Yet another whimsical retro-computing project idea for RetroChallenge… to turn some big-iron into small-iron.
Back in the very early 90s, Sun Microsystems produced their first multi-processor capable system, codenamed “Galaxy”, in fact a family of three big server systems based on the same motherboard:
- SPARCserver-630 – a large tower chassis incorporating a 5-slot VME enclosure and 520W power-supply.
- SPARCserver-670 – a super-wide tower chassis incorporating a 12-slot VME enclosure and 925W power-supply.
- SPARCserver-690 – a 56-inch datacenter cabinet, 19-inch rack-mounted chassis incorporating a 16-slot VME enclosure and a 1200W power-supply (that’s not including the cabinet PSU to drive the cab fans and SCSI disk-trays!).
The smaller ones look like this:
All three types of chassis were mounted on industrial castors, because you would never be able to move them otherwise. As you can see, all big stuff. However, a populated SS-600 series motherboard alone is (power and disk-drive excluded) a fully functional self-contained SPARC computer, complete with 4 SBus I/O expansion slots, built-in SCSI, serial ports, audio, Ethernet, upto 4 CPUs and upto 512Mb RAM. OK, without the big chassis you can’t load it up with enormous slow old VME I/O cards, lots of house-brick-sized disk drives or any of the other 1980s mega-oversized heavy-metal detrius that you wouldn’t need today (or even yesterday).
So the project would be to mount an SS-600 series motherboard in a smaller Sun-compatible 9U-VME chassis that provides enough 5VDC and 12VDC power. Given that the Sun 9U VME boards are non-standard-VME (by definition, standard VME boards are either one-plug 3U or two-plug 6U cards – there is no standard or even commonplace pinout for the “third” plug on 9U cards – Sun use the middle row merely for additional power), you can’t just grab any VME chassis that takes 9U cards, only Sun ones will work.
So what to do? Well, the earlier Sun-3/110, Sun-3/140, Sun-4/110 and Sun-4/310 workstations (super-slim-tower chassis) provide 3 “Sun-Style” 9U VME slots and enough power to run a populated SS-600 series motherboard. In principle, you need at least 2 VME slots, as the SS-600 series motherboard has sticky-up components so you need a black space above it. In principle, even a Sun-3/75 (2-slot VME desktop) might do, but power would be very tight.
If one could obtain one of these chassis (originally produced 1986-1988) with a working PSU, then you could create a mythical SPARCserver-610; a micro-Galaxy small enough to actually lift and thin enough to fit unobtrusively next to a desk.
The problem is going to be finding one of those very old Suns to use as a chassis-donor. They were exclusively rare 10 years ago, but now are pretty much impossible to obtain, for love or money, apart from robbing a museum or private collection…