SparcBook F.A.Q. -v(erbose)

Robert Barnes (

Updated: Jun 29, 2003
Contributions are always welcome. If you wish to contribute, just e-mail me with your addition and also mention if you want your name and/or e-mail address added to the contributors list.

Alot of this info has been collected from the Sparcbooks Owner's mailing list. For help subscribing, send "help" to (this list is now dead, do not try to subscribe to it. RIP approximately 1999)

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER:  This FAQ is a collection of information that was collected from personal experience and from various people on the Internet.  IT MAY BE COMPLETELY WRONG!  Every attempt has been made to make sure that it is accurate and up to date, however, the standard disclaimer of USE AT YOUR OWN RISK applies.  This FAQ has no connection to and is not endorsed by Tadpole/RDI (Tadpole's lawyers made me say this. However, I find it really interesting that Tadpole/RDI has a link on their support web site pointing to this FAQ!

Apache refer log: 26/Jun/2003:15:39:51

Make of this as you wish, I think that Tadpole is pretty hypocritical.).

SPARCbook is a trademark of SPARC International Inc., licensed exclusively to Tadpole Technology.  Tadpole's Notebook Computing Environment and Save and Resume are trademarks of Tadpole Technology.
Windows, Windows 95, Windows NT and MS-DOS are registered trademarks of Microsoft in the U.S. and other countries.
Solaris is a trademark of Sun Micro Systems.
All other trademarks used belong to their respective owners.

Notice: Almost all of the links in this page are now dead. This FAQ is now in it's "Sunset" period, the SB3 was great in it's day, but that day is gone.

Editor's note: The SB3 is not totally dead as a test platform. I used my SB3 GX today (6/29/03) to the test the sync rates of a monitor that I wanted to buy (The SB3 GX's graphics card can test monitors at 56, 60, 66, 70, 72, 75, and 76 Hz V sync rates. I'm now the proud owner of a (used) double-wide Sony GDM-90W11 24" monitor).

0. What Sparcbooks are covered here?

This FAQ deals with the Tadpole SparcBook 3 series. The SparcBook 1 and 2 series are significantly different and aren't covered here. However, hopefully, this information may help SB 1 and 2 owners also :) This FAQ deals with the SparcBook3GX almost exclusively, however, this information also applies the the SparcBook3. Where there are differences, this is pointed out.

Editor's note: I own a Sparcbook3 and a Sparcbook3GX.

0a.  Where can I get a user manual?

Tadpole has put the Sparcbook 3 User's Guide on-line!  It is in pdf format and is available at

1. Where is that STOP button hidden?

You might want to note these special keys in the SparcBook:

2. What are the specs of the SparcBook 3 series?

An extensive summary is listed on:

Rave has changed this page recently, so a short list of details is provided here:

New info on the 3XP.  I've been told that it actually has a P9100 Weitek graphics chip.  However, since the SPARCbook User guide says that the 3XP can only do 640x480, 256 colors selectable from 512 (same as the SB3) I'm not sure that this is true.

3. What memory does the SparcBook 3 use?

A matched pair of low profile 60ns 72pin parity SIMMs. You can by these at any good computer store (they are not Sun proprietary). They are located under the panel in the battery compartment and are user replaceable.

Notes on SIMMs:

There continues to be alot of confusion about what kind of SIMMs that the SB uses, so I will quote directly from the Technical Specification in the SPARCbook 3 Series User guide (Issue 1 of 1 Nov 1995, Copyright 1995 by Tadpole Technology):
"Memory            - DRAM
                                6,32,64 (S3 and S3LC) or 128M (S3XP and S3GX)
                                Parity error protection
                                Two 33-bit wide user installable SIMM modules
                                8,16,32 or 64M each "

I think that the 6 was supposed to be 16, but I quoted verbatim.
I guess I may be wrong about the 36x? spec for SIMMs, but they are what worked for me.  I have had people at Tadpole tell me that non-parity memory works.  I don't believe that this is true (but this is just my opinion).

PLEASE NOTE:  There is something strange about trying to upgrade the SB3 to 128M.  No one has been able to this so far.  Upgrading to 64M is not a big deal, but 128M is (Tadpole must have done something weird for the 128M upgrade).  If you are able to make a 128M upgrade work, please drop me a note and tell me what you did.

4. What OS does the SparcBook 3 run and do I need to purchase from Tadpole?

The SparcBook 3 will run Sunos 4.1.3-u1 and any Solaris version up to Solaris 2.6!

The Tadpole version does have some add-on's to pause and resume the SparcBook, the Fax program and the PCMCIA drivers but rumour has it that legal owners of Solaris 2.6 can get a copy per FTP.

One can download the additional packages required to let Solaris 2.6 run on your sparc book from:

The file that contains all of them is:

How ever this does not include the NCE graphical utilities. These are not around at present times but may be available in the future. (Unlikely for Solaris 2.6 now that Solaris 7 is out.)

4a. Can I load a plain vanilla Sun Solaris CD onto my SB?

The answers to this are mixed. Some of the stock Sun OS CDs will work and some won't. The stock Sun Solaris 2.6 Hardware 3/98 and Hardware 5/98 CDs have the special Tadpole packages on them. The package names are: TADaudio, TADcar.m, TADcpr.m, TADkvm.m, TADpcmci, TADweitk.m, and TADxwplt.

