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Sparc-based workstation in Sun's pizza box style chassis. The 4 is not as common as some of the other boxes, such as the IPC or the 1+, but is usually available on the secondhand market for a fairly inexpensive price. These machines provide adequate performance for tasks such as X and casual web browsing, plus some light development work. These features make them an excellent sub-$100 machine for learning unix.

Technical Specifications:

  • Sun Part Number: 600-3621-01
  • Model Number: 544
  • Service Code: S4
  • System Type: Sparcstation
  • Chassis: Aurora. This chassis is from the same family, and shares many of the same components, as the chassis used in the SPARCstation 5 and 20.
  • Processor: Choice of 70mhz, 85mhz, and 110mhz microsparc processors.
  • Memory: Up to 5 proprietary memory modules. Modules can be either 8MB, 16MB or 32MB in size, giving a possible range of 8MB to 160MB RAM.
  • Bus: 1 Internal sBus slot.
  • Video: Integrated Sun TurboCX framebuffer and 13w3 video output port. This framebuffer is suitable for most people. As this is an 8-bit framebuffer, if you're planning on doing graphics intensive work with this card, it may be advisable to upgrade to a 24 bit card.
  • Floppy: Bay for 1 standard Sun-type floppy. The floppy drive is bootable.
  • Hard Drives: 1 internal bay for an SCA hard drive.
  • CD-Rom: 1 internal bay for a slimline CD-Rom, like that found in the SPARCstation 20.
  • Audio capabilities: No integrated audio capabilities. The SPARCstation 4 does have an expansion port for a daughtercard that provides audio input and output capabilities. These cards are somewhat rare, however. If you need audio, your best bet is to probably get a SPARCstation 5, unless the 4 already comes with the audio card.
  • External ports:
    1 Sun Type 4 keyboard port
    2 Serial ports. Like the SPARCstation 10, these two ports share a single physical connector. If you want to use the second serial port, you must either purchase a specialty dongle or make your own.
    1 AUI Ethernet port and 1 10Base-T Ethernet port
    1 68 pin SCSI port
    1 parallel port

Using a 4

Like most older computers, the 4 is not a machine you want to run a website that will receive many thousands of hits. As a web server for a personal site, however, it's more than plenty. Though performance won't be great, this box is also suitable for many GUI-based tasks, such as Word Processing and web browsing. If this machine is used for web surfing, I recommend sticking with the 4.x series of Netscape, as it does have a lighter memory and processor footprint than Mozilla. Just stick with a light X environment such as blackbox or FVWM, and it'll be a capable system.

OSes that'll run on a Sun SparcStation 4

UNIX. Like most Sparcs, the 4 will run most 4.x versions of SunOS, and also Solaris fairly well. NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Linux will also run on these older sparcs. There have been reports, however, that some 2.4.x releases of the Linux kernel won't run on the 4 or other 32 bit sparcs, so it would be a good idea to check the web and newsgroups before installing. Performance on all OSes is similar, so it basically boils down to personal preference in choosing which OS to run.

Where can I get a 4

Like any older Sparc, your best bet is on the secondhand market. Auction sites, such as eBay, and surplus shops will usually have these machines for about $10-$20 US, though occasionally you will find one cheaper than that. These boxes will occasionally come barebones, but due to the fact that both the memory and hard drives are somewhat more difficult to find than standard SIMMs and SCSI-2 drives, it's best to purchase a complete system, even if it is a bit more money. These are great, reasonably fast machines, perfect for learning Unix, or setting up as a server for one's vanity site. Though if you do want a sun for a more day-to-day machine, I recommend saving the money and purchasing an older Ultrasparc-based machine, such as an Ultra 1 or 2.

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