Lunchbox Fever

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the good fortune of finding a slew of various compact Sun “lunchbox” computers on eBay. While I’ll always be a #1 fan of the pizzabox form factor for UNIX machines, the lunchboxes are nice and compact and they stack neatly with a bunch of other Sun accessories (CD-ROMs, external hard disks, tape drives, etc.)

None of these machines were particularly very fast, but they were solid mid-range machines in their era.

Machine CPU Max RAM Onboard Graphics
SPARCstation IPC LSI 25MHz 48MB bw2 (mono)
SPARCstation IPX Fujitsu 40MHz 64MB cg6
SPARCclassic TI microSPARC 50MHz 96MB* cg3
SPARCclassic X TI microSPARC 50MHz 96MB* cg3
SPARCstation LX TI microSPARC 50MHz 96MB* cg6
SPARCstation ZX TI microSPARC 50MHz 96MB* cg6

* Unofficially, these machines can accept 128MB of RAM by using 16MB SIMMs in the first bank.

I have managed to get one of each of the above machines except for the ZX. This machine came with the rare/expensive ZX graphics card that even today sells for around $200 - the original price of the card alone was closer to $12,000. Other than the fancy graphics card these machines were otherwise identical to the SPARCstation LX.

The early machines (IPC, IPX) are from an era which suffered greatly from the capacitor plague problem of the early 90s. The two machines I have both needed extensive power supply service involving replacement of all the output filter capacitors. The later machines don’t have the same issue fortunately.

Additionally, machines of this age came with Seagate disks that time hasn’t been kind to. All of the disks in the machines I’ve received are in bad shape and I’ve removed most of them. I only have one SCSI2SD (they are kind of expensive) so the rest of the machines are limited to booting from the network. It’s not a terrible situation though, booting off the network is faster than you might think. I run a boot server on a Solaris 10 VM running on my main x86 workstation with SSD-backed disks, so performance is pretty good even though it’s getting throttled down to half-duplex 10Mbps on these machines. Local disks are still faster but diskless booting is way more reliable.