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Gentoo Linux/SPARC Frequently Asked Questions


1. Documentation Notes

These are some notes to elaborate on acronyms and terms used in this document.

When mentioning SPARC and SPARC64, this refers to the type of sun4x system. SPARC represents the 32 bit systems using the sun4c, sun4d and sun4m architectures (i.e. SPARCstations). SPARC64 represents the sun4u architecture seen in the UltraSPARC series of systems (Ultras, Blades, SunFires, etc).

Acronyms: OBP = OpenBoot PROM, SS = SPARCstation.

2. Installation

How do I install/use my SPARC over a serial console? 

First, make sure you do not have a keyboard and monitor plugged in. OBP will use the monitor for output by default if either are plugged in. You will need a null modem cable or a regular serial cable with a null modem adapter to be able to view output.

Standard serial port settings:

  • 9600 baud
  • 8 data bits
  • None for parity
  • 1 stop bits

Below is a list of commonly used programs for viewing a serial console. Check to see if your serial console application has the ability to send a break, as it can be very useful on a SPARC. The break signal on a serial console is the equivalent to issuing the Stop+A command on the keyboard.

Linux Windows
Minicom Hyperterm
Kermit TeraTerm Pro

How do I network boot my SPARC system for installation? 

Currently, Gentoo has experimental network boot/tftpboot images available on a local Gentoo mirror in experimental/sparc/tftpboot. Get the appropriate image for your SPARC computer and then proceed to the Netboot HOWTO for further instructions.

I have a CRT/LCD monitor attached to my SPARC that selects a resolution my monitor can't handle when the kernel boots. How do I get a visible and/or non-distorted display on my monitor? 

This problem is a result of the framebuffer support the Linux kernel loads at boot time, and the modelines available on SPARC systems. Here we will assume your monitor and video card will agree on a resolution of 1024 by 768 at a refresh rate of 60 Hz. In OBP, you can set the resolution by adjusting the setting for output-device. To view the current setting, use the command:

Code Listing 2.1: View current settings

ok printenv output-device

<output-device>        <screen>          <screen>

Now, to set this so it will start the display using the above mentioned resolution, we will use the setenv command as follows:

Code Listing 2.2: Setting display

ok setenv output-device screen:r1024x768x60

output-device =       screen:r1024x768x60

In order for this to take effect, you will need to reset the machine:

Code Listing 2.3: Resetting the machine

ok reset

Additionally, for users using the onboard video card based on the ATI Mach64 chipset (Ultra 5/10 and Blade 100/150), you will want to append the following to your kernel boot options:

Code Listing 2.4: Appending a kernel boot option

video=atyfb:[email protected]

If you are booting from SILO, you can append the above string onto the end of a given boot image. The following example would be if you were booting from the LiveCD.

Code Listing 2.5: Booting a Gentoo LiveCD

boot: gentoo video=atyfb:[email protected]

If you were booting from the network, you would append the string onto the end of the boot net command in OBP as illustrated below:

Code Listing 2.6: Booting from the net

ok boot net video=atyfb:[email protected]

I'm new to SPARC and am not sure what kernel options to use, HELP! 

Most of the time, the default kernel options will be acceptable for hardware support. You will need to make sure that devfs and virtual memory filesystem support is enabled in the kernel as instructed in the Installation Handbook.

Additionally, Gentoo/SPARC developer Ciaran McCreesh maintains a collection of kernel configuration files for various SPARC systems at Feel free to submit kernel configuration files for any SPARC systems and/or kernel versions not currently avaiable to [email protected].

How do I dual boot Gentoo Linux/SPARC with Solaris? 

Dual booting Gentoo Linux/SPARC and Solaris can be done one of two ways. The two ways are: having both Gentoo Linux/SPARC and Solaris on the same drive, or having them on separate drives. Below are example SILO configurations for each scenario. In the example configs, the following things are assumed:

Single Drive Setup:

  • Boot drive is SCSI ID 0
  • Gentoo boots from partition 1
  • Solaris boots from parition 5

Separate Drive Setup:

  • Second drive is SCSI ID 1
  • Gentoo is on SCSI ID 0
  • Solaris is on SCSI ID 1
  • boot-device in OBP is SCSI ID 0

Code Listing 2.7: Sample silo.conf for a single drive installation

# Generic config options
partition = 1
timeout = 50

# Gentoo Linux/SPARC options
image = /boot/vmlinux
    label = linux

# Solaris options
    label = Solaris

Code Listing 2.8: Sample silo.conf for separate disk installation

# Generic config options
parition = 1
timeout = 50

# Gentoo Linux/SPARC options
image = /boot/vmlinux
    label = linux

# Solaris options
other = /sbus/espdma/esp/[email protected],0;1
	  label = solaris

I just booted my SPARCstation after installing Gentoo but it won't boot. Why isn't it booting? 

One possibility has to do with the way the that the SCSI IDs are assigned. Gentoo/SPARC developer Keith Wesolowski provides us with the following:

Linux, normally, orders devices by SCSI ID. The lowest-numbered disk is sda, the next-lowest is sdb, and so on. Note that devfs allows you to specify devices by SCSI ID, so that adding a new device doesn't cause your existing devices to be renamed, unless of course you use the compatibility names. There are additional ways to solve this.

The OBP in most or all sun4c and sun4m systems aliases "disk" to the device with SCSI ID 3, and "disk0" through "disk3" to the device with = the corresponding SCSI ID, if it happens to be a disk rather than a tape, CDROM, etc.

In the desktop systems of this era that support two SCA disks (the Aurora chassis systems), the lower slot is assigned SCSI ID 3, and the upper slot is assigned SCSI ID 1.

