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Valentine
Sun Ultra 5 running Debian GNU/Linux
Helping overcome the hardware/software monoculture

portrait of valentine

Valentine is a 333 MHz Sun Ultra 5 workstation manufactured in 1999. She was purchased for a song on eBay, and upgraded with a used 160 GB hard drive and enough used memory to bring her up to 512 MB. She has been tested with various varieties of free software, including OpenBSD, Aurora GNU/Linux, Gentoo GNU/Linux, and Debian GNU/Linux. All of these are available to run on the 64-bit Sparc IIi processor, and all run very well. Debian has proven to be the easiest to manage, and so that has become the distribution of choice

One of the best features of Valentine is that she is not running an x86 family processor, and thus does not contribute to the susceptibility of the monoculture. Windows will never run on her. When she arrived here, she was running Solaris 7, but that was soon remedied.

In her previous existence, she apparently was an ad server, run in a spotlessly clean data center. It was very unusual to purchase a used computer which had not a single speck of dust inside. Her retirement to the desktop has been a well-deserved break. Valentine lives on my work desktop, and her twin brother Meteor lives in my home office.

A while back I bought several Sun Ultra 5 workstations on eBay. The Ultra 5 and Ultra 10 systems are excellent systems upon which to run Linux, as they were built to be nearly identical, and have fairly common hardware. For instance, the on-board video uses an ATI Rage controller, the hard drives and CDROMs use an IDE interface, and they came with a conventional 15-pin D-sub video output. This makes them a good first project for someone who would like to install GNU/Linux on a non-x86-based system.

Why would someone want to do this? Well, there is always the learning experience to be had. It does demonstrate more than the average geek chops. But beyond that, it helps reduce the "monoculture" of the internet, in that many attacks which are designed to break into an x86 box will fail when faced with a 64-bit big-endian processor. OK, the best reason to do this is because it is fun.

Another reason to choose a Sun Ultra 5 or Ultra 10 is that they are dirt cheap on auction sites such as eBay. These systems were made from about 1998 to 2001, and are being taken out of service in droves right now, which has driven the price to typically less than US$100 for a working system. This makes it nearly as inexpensive as a little Linksys net appliance. Geek toys can be rather affordable.

Besides, this is a 64-bit processor system which can hold up to either 512MB (Ultra 5) or 1GB (Ultra 10) of memory, and was a fairly high end desktop system for its time. Max it out for memory, put a larger 7200 rpm hard drive in it, and it is still a pleasure to work with.

Update
Diehl Martin passed away in October 2007. If you need to contact someone, please contact Monica Martin.

Last Change: 4 July 2006
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Contents, elements of style copyright 2006 by Diehl Martin