Linux on SPARC

Linux on SPARC

Post by phil » Mon, 11 Aug 2008 11:19:51

The other day I was given a Sun Workstation 5.

I managed to load Solaris 8 on it and it seems to be in good working

Since I have two HD's I decided to see what else I could do with the machine
and loaded a SPARC port of Net BSD. Though that loaded OK, it was not a very
full distro...
then I came across a Slackware port to SPARC.

After initially getting my kernel choice wrong, I managed to get it
installed OK
but am having no luck setting up the x-server. I tried using the auto config
option of xorg
but had no luck.
Trying to set the machine up manually, I see that the choices do not seem to
include Sun H/W.

VIZ: ps/2 mouse and all the normal video cards you'd see on an i386 system

Just wondering if anyone here has set up Linux on a Sun Workstation


Linux on SPARC

Post by hackr_ » Mon, 11 Aug 2008 22:32:16

I have. Maybe try Gentoo/sparc. It has a handy "genkernel" kernel
building tool which does most of the work for you.

Go to , and then look under
Gentoo 2008.0 Universal install CD for sparc64. There a lot of
compiling involved, so make sure you have enough memory and disk

The handbook is at



Linux on SPARC

Post by phil » Mon, 11 Aug 2008 23:38:12

Heck, if I cannot get Slackware configured, I'd probably have even a tougher
time with Gentoo :)

I have been fooling around a bit more and have at least managed to get a Sun
video card installed
but still cannot boot to the GUI...
the error I am now getting is concerning the mouse.

Even if I # out all lines referencing a mouse...
I still get a core pointer error

Maybe I will look at Gentoo though

Linux on SPARC

Post by phil » Mon, 11 Aug 2008 23:41:20


I took a quick look at Gentoo
but only saw SPARC_64
this is an old 32_bit machine I'm working with :)

Linux on SPARC

Post by hackr_ » Tue, 12 Aug 2008 01:03:09

Is it one one these?

of one of these?

There is some information here, but it may not be up to date:

As far as BSD goes, you may have some good luck with OpenBSD.


Linux on SPARC

Post by phil » Tue, 12 Aug 2008 01:26:28

110mhz cpu , 224 megs of RAM and two, 2 gig HD's

Linux on SPARC

Post by hackr_ » Tue, 12 Aug 2008 11:09:52

Did you get X working with NetBSD? It may be possible to have fiddle
with the Xorg config file by hand to point to the "fbdev", or frame
buffer device. I'd say Debian would be a good distro. Gentoo would
require some disk space to compile everything.

With a Sparcstation 5, you're probably looking at 8-bit color
anyways. I think it was a pretty nice machine, though.


Linux on SPARC

Post by phil » Tue, 12 Aug 2008 20:12:34


Yes, I did get the X server working with NetBSD
as soon as I installed it, I simply typed " startx" and the GUI came right

On the Slackware drive, though I did get the Sun video card installed,
I did try the "frame buffer" option and tried 8-bit, 4-bit and even 1-bit
with negative results.

Prior to installing Slackware, I had tried Debian...
but halfway through the installation it could no longer find the cd from
which I was installing it.
The helpful message was "check to see if a cd is in the device" LOL

Because the CDROM is rather old, I tried several newer ones but had the same
results. Of course, even my newer drivers are rather old :)

I'm going to have a look at it again in a minute to see if I missed


Linux on SPARC

Post by hackr_ » Tue, 12 Aug 2008 22:13:03

Hmm... have you tried doing a netboot, i.e., "boot net:dhcp" at the
boot prompt? This may not be possible on the Sparc 5. It's possible
on the Ultra II and newer, with updated EEPROM. You have to get the
latest flash updates if you want to do this.


Linux on SPARC

Post by Guido Wink » Wed, 13 Aug 2008 02:32:21


Don't bother with Gentoo, then. They have dropped support for 32 bit SPARC
some time ago.


Linux on SPARC

Post by phil » Wed, 13 Aug 2008 06:51:12

Yes . The first time I tried to install Debian, I just downloaded the "net
install" iso

however, it needed to read files off the cd to set it up

and I got the same error about no cd in the drawer. Mind you, it was the cd
I had booted from.

I suppose once control was handed off from the bios, to the OS is where the
cdrom was lost.

Sheesh, when Slackware was ported over to SPARC it looks like most of the
H/W support was for i386.

Oh well, I can at least run Solaris 8 on the machine.

Linux on SPARC

Post by phil » Wed, 13 Aug 2008 06:53:01

Thanks for confirming that, I sure did not see 32bit support.

Maybe if I can scrounge up a newer scsi cdrom I'll give Debian an other try.

The newest one I have is 11 years old :)

Linux on SPARC

Post by from the » Wed, 13 Aug 2008 16:14:04

I played with Linux on SPARC once to test the portability of some
software I wrote.

I found various issues with whatever distribution I used (can't recall
which) with multi-threaded programs. Linux on SPARC is not well
supported, I don't think there is much (if any) development going on, so
I suspect Linux will be more hassle than it is worth.

I'm not sure of the best version of Solaris for a SPARC 5. I know
Solaris 9 will run, but it *might* be better to use an older version due
to it being more lightweight.

Dave (from the UK)

Please note my email address changes periodically to avoid spam.
It is always of the form: XXXX@XXXXX.COM
Hitting reply will work for a few months only - later set it manually.

Linux on SPARC

Post by terry » Wed, 13 Aug 2008 16:50:18

Define "run".

Linux on SPARC

Post by Huge » Wed, 13 Aug 2008 17:43:47

I agree. I tried Linux (I also can't recall which one) on my long retired Ultra
2, and it was dire. The one thing that sticks in my mind was that the SCSI
drivers didn't work properly, leading to many disk errors and the inabaility to
use my tape drive.

So I gave up and came back to Solaris. I'm not inclined to repeat the

(Interstingly, Ubuntu won't run on my HP Pavilion PC, either...)

"Be thankful that you have a life, and forsake your vain
and presumptuous desire for a second one."
[email me at huge {at} huge (dot) org <dot> uk]