SUMMARY : "Build" a Sparc workstation ?

From: Stephane Legrand (
Date: Tue Mar 18 1997 - 09:42:35 CST


26 answers !! That's definitely a *VERY GOOD* mailing list !
Thanks to all who have replied :

charest@chou.CANR.Hydro.Qc.Ca (Claude Charest)
Stephen Harris <>
Mike Frisch <>
"Amaresh R. Joshi" <>
Jaspreet Singh <m1jxs03@FRB.GOV>
Alex Finkel <>
Dan Elswit <>
Simon Convey <> (Martin Oksnevad)
Rich Snyder <> (Gregory M Polanski)
Bertrand Hutin <> (Keith Willenson)
Hagen Finley <>
Tim Carlson <>
"Matthew J. Hill" <> (Kevin Sheehan {Consulting Poster Child})
David Fetrow <>
Tinh Do <>
Jim Harmon <> ( D. Ellen March)
"F. David Sinn" <>
"Richard.Hellier" <>
Rich Kulawiec <>
Paulo Licio de Geus <>
Charles Gagnon <charles@Grafnetix.COM>

Two kind of answers :

1 - It would *NOT* be easy to do for the SUN boards without PCI because
there is too much proprietary components : no PC RAM, Sun keyboard, video
board, power supply, Sun boxes and so on. In this case, may be better
solutions are : Solaris on PC, clones, secondhand workstation.

2 - It would be much easier to do with the new Ultra AX board which has PCI
bus and which can use PC Ram, PC keyboard, PC mouse, PCI video board, ATX
box and power supply. Personnally, i think it can be really interesting.
See also the article send by Richard Hellier.

Here is some of answers. If somebody is interested by all replies, feel
free to send me an e-mail and i will send you all replies i received.


Original answer :

>Anyway... In Sun web site, i've discovered that you can buy Sparc
>motherboards (even if you are not a firm ?).
>So, i wonder if you could put this motherboard in a PC box, add standard
>SCSI hard drive and CD-Rom, SIMM RAM, video board (with PCI ?), keyboard
>and so on to finally have a Sparc workstation ?
>And if it's possible, is it technically and economically viable ?
>And did somebody try this ?


FROM : "Amaresh R. Joshi" <>

hi Stephane,
while gathering info on building a regular Intel based
box i came upon the following info. Sun makes an ATF
form factor Ultrasparc motherboard. ATF is a specification
for motherboards, cases and power supplies which is
becomming a standard for PC's. any ATF device should fit
with any other ATF device (check out ).

the motherboards from sun use the PCI bus, which is standard
for PC's. the following URL has info on the motherboards and what
components will work with them

so it shouldn't be too difficult to build a Sparc box.

>And if it's possible, is it technically and economically viable ?

since all the other components will be the same (SCSI card and
drives, graphics card) the question is which gives better price
and/or performance, an Ultrasparc I (or II) or a dual pentium-pro



FROM : Jaspreet Singh <m1jxs03@FRB.GOV>

Sun along with its VAR's will soon come out with a new Ultra AX
designed computer. Basically it is a Sun workstation running Solaris
and UltraSparc chip, housed in a PC enclosure. The best part about
this design is that it will have PCI bus. This will allow you to
use commodity off the shelf boards, (like Adaptec SCSI, 3-com ethernet,
etc.) So you should be able to build or buy cheaper Sparc based computers.
My organization is looking to get these when they start shipping later
on this year. We will use them as small workgroup servers, to complement
our big Ultra enterprise servers.



FROM : Simon Convey <>

Yes, Ihave done this, but it is NOT easy

You can buy a SPARC clone motherboard fairly easily on the open market.
You will need to purchase an S-BUS graphics card, about $400 to $4000.
The least expensive one you can get will be fine. The Sparc board will
come with ethernet, and SCSI built in. Any large SCSI disk will do, as
long as you know the CYLS/HDS/TRK geometry for the disk. Memory is
available on the open market, (find a kingston distributor) Older sparc2
used 30 pin SIMMS, later machines used 72 pin SIMMS, and the recent ones
are using (90 pin?) DIMMS. You don't necessarily need a floppy drive,
but if you want one, you will have to get a special SONY one, tricky to
get hold of, and at least $200. The Sparc will not fit in a P.C case
straight off, though PIZZA boxes for SUNs can be bought, but I think
they are around $600 ! You will need a SUN bootable CD-ROM. The only one
I know of is the Toshiba XM-304 with a special firmware option that
allows it to act as a boot device for a SUN. A type 5 keyboard and mouse
will cost somewhere between $150 and $300 depending on quality.

