Sun Microsystems Hardware

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The computing platforms produced by Sun Microsystems under the "Ultra" brand name are unique in the respect that they do use the ubiquitous Intel or AMD processors found on typical, commodity hardware in mainstream use today. The Ultra systems derive their name from the processors they use, called the UltraSPARC, a 64-bit CPU with model speeds from 270MHz to 400MHz originally released in the late 1990's (the then current Intel CPU of the time was the Pentium III running around 500MHz). Unlike the Intel and AMD processors that are based upon the complex 'i386' (sometimes referred to as 'x86') instruction set the SPARC processors use a simplified 'RISC' based instruction set.

The original operating system for Sun Microsystems is called Solaris, a Unix-like operating system similar to FreeBSD and Linux. An open source licensed version called OpenSolaris is available now. Today, numerous operating systems can run on the Sun UltraSPARC platform and FreeBSD is one of them.

FreeBSD on the UltraSPARC platform is noted as being a Tier-2 release which means it runs, and is fairly stable, but not nearly as reliable and tested as FreeBSD for the x86-based i386 or AMD64 releases, which are themselves designated Tier-1. That said, FreeBSD is a worthy choice for an alternative operating system to bring a fresh use for that long-unused Ultra system in the corner of the room.

Since the processors are different it is impossible to run software built on an x86 processor to run on an UltraSPARC processor. This is largely true of any processor architecture. Emulation is possible but is a slow solution. This is not a big issue when using FreeBSD since software installed using the ports system will be compiled for the specific processor of the running system.

The following guides exist for those wanting to try FreeBSD on the Sun Microsystems range of hardware platforms.

  • Installation of FreeBSD for SPARC on the Ultra 5 system;
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