SPARCbook 3

So, my eagerly awaited SPARCbook 3 arrived today in the post. What a corker! This particular model is vintage 1994, and clearly these things are high end when you look at the condition it's in. Apart from a missing battery (which in the day only lasted around 45 minutes) and a slightly damaged PCMCIA cover it's absolutely top notch. Drool over these 1994 specs:

  • 640x480 TFT 256 Colour Display
  • 810MB 2.5" SCSI Hard Drive
  • 64MB RAM
  • microSPARC-II, 50 MHz
  • Solaris 2.3
  • External, SCSI Floppy Drive
  • 12V, 4.65A Power Supply

This is some serious doo-doo back then. I believe these machines retailed in excess of 10k new in 1994. Consider that my DEC 3000/600 AXP of similar vintage running a 175 Mhz Alpha processor, 2 x 1GB hard drives, 24 bit graphics, 64 MB RAM, 21" Monitor cost approximately the same and you realise what 10k actually meant back then.

The laptop is a pleasure to use. OK, so 640x480 is not going to win any resolution competitions, but OpenWindows - Sun's X11 windowing system - does a good job of utilising the available screen. You can specify a virtual desktop bigger than the screen and scroll around, and also specify several virtual desktops.

The keyboard is very similar in layout to current IBM laptop keyboards but has longer travel keys. The form factor is very compact, although the depth of the case at about an inch makes typing a little more of a challenge than with a thin laptop. The case is an alloy, the whole thing weighs a fair bit, the screen hinge defies you to move it, it's clearly built to last.

I managed to get networking configured (typical Unix - everything is configured in a slightly different place between vendors) and I also managed to get 'tip' to dialout via the internal modem (using hand crafted hayes-modem strings 'ATDT' for dial for example) into CHIMPY, which I had previously demonstrated with the PPC640. The terminal emulator being used, xterm, has always been the best for VT terminal compatibility under Unix, so I was able to use the VMS PHONE facility (a full-screen character based application) to phone SAMPSA to confirm I was in via dialup. When I logged out of the Alpha the line was dropped, although I had to consult the web to work out how to get out of tip (<return> <tilde> <fullstop> if you're interested).

I've taken some video of the initial boot and of a few applications running under openwindows just to show off the thing running, and there are plenty of photos of all angles attached.

I've ordered a serial cable (mini din-8 to PC DB9) which on the face of it is compatible with Apple Powerbooks (having told my mate that it was unlikely he'd be able to get a cable for his Epson PX-8 because the mini din-8 was not a standard serial connector!) and also an external SCSI cable (the laptop didn't come with one) which is also an Apple cable between the HDI30 square connector (see the photos) and a high density 50-pin D-type. This will allow me to connect some external devices such as external hard drives, CDROM drives and the floppy drive which came with the laptop.

Fun, fun, fun!