How to Install FreeBSD on Sun Blade 100

Recently, I received a Sun Blade 100 as a gift. After doing some research on which OS is the best for this machine, I decide to go with FreeBSD. So, my journey with Sun began here.

I only used Sun/Solaris in my engineering courses in college, I don’t have much experience with Sun hardware. I assumed that the experience should be similar – I was wrong.

So, here is what I have: A Sun Blade 100 connected with a regular USB PC keyboard. Note that Sun comes with its own keyboard, which has additional keys like STOP.

Anyway, after downloading the image of FreeBSD 8.1 Sparc64 and burning it into a DVD (You can burn it on any OS), I tried to boot the machine from DVD (Note that Sun Blade was release in 2002. You may need to verify that it is a DVD reader. You can replace the CD reader by any IDE DVD reader if needed.). And I received the following error messages:

Boot device: net  File and args:
Timeout waiting for ARP/RARP packet
Timeout waiting for ARP/RARP packet
Timeout waiting for ARP/RARP packet
Timeout waiting for ARP/RARP packet
Timeout waiting for ARP/RARP packet

Apparently, this machine does not know how to boot from CD/DVD automatically. After reading 20 posts, I finally got a solution:

If you have a Sun Keyboard:
1.) Push the power button to turn on the machine
2.) Pressing STOP and A key together

1.) Push the power button to turn on the machine
2.) After the beeping sound, push the power button twice in a short time.

After trying it for few times, I finally got into the OpenBoot:

Aborting auto-boot sequence.

So, I want to boot from CD:

boot cdrom

That’s it. The installation of FreeBSD on Sun is pretty much the same as on PC, except that the color of the installation menu looks a little bit weird.

If you experience any difficulties on booting from CD, make sure that both harddrive and DVD drive are jumpered to Cable Select, also you can verify the connections by running this command in the OpenBoot:


which will return something like:

Device 0 (Primary Master)
   ATA Mode: XXX
Device 1 (Primary Slave)
   Removeable ATAPI Model: YYY

Now you can install FreeBSD on your sparc64 machine!

Few things I’ve learned from running FreeBSD on Sun Machine (Sparc64)

  • Sun Blade 100 uses ECC (Error Correction Codes) memory. It doesn’t like the regular desktop memory.
  • Sun Blade 100 is old, the CPU speed is equivalent to Pentium II. It takes a long time to compile applications from ports. I recommend to install the applications using pkg_add first, and then run portmaster to update all apps. It will save you lots of time.
  • freebsd-update does not work on sparc64 machine. If you want to upgrade the FreeBSD system, you need to rebuild the kernel.
  • Sun Blade 100 is a heavy duty snail. For example, it can handle lots of inquires at the same time without crashing, but the processing speed is extremely slow. I don’t recommend using it for any applications that use more than 10% of CPU resource, e.g., Webserver (dynamic content), Database or Web Framework. I tried running all of my websites (including this blog) on Sun, which resulted terribly slow. My recommendations: Firewall, Router, Load Balancer.

That’s it! Have fun with Sun + FreeBSD.


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