Last but not least, you will have to a copy of Solaris ........

I reccomend that you do try to build your Sparc, you will not save much
money, and it will be difficult to source the components. You will be
very lucky to get all the correct components new from somewhere. The
only place I know that does SParc spares is Dataman in Yorkshire, (U.K)



FROM : David Fetrow <>

A lot of the usual SPARC parts are slightly nonstandard
from a PC point of view. Some need unusual SIMMS, most
have weird video, etc.

 Sun recently came out with a SPARC board built to be
used with PC stuff. e.g. it has a PCI bus, uses PC power
suppies and fits in a PC case.

 Also, Ross technologies ( has a nifty
SPARC-in-a-diskdrive-cabinet that slips into a standard PC
diskdrive slot.

 Finally, used SPARCstations can be had for cheap if you
don't care about speed. E.g. A SUN ELC without memory ran
something like $600 last I checked. It includes a mono monitor,
can use PC SIMMS and standard SCSI drives. I'm sure the price
is lower now.



FROM : "Richard.Hellier" <>

        Here is a recent article about a suggested system configuration
based around the Ultra AX board.
------------------------------- cut here ---------------
Re: Best Oracle Platform??


>From Paul Ingram <>
Organization Paul Ingram Group, Software Systems, +44 1 483 424424
Date Mon, 20 Jan 1997 16:06:30 GMT
Message-ID <>
References 1 2


Check out the new Sun SPARCengine Ultra AX. Its an UltraSPARC on the
AX (ie PC) format PCI motherboard. It slots straight into a normal PC
case and (obviously) runs Solaris. Cost is much more expensive than a
Pentium Pro motherboard (about USD2500 for an entry level Ultra) but
it *is* a real UltraSPARC motherboard. Oh, one other thing... it'll
take the standard PC SIMM format.

Sun are well placed for this product introduction: they already have
device drivers for most of the major current PCI boards as a result
of Solaris for Intel release. I should imagine that you could put
together a 200MHz SPARCengine Ultra AX for about USD8,700 this is a
guesstimate :-) but it sounds like it is about 1/3 the price of the
Compaq Intel box above. Prices shown are wild guesses and are also
conversions from UKP.

Motherboard 2,500
Good case/PSU 200
256Mb RAM 1,200
Adaptec PCI 2940UW SCSI adapter 250
3*9Gb Ultra wide SCSI HD 3,000
CDROM, floppy, keyboard 300
20" Monitor & PCI video card 1,250

I presume you'd have to add the price of Solaris 2.5 to this...

I hope this is of use - you'll find all the correct details on Suns

Rgds, Paul.



FROM : Paulo Licio de Geus <>

I do it all the time with old stations that have broken parts,
usually keyboard interface, as well as machines that lost their

You've got to find the power connector suitable for the sparc board,
to use them on PC power supplies. Usually I cut them from burnt Sun
power supplies, or failing that, I power the board through the SCSI
power connector (used for internal drives). The only line missing is
-12V, but if you don't need a terminal console it's alright. You can
even manually add the -12V from the PC power supply to the board's
power connector, since a single pin is easier to isolate to prevent

RAM is usually standard, it all depends on board design. Older boards
(the ones I use, SS1+, IPC etc) use older 30-pin SIMMs, newer boards
like Classic and maybe SS4 use 72-pin SIMMs.

Standard SCSI disk drives are OK, but not CDROMs. You need CDROM
drives that are firmware sectored to 512 bytes. Industry standard for
PC and Mac is 2048 bytes. Some drives can be changed either by as
internal switch or by cutting appropriate PCB tracks (I remeber a
recipe to make a standard Toshiba drive go to 512 B/sector, it's in
the sun-managers archive somewhere).

You need SBUS video cards, or a CPU board with built-in video. PCI is
for PCs and Mac machines only.

Keyboard has to be of Sun design as well.

You should check companies that merchandise older stuff, I don't
recall any names right now, I'm afraid.


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