are capable of the same tasks that commodity machines are, and it makes many ordinary and trivial tasks interesting to me.
On to the actual project:
The main issue I ran into is just getting these machines started into X11 in the first place. There are three standard ways to use a Sun Fire server. The main way is using the LOM or ALOM port, which is a serial port that is always broadcasting. The way you would generally log in and use a production machine would be over ethernet--IPv6 on gigabit, even in 2002! The last way, which had a lot of support from Sun and Oracle, but is generally not done, is a full graphical login. Obviously, I went graphical.
The issue here is that almost all the machines I own have been locked down from the LOM/ALOM to drop all SSH connections and not use any graphics cards. Of couse, you also need a special Sun- blessed graphics card to do this, which run ridiculous prices on eBay. I was very fortunate to get two XVR-100's (Radeon 7000s) and one XVR-250 (Radeon 9000) with my lot of servers. Not the best cards for gaming, but more than enough to run X11, most desktop programs, and even DosBox.
To enable graphics, I had to somehow get around the ALOM password. I decided on using a Sun Fire v240, since most of the machines I own are this model. These machines need a key to start them. I'd seen this kind of thing before on old Dell PowerEdges, but one interesting aspect of the Fire series is that you can also use the key to select a diagnostics mode on startup, which ultimately tries to boot from disk regardless of the options you select in OpenBoot (which was what everything except x86 uses instead of BIOS, until EFI came out; even Apple's 'Open Firmware' is based on OpenBoot).
If you're really curious, OpenBoot is actually a Forth (aka FORTH) prompt. I find this really cool, that instead of BIOS or EFI the machine boots to a language like Forth.
Quite luckily, I discovered that if I started a Sun Fire v240 in diagnostics mode, I could then
turn it back to normal mode while it was doing diagnostics, and instead of a normal bootup, I was
dropped into the ALOM prompt as the default admin account without entering the ALOM password! I've
tried this on several other Fire-series servers, and it seems they all do this. Do'h!
From here, I was able to first enable video, and then change it to 60 hertz (for some reason, all Sun cards want 75 hertz. Was this standard for servers in 2002?)
Then, it was a relatively simple matter to download DosBox for Solaris 10 UltraSparc and grab some of my old games (Daggerfall pictured, SimCity 2000 also tested quite thoroughly). Yes, there is a version of DosBox setup just for this kind of computer...I guess some sysadmins got really bored one day.
My general impression is that this machine, which has 8 GB of ram (expandable to 32 GB), a pair of ZPooled 10k RPM SCSI Ultra160 drives, and a pair of UltraSparc III CPUs (true dual CPU, not dual core) is actually really powerful. I'm only using actual results without any empirical statistics behind them, but it hosts Minecraft with similar latency to my brand new MacBook Pro. A certain benchmark I found, which some Solaris folks told me proved I was a fool, said this machine shouldn't be much more powerful than an rPi. Regardless of the why, it can run DosBox at full speed, and my rPi struggles to get even a single frame per second in.Definitely the best ten dollar computer I ever bought!
I own about 20 Sun Fire v240 computers. The stats of the one I used for this project:
CPU : Dual UltraSparc III @ 1.2GHz
RAM : 8 GB DDR1 ECC Registered @ 200 MHz
HDD : Dual 10K SCSI 160 UltraWide, 147 GB, ZFS
Net : Quad Gigibit Ethernet connections, Sun branded
Video : XVR 250, Radeon 9000 128MB