Change: 4 July 2006
Ultra 5 running Debian
Helping overcome the hardware/software monoculture
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
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
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.
Diehl Martin passed away in
October 2007. If you need to contact someone, please contact Monica Martin.
diehlmartin.com is a trademark of Diehl Martin
Contents, elements of style copyright 2006 by Diehl Martin