Introducing the Ultra EPYC AMD Powered Sun Ultra 24 Workstation

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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.

Sun Ultra 24 Front View Of The Beauty Mark Optical Bay
Sun Ultra 24 Front View Of The Beauty Mark Optical Bay

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.

Sun Ultra 24 RGB SATA Connections
Sun Ultra 24 RGB SATA Connections

Also, Sun was one of the early manufacturers to use tool-less locking mechanisms for 5.25″ expansion bays.

Sun Ultra 24 Tool Less Optical Drive Bay
Sun Ultra 24 Tool Less Optical Drive Bay

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.

Sun Ultra 24 NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 V RTX 2080 Ti
Sun Ultra 24 NVIDIA Quadro FX 1700 V RTX 2080 Ti

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.

28 COMMENTS

  1. This article was so well done. It was cool to get a history lesson as well.

    Hey you missed that the case has thumb screws 10 years ago.

  2. We ran datacenters full of Sun gear. They were arrogant but they also made so much technology we still use today.

  3. Thanks for the article. I enjoy these restomod builds. I personally fit modern running gear into old SGI chassis. I currently run a Threadripper in an SGI Fuel chassis and have an Octane ready to go an ITX build with Ryzen 3000 when it is released.

  4. I’m impressed with how accessibel this is. Bend one part. break something else and you’re using EPYC in this old case. It looks like your power button isn’t working either but you’ve got IPMI so you can reboot from your phone if needed.

  5. A $1550 CPU with 8ch ECC RAM?
    100Gb, 10Gb, 1Gb NICs?
    12.8TB SAS array and Optane?

    This is a Sun server not a workstation.

    Great PSU tips on p5

  6. The beauty mark comment was spot on. You’re showing why Sun was in decline and about to be sold to Oracle.

  7. I’m not gonna lie. STH is usually like the authoritative encyclopedia of content and this is totally not.

    But you’ve 100% nailed your demographic with this build. No RGB lights and a Sun logo. I can’t remember the last time I’ve read more than 2 or 3 pages on an article STH or other but I couldn’t wait to see more word for word.

    I just did a search for other Ultra 24 builds and there aren’t many. Maybe you’ve started something? I’m not going to cut sheet metal for a build, but bending a few bits I’ll do. I can’t wait until my interns this summer see a Sun box under my desk at work.

    That AMD easter egg was a 1 in a million find too as others pointed out.

  8. “Sun Ultra workstation families that are powered by the latest multi-core AMD… processors, and run virtually any OS”

    Fixed with EPYC by STH Mr. Fowler. #IRememberSun

  9. I love the thought process. You’re using IT SAS like SUN would with ZFS – no SAS RAID for that.

    Most people that do these are either gaming people or gaming people doing servers. It’s fun to see something that’s thoroughly modern with a nod to the past.

  10. Really nice, I worked on Sun workstations for many years and have found memories of Sun and Solaris. Solaris was unbreakable Unix, too bad Oracle abandoned it.

    Changing gears, man, if you really NEED such hardware in your workstation you must be doing some awesome stuff – and doing it all at the same time.

  11. Nice – I’d pop the black faceplate off and get rid of the white writing. Every port is USB3.0 so why label it? The white writing is a bit of a distraction, but then again I like discreet things.

  12. Having sentimental memories of a 1990 Sun Sparc Workstation that we used to get orbital parameters, if I recall correctly Byte Magazine at the time reviewing the 20MHz RISC based CPU making note of how a spark is the last thing a user would want associated with their computer, thus odd naming selection, am happy if not excited to see this effort to revive a mint condition, classic upright Sun workstation case with new innards.

  13. Actually, Oracle still supports Solaris and releases new versions every now and then even though there are not as many engineers working on it anymore.

  14. Well done! Would love to see a rebuild of a Sun Ultra 40 (M2)! The old AMD version before the Intel switch and the “beauty mark” but very different hardware layout (custom psu).

  15. I love the Sun workstation enclosures. If only someone would make generic enclosures that looked like that.

    Does anyone know if an EATX board would fit?

  16. I’ve been lurking at this site for a while now, and I really do appreciate the writing. There is one point of criticism though that if you would correct would be appreciated especially when one is doing a build. That item would be the cost breakdown of the build.

  17. where are you finding these machines for 100? 395 is the cheapest on eBay, please let me know where i can pick a few up for a cool Benjamin!!!!!!

  18. Hello:
    Great job! Very neat.

    I also have a U24, got it three years ago but for ~$300.
    It’s really great hardware, even by 2019 standards.

    I was wondering: could you tell me what BIOS version your “barn find’s” motherboard came with? =-)
    Thanks in advance,
    JHM

  19. I just finished the same swap on my Sun Ultra 20. I had to slightly file the holes for the PSU because of a slight misalignment, about 1/16″. Otherwise, it just dropped in. I’ll be replacing the IDE DVD Reader with a SATA DVD RW

  20. 1) Can you put a fan BEHIND the drive cage or is there metal that comes down which would render that idea useless?

    2) I’m surprised that your 100 Gbps Mellanox cards are only single port and not the dual port variant, especially given the fact that they’re PCIe 3.0 x16/x16 cards being inserted into a PCIe 4.0 x16/x16 slot.

    Either way, pretty neat though. It’s a nice looking box. Oracle should totally bring these back.

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