Ubuntu on Sun Blade 100/150


This page started out as a post in the blog, but it got quite a few hits, so I thought a static page that I could edit with any other lessons learned and go into it in a bit more detail would be more appropriate. I’ll go through the technical stuff first and then get to why I did this in the first place.

So, I have Ubuntu 6.06 running just fine on a Sun Blade 150 but there were some bumps along the way:


First, at the time of this install, the only version of Ubuntu available was the “server” version. This does not install a default window manager, GUI or boot up into a X configuration. With this box I recommend this method even should other options become available in the future for reasons that shall become obvious.

During the install I had one minor issue – I had to remove one of the sticks of RAM to get the install to work, leaving just a single stick on the motherboard. Other people have reported similar issues with various configurations working/not working for them. Once installed the amount of RAM on the board did not matter.

Installing X and a Window Manager

I wanted to use this machine as a desktop, not a server, so I proceeded to install gnome, kde and the X font server – that was when the next issue cropped up. The X Server (Xorg) would start but my monitor (a Dell 1905FP) would tell me that it couldn’t display that video mode. Despite trying every resolution, bit depth and monitor settings I could think of, this behavior persisted.

After a lot of research I finally came across a post on the Ubuntu forums, it was for a Sun Blade 100 but the PGX64 card (which is ATI Rage based) was the same. The post contained the crucial information needed to remedy the problem, a line (bolded below) had to be added to the Device section of the /etc/X11/xorg.conf configuration file:

Section "Device"
Identifier "ATI Technologies, Inc. Rage XL"
Driver "ati" BusID "PCI:0:19:0"
Option "UseFBDev" "true"
Option "ReferenceClock" "29.500Mhz"

Once that ReferenceClock option had been added, the X Server came up and displayed without a hitch. Given how hard it was to find the solution, I thought the blog post was warranted and now given the hits I’ve started this page. Hopefully people will find it useful.

Other Issues & Stability

None so far and besides the occasional power hiccup the box has been running 24/7 as a generic desktop machine (at time of writing it has 14 days uptime). However, the only real stress on it comes from BOINC so I cannot somment on the stability of it as a server.
Why Linux on a Sun Box?

Sun, of course, produces it’s own OS – Solaris – that is now free to download and use. That is exactly what I did originally on my Sun Blade 150. Surprisingly it did not “just work” out of the box as I expected. There were several issues post-installation that consumed a lot of my time to fix. I’m all for trying out new Operating Systems but this just left me wishing for the ease of use of Linux.

Eventually I decided the time consumed was not worth it, I was spending more time fighting with Solaris than actually using the machine, so Ubuntu was my next stop. I should note that I am an experienced Linux user – I have an RHCE, I run production Linux boxes and I use Ubuntu for personal machines on a regular basis – so I have some bias here. An experienced Solaris user/admin would no doubt have had much better luck. Your mileage may vary :)

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 Posted by at 12:35 pm