Monday, April 30, 2007

The case of the SunPCI 2 card

I have sunpci 2 pro card. Ok, I have a sunpci 1, a sunpci 2, and a sunpci 2 pro cards. Why, you would ask. Well, I thought the idea was clever: make a PC in a card (the predecessor of the blades?) and slap it inside a computer. The hardware approach has its benefits -- what would be better emulator than a complete computer? -- compared to emulated ones, specially if the host hardware is completely different. Many manufacturers have done similar things one time or another, but the tendency now if of course software-based emulation since modern machines seem to have the horsepower to make it work. Still I like to have that card as it has its own serial, parallel, VGA, ethernet, and usb ports.

And, as it turns out, its own IDE port.

Come again? Yes, it has an IDE port. I've always looked at the card during the boot process, and when checking its cmos, that it did check for IDE drives. But, it did not have a place to connect the cable to it. Well, there is an place on the board that does not have a connector in it. Upon checking it, I realize it has 40 pins. Hmmm, what if it was an IDE connector? After all, if you boot the card it seems to have everything it needs to use an IDE disk.

So I soldered a connector on it and then installed the card in a Ultra 60 running Solaris 10. I then boot the machine up as it was, just to make sure I did not screw anything up. So far so good. I then connected a 4.3GB IDE Hard drive I had doing nothing to it and rebooted. As you can see from the attached screen captures, the hard drive was seen by the card.

It would probably be a good time to find a way to mount a drive in the case; if you opened it you will remember that it really does not have much free space. For now I will leave it in one of the empty 3 1/2" drive bays; I may later make a bracket to put the drive somewhere else. Now the big question in my mind is can I boot the sunpci card off the ide hard drive? I don't know yet, but it would sure open a lot of nice possibilities. First we need to answer a few other questions. If I install, say, XP in the card, would it see the hard drive and be able to format and mount it? Also, would it be any limitations on the size of the hard drive or which devices I can slap to the ide cable? How about a cd burner or dvd player? Finally, would it be possible to slap a cdrom to that cable and install the OS off it (as opposite from the U60's dvd player)?