If you like, you can change the PROM alias "disk" to match that of "disk1" so that the boot disk command causes the system to boot from the same device Linux calls sda. This feels more consistent and normal, especially for users with a PC background. Alternatively, you can simply place the filesystem containing /boot (which could be the root filesystem or a separate boot filesystem) on device ID 3 (Linux sdb) and boot from it, using a root filesystem on either sda or sdb, or in fact any other disk attached to the system.

3. Hardware

Will Gentoo run on my SPARC? 

It depends on the type of SPARC, but chances are yes. One exception seems to be the SPARC based laptops from Tadpole, particularly the newer models. If you have a working Tadpole on Gentoo/SPARC, please contact us and let us know the details on the model and anything special needed to get it to work.

Gentoo/SPARC Developer Todd Sunderlin keeps a partial list of the status of SPARC64 systems under Gentoo at Email him with any additions or possible changes to [email protected].

To add details on your model SPARC64 to the list, email [email protected] with the pertinent information. In general, support for the SPARC64 systems is good enough to allow some users to run it successfully in production environments.

32-bit SPARC systems vary. Systems with the sun4m architecture have been reported to work fine (SS4-SS20) including SMP configurations with the later 2.4 series kernels. sun4m systems using HyperSPARC or Ross processors in a SMP configuration will have a lot of kernel related trouble. Additionally the author hasn't heard of any user reports in regards to the JavaStations so its status is unknown. sun4d based systems currently do not work in the 2.4 kernel series, and sun4c has been unstable as well.

Often, the problems encountered in trying to run Gentoo on a 32-bit SPARC system stem from the kernel. Rob Radez (not related to Gentoo) maintains a webpage with the status of SPARC system support for various versions of the Linux kernel. This can help indicate how usable your SPARC system would be under SPARC/Linux.

What additional hardware is supported under Gentoo/SPARC? 

For a list of additionally supported Sun hardware, consult the following list from the UltraLinux homepage -

A partial list of Sun devices which do NOT currently have support under Gentoo/SPARC or SPARC/Linux in general are:

  • SunPCI cards
  • SBUS or PCI PCMCIA controllers
  • Smart card readers on some Sun Blade workstations
  • Floppy drive on some Sun Blade workstations

Also, Gentoo/SPARC developer Sven Blumenstein keeps a list of PC hardware that has been tested with the PCI based SPARC64 systems at Feel free to add your results at testing PC or non-Sun hardware to the list by emailing [email protected] with the information on the hardware as displayed in the existing hardware list.

So you keep talking about sun4c/sun4d/sun4m/sun4u. How do I know which one I have? 

The UltraLinux FAQ has the answer at

4. Applications

How do I get XFree86 to find a usable modeline on my Ultra 5/10 or Blade 100/150?  

The ATI Framebuffer normally expects a PC's BIOS to set the Reference Clock speed for the video card. However, on non-x86 architectures, this doesn't happen. So what needs to be done is to set the Reference Clock speed in the XF86Config file.

In the "Device" section of your XF86Config file, you will want to add a line similar to the following:

Code Listing 4.1: Add to XF86Config

Option      "reference_clock"   "28.636 MHz"

The following URLs contain more information on how to set the reference clock: If you have issues you might want to try without a similar setting first.

How come package foo is masked on Sparc? 

Chances are this is due to the fact that none of the Gentoo/SPARC developers have gotten around to testing this yet, and/or the package is currently marked with the ~sparc keyword (meaning it's in a testing phase).

If you still want to install the package, you can follow the instructions from the at Portage Masked Package FAQ.

Note: The FAQ mentions the sparc64 keyword, which is invalid.

How can I help get package foo marked stable? 

If you want to help ensure a package gets marked stable in a timely fashion, particularly if it's an application with a small userbase (i.e. net-im/bitlbee), install the package and test to make sure it works. If it appears to be working well, feel free to file a bug at and assign it to the Gentoo/SPARC team.

I tried to emerge a package, but emerge failed complaining that a dependency is masked. How can I fix this? 

This is a bug. Please file a bug report at for the Gentoo/SPARC team indicating what package you tried to emerge, the error message emerge gave you, and the output of emerge info.

5. Miscellaneous

I'm interested in becoming more involved with Gentoo/SPARC. How do I go about doing that? 

The best way is to join the #gentoo-sparc IRC channel on Freenode IRC network This is where all of the developers hang out and talk SPARC (amongst other things). Short of email, this is the best way to get our attention, and blame seemant! :)

Also, many users and developers make use of the Gentoo/SPARC forum. This is a good place to ask questions and see what problems have come up before, as well as talk shop about Gentoo/SPARC.

Additionally, you can view the bugs for Gentoo/SPARC via the Gentoo Bugzilla. The bugs will be assigned or CC'd to [email protected]

Are there any currently known bugs/issues with software packages on Gentoo/SPARC? 

A list of problematic packages can be found at

6. Additional Resources

Here is some info on the Gentoo/SPARC project itself:

Here are links to additional information about SPARC/Linux or SPARCs in general:

The contents of this document are licensed under the Creative Commons - Attribution / Share Alike license.
Updated July 03, 2004
Jason Wever
SPARC Developer

Summary:  This FAQ is designed to help answer the most commonly asked questions about Gentoo Linux/SPARC and Linux on SPARC architecture. Feel free to send revisions and corrections to the sparc team or the doc team.
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Copyright 2001-2004 Gentoo Foundation, Inc. Questions, Comments, Corrections? Email [email protected].