Return to Sun Blade 1000 (thing)

The Sun Blade 1000 was a dual-processor UltraSPARC workstation produced by Sun Microsystems from 2001 to 2003. They were very popular in the scientific, engineering, visualization and graphics fields.

Specifications

  • Production dates: 2001-2003. Officially replaced by the Sun Blade 2000 in 2002.
  • Application architecture: sun4
  • System architecture: sun4u
  • Processor: Slots for 2 UltraSPARC III-Cu processors. Standard configuration is either 1 or 2 750MHz modules with 8MB of L2 cache each. Modules running at 900, 1000, 1100 and 1200MHz are also available, but they require a firmware upgrade.
  • RAM: Up to 8 DIMMs, upgradable in groups of 4, for a total of 8GB. Minimum memory configuration is 4 128MB DIMMs for a total of 512MB.
  • Graphics: 2 UPA and 4 PCI slots available
  • UPA graphics options: up to two Sun Creator/Creator3D (Series 1, 2 or 3), Sun Elite3D M3/M6, Expert3D or XVR-1000. Using a double-width card like the Elite3D M6 or XVR-1000 blocks the first PCI slot, but not the second UPA.
  • PCI graphics options: Sun PGX32, PGX64, XVR-100, Expert3D Lite, XVR-500, XVR-600, XVR-1200. TechSource Raptor GFX various PCI cards. Some other PCI graphics cards may work under operating systems other than Solaris, but do not have boot support. The XVR-500 and XVR-600 only work at full speed in the single 66MHz slot.
  • Floppy: Bay for standard Sun-type 1.44MB or 2.88MB floppy, not normally installed.
  • Hard Drives: 2 bays for FC-AL (100MByte/sec) disks. These drives are mounted on drive sleds for faster insertion and removal. These bays can accommodate 1.6" large-profile drives. The system can use disks up to at least 146GB. Larger disks should work.
  • Audio capabilities: EBus Crystal Semiconductor CS-4231 sound chip. 16-bit, 48000 kHz (CD quality) for both input and output. No MIDI synthesizer though it's possible to emulate one in software. (See TiMIDIty). This system has integrated phono style microphone, line in, line out, and headphone jacks.
  • Expansion:
    • 2 5 1/4" drive bays. One is usually occupied by a CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive. This is a good candidate for an upgrade to a DVD-ROM/CD-RW combo, or better yet a DVD-RW if you're lucky enough to find a SCSI one.
    • 2 3 1/2" drive bays. One may have a floppy, the other may have a smart card reader. A SCSI LS-120 is also available. The second 3.5" and second 5.25" bays are shared - you can use one or the other, not both.
    • 4 PCI expansion slots, 3 64-bit/33MHz, one 64-bit/66MHz.
  • External ports:
    • 4 USB 1.1 ports
    • 1 PC-style parallel port
    • 2 RS232 high-speed serial ports, DB25 female (230kbps maximum)
    • 1 RJ45 Fast Ethernet port (Sun ERI)
    • 1 68 pin Ultra Wide SCSI port
    • 2 FireWire ports.
    • 1 8-pin HSSDC FC-AL Fibre Channel over copper port

What the Blade 1000 can do

Designed as a high-end scientific and engineering workstation, the Blade 1000 was intended to meet the needs of advanced users. It was used for 3D graphics, science and engineering, visualization, simulation, software development, publishing and web design. It was also used as a server and render-farm node. For CAD and engineering, it competes with the IBM P-Series and the SGI Tezro, as well as the high-end machines in HP's Visualize line. Many such machines remain in service at businesses and academic institutions across the world, and as internet servers.

The Blade 1000 and 2000 are essentially the same machine, differing mostly in the default CPU options and in the motherboard chipset revision. The chipset used in the Blade 1000 apparently had a few subtle bugs that were fixed by the newer system board in the Blade 2000, but there's no way to tell the two apart in software, other than perhaps by firmware revision. A firmware revision from before 2002 indicates that the machine must surely be a Blade 1000, for no Blade 2000s shipped with that firmware. Later firmware could indicate either machine.

Nowadays, this machine is still up to handling nearly any modern workload. It makes a worthwhile server or workstation. It can still handle the more demanding scientific workloads, especially if equipped with XVR-1000 or XVR-1200 graphics cards.

So, what operating systems can it run?

Solaris is the only OS that fully supports the Blade 1000 and all its hardware. Solaris 8 is the earliest supported version, though many Blade 1000s shipped with 9 installed. Solaris Express is a good option for the adventuresome. Linux does support the Blade 1000 to an extent, but your options for graphics are quite limited. Unless you have a specific reason to run another OS, Solaris 10 comes highly recommended.

Finding one, and how much you should expect to pay.

Prices for the Blade 1000 vary wildly, as does availability. They are starting to pop up in some numbers on the used market, especially in the dual 750MHz configuration. Blade 1000s with higher-speed processors are rather rarer, since they were only sold with the 750MHz and 900MHz chips. Anything higher is an aftermarket upgrade. Depending on demand and equipment, prices can range from a few hundred dollars to well over US$2000. They use proprietary Sun RAM which is tricky to get and sometimes expensive. Disk upgrades don't tend to add much to the price of an entire system, but since Fibre Channel disks are somewhat hard to find, it pays to find a system with two large, fast disks. As for graphics, it's worth trying to get a system with an XVR-1000 or two, as it offers far better performance than the Expert3D or Elite3D. The XVR-600 or XVR-1200 is also a worthy choice, arguably better than the XVR-1000 due to their superior 2D and geometry performance..

The Blade 1000 can use standard USB keyboards and mice, though having at least a Sun keyboard is useful, and most X environments really expect a 3-button mouse. Still, if you hate Sun keyboards, feel free to swap it for your favorite PC or Mac USB keyboard. Its internal layout is strongly reminiscent of other Sun tower workstations, such as the Ultra 80, with a separate, right-facing disk cage and removable optical drive cage. The UPA slots are spaced somewhat more widely, with the uppermost PCI slot sited between them. This allows the installation of two double-width UPA graphics cards. Thus, this is an excellent machine for multihead junkies, who can use up to eight monitors with two XVR-1000 and two XVR-1200 cards. For those in need of more modern USB peripherals, most PCI USB 2.0 cards work with Solaris 10, but not earlier versions. Of course, the device itself needs drivers. Most scanners are supported via SANE, however. While a DVD-RW drive would be a very useful accessory for a system like this, IEEE1394 models are strongly recommended over USB, particularly if the system has PCI graphics cards installed.

Caveats

The two biggest catches with the Blade 1000 are its use of Fibre Channel internal disks rather than the SCSI which is common in most Sun machines, and the weak Firewire support in Solaris 8 and 9. In particular, if you're using Firewire devices with a version of Solaris earlier than 10, do not disconnect a detected device with the system still up - a crash may result! In Solaris 10, storage devices can be hotplugged.

The Fibre Channel issue is mitigated by the multitude of external expansion options. USB can provide low-speed storage, suitable for Zip drives, or Flash keys, while Firewire allows commodity external disks to be used. Ultra2 SCSI and Fibre Channel round out the external options, making things like RAID arrays or tape libraries possible. External SCSI and FC devices are bootable, Firewire and USB are not.

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