Why the Sun Ultra 24 and Configuration
The Sun Ultra 24 is a great candidate for a swap since it was from an era after Sun decided to innovate on form factors. Instead, the Sun Ultra 24 uses a standard ATX layout. In fact, if you look at our configuration, we see an x86 CPU in an ATX form factor with an NVIDIA GPU. That is fairly similar to what you may find today.
Our configuration was:
- Base: Sun Ultra 24 Workstation
- Chipset: Intel X38 Express
- Processor: 3.33GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo “E8600”
- Optical Drive: DVD/CD Burner
- RAM: 4GB (4x1GB) PC2-5300 DDR2 Memory. 4 Slots total.
- Hard Drive: 250GB 7200rpm Hard Drive
- GPU: NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 with 512MB VRAM
- Ethernet: Onboard 1GbE
- Slots: PCI Express x16: 2, PCI: 2, PCI Express x8: 1, PCI Express x1: 1
- Bays: 4x internal 3.5″, 1x external 5.25″ x 1/2H
- Interfaces: (6) USB 2.0, (2) DVI Port, (2) iee1394 Port, Audio In, Audio Out
- Power Supply: 530W 80Plus
- Operating System: Loaded with Sun Solaris 10
Yes, our system was pre-loaded with Sun Solaris even. There is no way we were going to use the 530W CPU with our AMD EPYC of choice. The system was also made before USB 3.0, so the USB connectivity is not great. Firewire has been largely displaced by USB-C and so that would be a challenge.
One of the defining characteristics, to me, of the Sun Ultra 24 was the black CD/ DVD drive. This is, by far, one of the ugliest design decisions Sun could have made. Instead of using a different CD/ DVD drive, or spending a few cents per machine to get matching plastic bezels, Sun parted with tradition and made the Ultra 24 stand out with this black mark.
Optical drives are not used much anymore, but USB 3.0 is. We decided to pay homage to this “beauty mark” and upgrade the optical bay to something more useful.
There are a few features that I wanted to highlight inside the chassis. First, Sun had a great system for SATA cabling. Each motherboard port was a different color. Sun had matching SATA cables that matched a specific motherboard port with a specific drive bay. You can see, even the SATA/ SAS backplanes 7-pin connectors color coordinate. This is RGB done well for a functional purpose.
Also, Sun was one of the early manufacturers to use tool-less locking mechanisms for 5.25″ expansion bays.
The NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 was the professional counterpart to the GeForce 8600 gaming card. One aspect that makes this card unique, is that it supported CUDA 1.1. Earlier Quadro cards did not support CUDA. There are not many who would have guessed in 2007 that that would be a huge feature driving NVIDIA’s workstation dominance for AI when this card was released.
That GPU heatsink, by modern standards, is quaint!
These are a few of the really interesting Sun Ultra 24 features. Sun had a number of other cool bits. The rear exhaust fan was tool-less to replace and a 4-pin PWM fan when that was a leading characteristic. The rear I/O shield was padded, much like vendors such as ASUS eventually started doing on their higher-end workstation products.
Now let us take a look at what we are going to retrofit in this donor system to make the Ultra EPYC a reality.