Category Archives: Sparky2

Sparky 2 Helios Dev Box

Sparky 2

Meet Sparky 2, my main Solaris box. Yeah, Sparky2 isn’t exactly a roman or greek mythical figure, even the ‘sun theme’ would give you hundreds of possible god, godess and daemon names but there’s a reason.
Sparky2s main reason d’etre is Helios core development. As far as my research in the sources went, Perihelions main dev-box was called Sparky – so to honor their work I continued to use this name.


Sparky2 is actually the 2nd incarnation of my Solaris dev-box. “Sparky-1.5” was/is a lovely SparcStation 20, dual SuperSparc-60 CPU, 384MB RAM and even a on-board CG14-Framebuffer.
But that beast is just loud. Loud fans and a loud SCA-SCSI drive. As with most of my vintage computers, I was thinking and planning to replace everything to make it nearly noiseless but while the power-supply fan was doable, the hard-drive replacement would result in unjustifiable costs… and still it wouldn’t been any faster then.

So here it is, the ultimate “Solaris-Box-which-can-run-even-in-your-bedroom™”: A Blade 150.


Yes, you’re right, pretty recent stuff (2000-2006) for Axels ususal crap equipment, and in a Sun hardware evangelists view, it’s not even worth being called “a SUN”, but I needed it to run silent, and because the Blade 100/150 series is mainly build from standard PC parts, it’s perfect for noisless tuning.
It comes in a small ATX-desktop case, uses IDE drives, a standard ATX power-supply, standard PC133 ECC DIMMs (cheap these days!) and the 650MHz UltraSparc IIi CPU is fast enough to compile any vintage project in matters of minutes and not hours.


So out went the power-supply fan as well as the case-fan in the front and both were replaced by my noise-killer-of-choice: BeQuiet! fans.
The supplied Seagate IDE drive is already very silent, so I didn’t replaced that by some IDEtoSDCARD adapter or even a SSD (no, it wouldn’t be faster, the interface is ATA66).
As for the CPU-fan I was told that some (more silent) NVIDIA fans perfectly fit – need to try that later found a better solution, see post below.


Depending what you’re planning to do with it, a blade supports IIRC Solaris from version 7 up to 10. In my humble opinion Solaris 8 is the best OS to fiddle around with vintage sources: “Modern” enough and still featuring SunOS 4.1.x compatibility through the ‘SunOS Binary Compatibility Package” (called SUNWbcp).

While not necessarily needed for vintage coding, I still think it’s a must-have: pkgutil from the OpenCSW project – especially since Sunfreeware is now, which isn’t free anymore.
Contrary to this, pkgutil is the ultimate & free package-manager and just works as you might got used on other platforms (yum, ipkg and such). It’s much of a relief when you finally got basics like bash, less and another-editor-than-vi etc. Here’s how to get started.

Most important of all, you’ll obviously will need gcc. I had good results with GCC 2.95 which is not available on OpenCSW, but if you know how to Google, you’ll find it for sure 😉

Finally silence

Working a lot with my Blade 150 called “Sparky2” recently, the CPU fan turned out to be too loud, still. So I dug deeper into the matter and it turned out easier than I thought…

SUN -for whatever reason- decided to put a comparably small 40x40mm fan on top of the non-standard heatsink and additionally placed some aluminum spacer around it.
Removing everything revealed a totally standard PGA 370 socket! That’s Pentium III, if you remember… So a quick check in my old-junk-stash resulted in 3 nice heatsinks. I took the full-copper one and mounted a 60x60mm fan on top.
Put everything into place – done (BTW: SUN didn’t use any thermal grease, so did I)… but the bigger fan was still too noisy at 12 volts  🙄

After checking the fan also starts at 5 volts, the decision was clear: Bigger, massive copper heatsink plus bigger fan should be sufficient at lower revs.
There’s no direct 5V source on the Blade 150 motherboard. So I chose the vacant connector for the optional 2nd hard-drive (the closer floppy connector would do, too – but I had no spare cable to salvage).

Simply connecting the fan there wasn’t enough. OpenBoot actually checks for the fan tachometer signal and refrains from booting the system without one connected.
I was already evaluating how to build a signal dummy (a simple 555 timer circuit) when I decided to check if a simple forking out of the signal is enough. So I used a 2-wire cable and put ground and the tachometer signal to the on-board fan connector… and voilá that made the OpenBoot happy. Finally silence!

Here’s a piccy.

  • Purple arrow: The new & bigger heatsink (the old on lies on to of the case, so it looks bigger than it actually is)
  • Red arrow: The original fan connector (it still misses the tachometer signal bypass in this photo)
  • Green arrow: This is where the new fan is connected.