The cheap Solaris 64-bit box pending rebates

I was on a quest 6 weeks ago to see how cheaply I could build a 64-bit Solaris 10 box that I could use in the office, and gave myself a 2 week period to hunt for deals. The quest wasn't all that hard, and what I've ended up with wasn't all that bad of a system for office use.

At the core is an ECS K8M800-M2 motherboard and AMD Sempron-64 cpu. I got this on sale for just $69 together at Fry's on a one-day sale. I had to be careful that they didn't switch a 32-bit BABOX processor on me, so I insisted they honour their ad for a 32- or 64-bit mode cpu which they did, and I got a 2600+ 64-bit BXBOX retail cpu (the box actually has 64-bit on the lower right front corner). It's socket 754 which is probably going out of date soon, but for a functional system that I don't plan to upgrade, it'll get the job done and hold its own for a few years. The board has on-board LAN, Audio, and Graphics, so hopefully, this would make a pretty cheap system. And best of all, no rebates required.

Next was the case. I found the Antec 1650B black case w 350W power-supply on sale for $59.99 with $30 rebate. I'm not fond of rebates, but if I see a good deal and the rebate is from the manufacturer, like Antec, I usually go for it. Plus, this is a fairly quiet case, with easy-install and tool-less takedown. I have an identical white case in the office which ran my old ECS K7VTA3 mobo, and it was pretty reliable and quiet.

A few days after I found the case, I saw an ad for 200 GB WD SATA drive retail kit with cable for just $49.99 after a $30 + $20 dual rebate. And about the same time, I also found a dual stick 1GB of OCZ DDR400 (2 x 512MB) for just $75 with $25 rebate which ain't bad for branded memory. And for optical drive, I found a black retail NEC 3550A 16x DVD burner online for $39 w/ free 3day shipping.

A few days later, I put the box together, and installed Solaris 10 1/06 on the system. First boot wasn't very cheerful. The installer graphics couldn't recognize the onboard Unichrome Pro graphics, and defaulted to text console install, which did complete, but still couldn't get the Xorg to recognize the Unichrome Pro. The SATA controller for the mobo apparently runs the disks in IDE legacy mode so boot and install were transparent. I didn't have to turn on any switches in BIOS even. But I was stuck with no X-graphics with the Unichrome Pro, so I exercised the AGP option, since the micro-ATX board DOES include an AGP 4x/8x slot.

I found a refurbed Diamond S60 board for sale at a local surplus. It has AGP 2x/4x I think and the ATI Radeon 7000 chipset, which is well supported on Solaris. It was a 32MB card and cost $19. I knew I could get 64 MB cards these days for that much brand-new, but in a pinch it worked and I had a working system. Plus, with the newer cards sucking so much power and competing with the CPU, the older card with slower GPU seemed like a wise choice for the 350W power supply.

I added extra USB 12-in-1 flash reader for $7.99 later, and an $8 floppy drive a bit later with a $3.99 round 10" IDE floppy cable for better airflow. I also bought a $3.99 12" IDE ATAPI cable for the DVD burner as well.

Altogether, the cost for this system will come to about $300 after tax and if all the rebates come through. It's not great, but another decent deal for a 1GB sytem with 200 GB disk, universal usb reader and floppy, network, and audio.

Getting Solaris up and running with graphics wasn't hard, especially with the extra AGP graphics card plugged in, but the on-board NIC requires a 3rd party VIA Rhine-III driver. Luckily Murayama's got free Solaris drivers on his site and so I was able to download and compile the driver and install it. A new version 2.0.1 of the rh driver is available and runs well on a number of my systems. It's based on the new Solaris GLD framework (generic lan driver). If folks haven't compiled drivers on Solaris 10 Update 1 (i.e. 01/06 release), there's a slight bug on line 206 of the /usr/include/sys/ddi_implfuncs.h header file. Just comment that line out and if you make clean, then make; make install in the driver build directory, it should just work. Murayama also includes pre-built binaries as part of his distro so a make; make install doesn't actually rebuild the objects unless you 'make clean' first.

In booting this system, a psrinfo -pv reports the CPU is AMD Hammer Family processor - Model Unknown and isainfo reports that the system by default boots into 64-bit mode. I've had the system up for close to a month now with no unscheduled downtime. It's been a real champ for an office workstation and even for development. With home directories mounted remotely and most of the building switches defaulting still to 100Base-T, the system was more than capable of working well and quickly, even with compiles. I'd like to see a Unichrome Pro graphics driver for Solaris x86/Xorg soon. If that happens and works stably at 1600 x 1200 pixels on the 21" LCD flat panel display, then I can probably pull the AGP card out and save a few watts and just keep working.


Mine was cheaper - $0 - considering an old PC to be fully depreciated :-) though it is 32-bit. It formerly ran Windows 98SE, Mandrake Linux, and Linspire. I had graphics troubles because my hardware was so old. So I complained to, and got useful technical advice from, a Sun executive (!?) You might try the latest Solaris Express because it has a later Xorg with agpgart support; see Sophia's blog. I also had trouble with my old NIC but one of Murayama-san's drivers did the trick for me too. I hope someone sends him a T-shirt or a T1000 or something.

Posted by Walter Bays on March 21, 2006 at 08:32 AM PST #

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