Debian GNU/Linux on the Sun Netra X1


Part Type Status
Processor UltraSPARC IIe 400MHz Works
Memory 512 MB Registered ECC SDRAM Works
Serial console LoM port Works
Hard disk Seagate ST320011A Works
Network Davicom 21x4x Tulip-compatible Works
2 USB 1.1 ports ALi Corp. USB Controller Works


I run Debian Sarge (stable) on the Netra, with GNU/Linux kernel 2.6.14.
You can find summaries of possibly useful files and program output at the bottom of this mini-howto.

I got the Netra for a pretty nice price from Ebay through one of my favourite sellers. It was delivered with a 20GB Seagate harddisk and 2x256MB ECC SDRAM. The disk seemed to be wiped which, as you will read below, was a good thing. I also downloaded Solaris 10 for Sparc to check if the hardware was working fine under its intended Operating System.


To install Debian, I used a sarge CD to do a netinstall, where I ran into some problems.... But first things first. A CD.. but there's no CD-ROM drive! Indeed, you have to open up the machine by unscrewing the one screw at the back so you can pop off the top cover. If you have a second harddisk installed, it'll have to be disconnected, if you don't, just connect a CD drive to the second cable.

Note: Suns are quite picky about the CD-ROM drives they support. If booting from the CD does not work, try another drive. I was quite lucky to have a DVD-ROM drive which worked instantly. It has something to do with the default block size or something but I don't know the details. If you really need to know, Google will surely tell you ;-)

If you get a kernel panic on booting the installer kernel, it might be when it's trying to mount some filesystem:

Kernel panic: VFS: Unable to mount root fs on 00:00
 Press L1-A to return to the boot prom

This happened to me (and a friend as well on a T1) when Solaris was already installed, so I wiped the disk's first few megabytes (in another machine) to get rid of the existing partitions. After that the installer went right through and I was able to partition the disk just fine.


The UltraSPARC IIe works fine under Debian/SPARC. From /proc/cpuinfo:
cpu             : TI UltraSparc IIe (Hummingbird)
fpu             : UltraSparc IIe integrated FPU
promlib         : Version 3 Revision 0
prom            : 4.0.6
type            : sun4u
ncpus probed    : 1
ncpus active    : 1
D$ parity tl1   : 0
I$ parity tl1   : 0
Cpu0Bogo        : 798.72
Cpu0ClkTck      : 0000000017d78400
MMU Type        : Spitfire

Serial console

Serial connection works fine (LoM port) in debian-installer and through the install process. However, afterwards it seems ttyS0 wasn't being listened on by init for a getty... so I couldn't login, as obviously there are no tty1-6... I took the disk out, put it in another machine, booted knoppix and added the correct line. I wonder if this is always like that, but that would be too big of an oversight I think. Must be pure bad luck from my side :)

Hard Disk

The disk controller is supported by Linux. You can tweak the speed and other settings of your harddisk with the hdparm tool. I have put the following configuration in /etc/hdparm.conf:


FIXME hdparm config /dev/hda {
      mult_sect_io = 16
      dma = on
      interrupt_unmask = on
      io32_support = 1
      spindown_time = 241

This accomplishes the following: sets multisector I/O to 16bytes, enables DMA, 32-bit support and interrupt unmasking. These make disk access quite a bit faster. Spindown time is set to 30 minutes, so after 30 minutes of idling, the disk will spin down to save battery life. FIXME comments too


This was a tricky one. This chipset is made by Davicom, and Linux has a specific driver for those. However, if that driver is loaded, it doesn't work at all :( Debian's installer also loads this driver, unfortunately and so does it's kernel after you installed it. So, move away the dmfe.ko file and then hotplug will automatically load the next-best match, tulip. Tada, we have networking, ladies and gentlemen.

Linux Tulip driver version 1.1.13 (May 11, 2002)
tulip0: Old style EEPROM with no media selection information.
tulip0: MII transceiver #1 config 3100 status 7829 advertising 01e1.
eth0: Davicom DM9102/DM9102A rev 49 at 000001fe02010100, EEPROM not present, 00:03:BA:04:E5:3F, IRQ 7442624.
tulip1: Old style EEPROM with no media selection information.
tulip1: MII transceiver #1 config 3100 status 7809 advertising 01e1.
eth1: Davicom DM9102/DM9102A rev 49 at 000001fe02010000, EEPROM not present, 00:03:BA:04:E5:3E, IRQ 7441920.

When compiling your own kernel, simply unselect the Davicom module and make sure Tulip is checked.

2 USB 1.1 ports

After loading the ohci-hcd driver, lsusb (from apt-get install usbutils) shows the following:

Bus 001 Device 001: ID 0000:0000

Output & Files


Revision history

Contact information: Tom Laermans,

Last modified: 23-Aug-2012 - Valid XHTML