Installing and running Debian testing on a Sun Ultra 5



This is a brief bit about installing and using Debian testing on an old Sun Ultra 5. It was started about a week after I installed Debian, and relies somewhat more heavily on my memory than I would like. Nevertheless, I'm hoping it will be of use to other Linux users who may be considering installing Linux on an Ultra 5.

This document is very much under construction, and probably will be for some time. There are a few things which don't work at the moment, but they'll get fixed. Eventually. Pictures are coming soon - honest!

If you have any comments, suggestions or critiscisms please contact me.

About the hardware

The Sun Ultra 5 can come with a couple of different speed processors, see OSIAH's page for the Ultra 5 (has some pictures of my system on it!).

My Ultra 5 has the following specifications:

Quoth lspci:

00:00.0 Host bridge: Sun Microsystems Computer Corp. Ultra IIi
00:01.0 PCI bridge: Sun Microsystems Computer Corp. Simba Advanced PCI Bridge (rev 13)
00:01.1 PCI bridge: Sun Microsystems Computer Corp. Simba Advanced PCI Bridge (rev 13)
01:01.0 Bridge: Sun Microsystems Computer Corp. EBUS (rev 01)
01:01.1 Ethernet controller: Sun Microsystems Computer Corp. Happy Meal (rev 01)
01:02.0 VGA compatible controller: ATI Technologies Inc 3D Rage Pro 215GP (rev 5c)
01:03.0 IDE interface: Silicon Image, Inc. PCI0646 (rev 03)

Here is a copy of the computer's output from dmesg.


I used a daily build of the net install CD for Debian testing. At the time I set up this machine, Beta 3 of the installer was in preparation, and Beta 2 was in an unusable state, hence the use of a daily build.

Setup was easy enough, with no major hastles. I was easily able to set up LVM volumes for / and /home. The default sizes for these sellected by the installer were different to what I wanted, and it took me a little while and a lot of fussing around before I figured out how to manually remove those and create ones of the size I wanted. The option 'Configure LVM' did this ;-).

Two other things did not go to plan: I managed to exit from tasksel too early, without selecting any applications to install. Thankfully, this was easy to fix by running 'tasksel' as root.

The other was that X.Org configuration did not work properly. I was asked to set the screen resolution, but nothing else. I've heard that Beta 3 of the installer does not have any problems configuring, but YMMV.

Post-install configuration

As root:


I recently reinstalled Debian on this machine, after installing a new hard disc drive. Details can be found on my weblog. The main problem I had was that version 2.6.26 of the kernel will not work with Xorg. I had to move back to 2.6.22 to get Xorg to work.

Again, there were also other problems with geting Xorg to work. dpkg-reconfigure did not ask questions about anything other than the keyboard. I ended up using my old xorg.conf file (slightly tweaked) to get Xorg to work again.

General working

Here is the output from df -haT:

Filesystem  Type  Size  Used  Avail  Use%  Mounted on 
/dev/mapper/Debian-root  ext3  6.9G  3.2G  3.4G  49% 
proc proc  /proc 
sysfs sysfs  /sys 
usbfs usbfs 0 0 0 - /proc/bus/usb
tmpfs tmpfs 62M 16K 62M 1% /dev/shm
devpts devpts 0 0 0 - /dev/pts
/dev/hda1 ext3 89M 7.9M 76M 10% /boot
/dev/mapper/Debian-home ext3 1.1G 443M 558M 45% /home
tmpfs tmpfs 10M 120K 9.9M 2% /dev
none openpromfs 0 0 0 - /proc/openprom

That of course pre-dates the hard disc upgrade. Here is what it looks like now, with the newer hard disc:

Filesystem Type Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/mapper/aragorn-rootxfs 15G 3.8G 12G 26% /
tmpfs tmpfs 119M 0 119M 0% /lib/init/rw
proc proc 0 0 0 - /proc
sysfs sysfs 0 0 0 - /sys
udev tmpfs 10M 152K 9.9M 2% /dev
tmpfs tmpfs 119M 0 119M 0% /dev/shm
devpts devpts 0 0 0 - /dev/pts
/dev/hda1 ext3 92M 56M 32M 64% /boot
/dev/mapper/aragorn-home xfs 59G 6.6G 53G 12% /home
nfsd nfsd 0 0 0 - /proc/fs/nfsd

You might notice that I again chose to use LVM. One of the advantages of LVM is that partitions can easily be non-destructively resized. Since I read that ext3 can slow down older machines (such as this Sun), I decided to try xfs instead. Shortly afterwards, I read that xfs does not support non-destructive resizing of partitions, apparently making the choice to use LVM somewhat pointless... However, I have since read that this is not the case, and you can easily resize xfs partitions.

Problems and notes

Mostly the system has worked very well. I have been quite impressed with how well it has coped running an up-to-date version of Debian, given the age and the (by today's standards) relatively low specs of the machine. Clearly, these sort of UNIX workstations are made to last :-)

The only hardware problem I have come up against is that the 9GB Seagate hard disc drive is very very slowly dying. It lost the contents of my home directory a few months back (though fsck brought them back). It's not dead yet, but it seems to be working on it. In fairness, this is a ~8 year old hard disc so it is not all that suprising. I was told it should be easy to replace it with a new IDE hard disc drive, and this was indeed the case. The computer complained bitterly about the drive not having the appropriate label when I first booted with it plugged in, but Stop+A then boot cdrom allowed me to boot into the Debian installer. Once Debian was installed, there were no more problems with this.

Oddly, at the moment, shutting down the computer using GDM's shutdown option causes the computer to reboot. I had thought that this was a hardware problem with the computer (it is getting a bit old, by computer standards) but recently noticed that running shutdown from the command prompt works as expected. I assume that this must be a bug in GDM, but have not yet looked this up in the bug tracking system.

Useful links

Sun Ultra 5 documentation, including service manual and product notes
Sun system handbook for the Ultra 5 (not free)
System specifications for the Ultra 5


Copyright, (c) Gavin Duley 2006-11. URL: Free reproduction of this document under the GPL is okay, providing this notice remains intact.