SUMMARY: differences between Solaris 2.6 sparc and x86

From: Brown, Melissa (
Date: Fri Aug 25 2000 - 13:00:47 CDT

Great Feedback!!
General consensus is that 2.6 on x86 will work, but there can be problems
with the video and device support like pcmcia. And, not all third-party 2.6
applications are written for x86. Toshibas seem to be compatible, but in
all, laptop compatibility is very poor.
In short, if the install looks like it'll work, go for it.

The install is obviously different from sparc. Device names are different.
No PROM access.

For learning purposes, it was suggested that we shouldn't use Solaris 2.6,
and perhaps use Linux, but it's not just the OS they're wanting to practice
with ... it's applications that will run on the 2.6. Good suggestion
though. I'm hardcore Solaris, but I love Linux. (admittedly fickle)

I'm going to include everyone's comments below my original email. If you're
looking at laptops or 2.6 x86, I suggest reading them.
Thank you!!!!

-----Original Message-----
One of the departments is going to have some training on their Solaris
2.6/sparc systems in a few weeks.
They would like to install Solaris 2.6 on their laptops to practice, which
would be the Intel version.
Any suggestions on laptop compatibility?? Or incompatibility?
Are there any differences between the sparc and the x86 versions that they
should be aware of?
I welcome any comments if you think this is a bad idea, or good idea, too!!
'day Melissa,

There's no real major difference between Solaris x86 and sparc from the
user perspective apart from how it boots (Solaris x86 uses a "configuration
assistant" to boot mostly to probe for devices and so on, in lieu of a boot
Apart from that it looks just like Solaris sparc with perhaps a few very
minor differences such as some device names and so on. I run a production
server for our company on x86 Sol 2.7 as well as various revs of Solaris
sparc on everything from IPX's to UE4000's and it's very similar. In fact
the biggest thing is remembering to grab intel specific patches for the
box! Of course patchadd handles that anyway.

Should it be done? Why not? Sounds like a good idea. Will it run on
laptops? Well I've never done it but I don't see why it wouldn't as long as
they have fairly standard components in them - Solaris x86 (and 2.6 may
be even worse in this regard) is a bit limited in the devices it supports
of the sheer number out there, but it should at least install and run even
it might not understand some you-beaut graphics card settings or something.
I say: give it a go on one laptop and see how it runs.

Good luck!
The base OS is basically the same, the main differences are in booting,
and what devices are supported. Solaris x86 generally has *very poor*
laptop support, mostly in regard to video drivers and pcmcia network
adapters. Sun's SEs use Toshiba laptops, which seem to have the most
support. I think Sun has officially stated that sol x86 is not supported
on laptops, but I don't have a reference on hand. There are also
commercial X vendors ( such as ) where you can buy X servers
for Solaris x86 which will work on laptops. As far as pcmcia network
adapters go, I think the 3com 3C589 series ( Etherlink III) is the only
driver bundled with the OS. If everyone has the same laptop type, and the
video chip is supported under Solaris, go for it. If not, then I wouldn't
do the project,.since it is likely to leave a bad taste it people's
mouths. Solaris is a great OS, just not a good match for the large
variety of laptop hardware out there. I am happily running SPARC and x86
desktop machines at home and work.

William Hathaway []

Solaris 7/8 should work just fine on newer laptops, altho, I would not
recommend it with 2.6.

Soalris x86 is a orphan. It's not really supported well by anyone,
Sun. From a Solaris perspective, it will be similar, but not the same.
are setup differently, and there is of course no PROM access.

If someone really wanted to learn Unix, I'd VERY much suggest getting a
distribution, such as Corel, Debian or Red Hat, and putting it on there
instead. It'll work WAYYY better and you'll find better

What I've found, is usually, only the hardcore Solaris freaks will actually
install Solaris x86 and use it.. most others will just install Linux on
laptops and go from there.

Hope that helps,

PC hardware is rarely consistent enough to be able to give a
straight answer. About the most you can do (sofar as being able
to say if it will work) is to boot install CD 1, get as far
        - configuring network without errors
        - starting openwindows
        - the disk partition screen

If you can get that far there's a fair chance Solaris will run OK.
If it doesn't, at least you've given it a go without toasting the
original OS on the laptop.

The boot sequence starts out a bit odd for us sparc-o-philes, but
if the training isn't that in depth, x86 on their laptops will be fine.

Adam Barclay
Hi Melissa,

The only thing that I can think of that might cause you a little grief when installing on a note book is the lack of video drivers.

You may be forced to use a really basic video mode.

Ensure that you at least get the cluster patch too... but there are a lot of other patches for CDE/XSUN.

Hope that helps.

Regards, Norm. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- Biggest hassle on laptops is lack of video support for anything more than 640x480, which is next to useless. However, if your laptop has a video chip that x86 supports, then it looks, smells, and tastes like Solaris sparc, except during the earliest stages of booting because the open boot rom that sparc hardware uses doesn't exist on PCs.

You can get video drivers from, but I doubt that can be done in a week :-)

Ric Anderson ( ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- The biggest differences and issues, are the platform specifics, ie. the boot process, the IDE disk layouts, the keyboard, framebuffer and screen configurations and the network devices.

One thing to note, is that Solaris x86 doesn't have that good a support for Laptops :( especially the PCMCIA ports :(=)

Hendrik ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- Hi Melissa,

According to Sun, the only difference would be the initial installation process.

There is an additional step during the Intel installation process, in which you should define a physical partition of your disk that will behave as an entire disk for Solaris. This abstraction layer is necessary in order to implement that īc0t0d0s0ī (slices) concept on x86īs.

Also, be sure to download and install the x86 version of every additional package, or get the source code and compile them. Be aware that most thirdy-part packages available for sparc are not available for x86, and you might not be allowed to get the source code.

Thatīs it.

Daniel. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- You might post for help to the Solaris x86 mailing list hosted at Also check out the resources available at

Once the product is installed and configured adminstration and usage of the two systems is pretty much identical. The major differences in the install is the use of a configuration boot disk to help configure the x86 devices and the Xserver which must be configured by hand. Personally I think Solaris x86 is a great product...but...

You'll find that Solaris x86 support on laptops is somewhat limited which is very unfortunate. Most people using laptops use the Xserver from XiGraphics ( or XFree86 (

I think if you check the archives of the Solaris on intel mailing list you'll find lots of information on what works and what doesn't as far as laptops are concerned.

-- John -- John T. Douglass Phone: Argonne National Laboratory-West Email: ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------- By now you will know of the "hardware compatability list" for Solaris x86. That will help on the hardware side but I know it runs on most laptops.

The major differences are the x86 uses a boot-loader with a pseudo-forth language instead of the eeprom found on a Sparc box.

For x86 at 2.6 keep the root file system under 2Gb.

Apart from that the device tree is slightly different and so are the /dev/[r]dsk entries. Apart from that they are very similar. All the daemons and security problems that you expect, networking and tools (such as truss) are there. Even the /proc filesystem.

The video drivers work with all cards if you stick to standard VGA. I then tweek it to see what is the best I can get but that can take time (and I only bother with it at home).

The distributions (core, developer, OEM, etc.) are fairly close to the Sparc ones.



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