[rescue] Sparcstation LX Restoration & Help

Bill D dorsey at lila.com
Mon Nov 25 10:22:56 CST 2019

Twenty years ago, I retired my old Sparcstation LX that had served me well
for a number of years.  When I packed it up, it was still working
perfectly.  After successfully bringing an old Sun 3/80 back to life a
couple of months ago, I thought it would be a good time to do the same for
the LX.  I figured things would go smoothly since the machine was working
when I packed it up.  I couldn't have been more wrong.

For starters, the machine wouldn't power on.  I disassembled the machine
and removed the power supply and discovered something inside it had leaked
-- probably a capacitor although I could not find a bad capacitor by
inspection.  Taking the lazy way out, I ordered a replacement power
supply.  A week or so later I had the machine reassembled with the new
power supply and powered it on with some trepidation.  Everything sounded
normal for a few seconds and I was about to breathe a sigh of relief when
the power supply started to make a clicking sound.  I immediately powered
it off but that was when an acrid smell hit my nose.  Damn, I thought, they
must have sent me a bad power supply.

I disassembled the computer yet again and removed the power supply (the
smell was really bad when I opened the computer).  I hooked it up to a hard
drive and powered it on just to confirm it was bad but it came up fine and
the hard drive spun up just as you would expect.  Could the problem have
been with the computer itself?  I looked over the motherboard and sure
enough one of the many tantalum capacitors that Sun had unwisely chosen to
use on this board had exploded -- the source of the awful smell.  It turned
out to be a 47 uF SMT tantalum with a 16 Volt rating.

A few days later my Mouser order arrived and I removed the two 47 uF
tantalums on the motherboard and replaced them with modern 25 Volt rated
parts.  While I was making the Mouser order, I ordered a 48T08 RTC/NVRAM
chip as well since I was pretty sure mine would have long since died.  It
went in right after the tantalums were replaced.  Reassembling everything,
I once again powered everything on while holding my breath.  This time the
computer stayed on and didn't make any funny noises!  I let out a breath
and connected the terminal to the serial port since I don't yet have a Sun
compatible monitor to hook up to it.

After successfully running all of the selftests, it came up in diagnostic
mode since the NVRAM was cleared.  I followed the nice FAQ at
http://lib.ru/TXT/faqsunnvram.txt in order to restore the IDPROM portion of
the RAM and was able to boot into NetBSD 1.9, the OS that was running so
many years ago when I retired the machine.

NetBSD is a great OS, but as this is a vintage computer, I'm much more
interested in running the original SunOS 4.1 on it.  I happened to have
downloaded two different versions of the CDROM image for it in ISO format.
I 3D printed a mount for my SCSI2SD card, mounted it, and installed the
assembly into the LX with little difficulty.  Removing the floppy cover
allowed me to run a USB cable temporarily into the LX to access the SCSI2SD
while I get everything working.

Here's where I ran into a little trouble.  I used the SCSI2SD utility to
create two different SCSI disks on my SD card.  The disks show up just fine
on my Linux computer as sdb and sdc.  I was able to use gparted to create a
supposedly sun-compatible disk label.  From there, I used dd to transfer
the CDROM ISO image onto sdb1.  Running lsblk on Linux I see:

sdb                       8:16   0     2G  0 disk
bbsdb1                    8:17   0 313.8M  0 part  /media/dorsey/Volume
bbsdb2                    8:18   0  16.3M  0 part  /media/dorsey/Volume 1
bbsdb3                    8:19   0  16.3M  0 part
bbsdb4                    8:20   0  16.3M  0 part  /media/dorsey/Volume
bbsdb5                    8:21   0  16.3M  0 part
bbsdb6                    8:22   0  16.3M  0 part

Examining the mounted volumes, I see what appear to be SunOS install media
files on reasonable-looking paths.  So I run probe-scsi on the LX and see
the two SCSI volumes I setup earlier with the SCSI2SD utility:

ok probe-scsi
Target 0
  Unit 0   Device type 20  Qualifier  20     codesrc scsi2sd         6.0
  Unit 1   Device type 20  Qualifier  20     codesrc scsi2sd         6.0
Target 3
  Unit 0   Device type 20  Qualifier  20     codesrc scsi2sd         6.0
  Unit 1   Device type 20  Qualifier  20     codesrc scsi2sd         6.0

However, all my attempts to boot from either disk fail with the same error

ok boot disk0
Boot device: /iommu/sbus/espdma at 4,8400000/esp at 4,8800000/sd at 0,0   File and
Bad magic number in disk label
Can't open disk label package
Can't open boot device

So either gparted lies when it says it makes a Sun-compatible disk label or
else the label is somehow being corrupted when I dd the CDROM image onto
the disk when it's mounted under Linux.

My next steps are to remove the SCSI2SD from the LX, mount it into my Sun
3/80, and properly label it.  Maybe at that point I will be able to move it
back to the LX and get it to boot.  If anyone has any other suggestions,
I'd be happy to hear them.

- Bill

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