5. What is the architecture of the Sparcbook3?

It's a sun4m. The framebuffer is a Weitek P9000 w/1M video RAM (SB3) or P9100 w/2M video RAM (3GX). (The framebuffer is not a "stock" Sun framebuffer) Other machines in the sun4m class are the Sparc4, Sparc5, Sparc10, and Sparc20

The MicroSparc CPU is a SPARC International v8 specification CPU. The SPEC numbers for the CPUs are:
SPECint92 SPECfp92 SMCC test date
50Mhz MicroSparc
July 1994
85Mhz MicroSparc-II
June 1995
110Mhz MicroSparc-II
July 1997

6. What kind of connectivity does the Sparcbook3 have?

14.4 fax/modem builtin (not upgradable), ISDN (needs a NT1 to work) and 10mbps ethernet (which needs a special cable to go to a AUI interface on the 3GX. The mini-26 to AUI cable is the same type that is used by Sparc5s and Sparc10s.)

6a. What is an AUI port?

It is a female DB-15 connector used to connect a transceiver. Depending what type of transceiver you use, you can connect to 10Base2, 10BaseT, or 10BaseFL networks. (a 10BaseT transceiver will cost you about $30 USD).

6b.  Where can I buy the MINI-26 to AUI cable?

NOTE: You will still need a transceiver to use with the cable.  A 10baseT transceiver should not cost more than $20.00 USD.  However, I think that the Tadpole cable has a 10baseT transceiver built into it.

          P/N 908030

   Ultraspec Cables, Inc. 40 Riordan Place Shrewsbury, NJ  07702-4305 USA
         Tel: 800-222-5337 (USA only) Tel: (732)-450-1900
         Slimline D26M to D15 (AUI Only) AUI Cables for SPARCstation
         Models 4, 5, 10 & 20, SPARCclassic & LX Ethernet port adaptor
         Cable (#2610) - 1 foot

    A-1 Net Inc. 135 Commerce Way Walnut, CA 91789 USA
        Tel: (909)595-0450 FAX: (909)594-7617
         Sun Micro SPARC 10 / AUI SUN-615F 6' HDB26M to AUI DB15F
         $18.00 (However this one has not yet been tried.)

   The SUN part number is X981A.

6c.  What is the pinout of the MINI-26 to AUI cable?

1 - Transmit Data -
2 - Receive Data +
3 - Collision -
4 - +12V
5 - Not connected
6 - Not connected
7 - Not connected
8 - Not connected
9 - Not connected
10 - +5V
11 - +5V
12 - Not connected
13 - +5V
14 - Transmit Data +
15 - Receive Data -
16 - Collision +
17 - Signal Ground
18 - Not connected
19 - Not connected
20 - Not connected
21 - Not connected
22 - Not connected
23 - Signal Ground
24 - Signal Ground
25 - Not connected
26 - Signal Ground

AUI side

1 - Chassis Ground
2 - Collision +
3 - Transmit Data +
4 - Chassis Ground
5 - Receive Data +
6 - Chassis Ground
7 - Not connected
8 - Chassis Ground
9 - Collision -
10 - Transmit Data -
11 - Chassis Ground
12 - Receive Data -
13 - +12V
14 - Chassis Ground
15 - Not connected

7. What about PCMCIA (PCcard) cards for the Sparcbook3?

It can take 2 type I/II or 1 type III cards. Just about any modem card will work (so you can get your 56K connection :). But watch out with hard disk, some early (maybe still) hard disk cards had incompatable firmware. (A Western Digital 40M didn't work, but the Maxtor 170M and Eiger 340M did).

In order to work well with disks you must load the T030004-02 patch. (NOTE: This patch is for Solaris 2.6 ONLY!)

8. Can I use external disk and cd-roms with my Sparcbook3?

Yes, the Sparcbook3 uses standard (Fast SCSI -II) devices. The interface does provide power to special (read: Tadpole) external devices but standard SCSI devices should work perfectly.

For the Sparcbook3, the compact-50 (?) to mini-50 (Fast SCSI-II) cable is the same as the type used by Apple powerbooks.

To be able to boot off of a CD-ROM, the standard Sun disclaimer applies. The CD-ROM must be "Sun Bootable". This means that it must be able to do 512 byte blocks (most PC CD-ROMs do 2048 byte blocks). Many SCSI CD-ROMS have a jumper to configure for 512 byte blocks.

9. What is the maximum speed on the serial interface?

38,400 is the maximum supported. There might be a kernel hack to get it to do a little faster, but the implementation of hardware flow control on Sun and Tadpole serial ports is software dependant, so very limited.

9a. What are the device names of the serial ports?

The SB uses standard Solaris naming conventions for the serial ports. They are: Please note that PCMCIA slot 1 is the *TOP* PCMCIA slot, slot 0 is the bottom one.

9b. Can I run PPP on my Sparcbook?

Yes. Solaris comes with a PPP daemon called asppp. However, it is hard to setup and stinks (IMHO). A better solution is pppd (free/open source) from pppd supports CHAP, MS-CHAP, PAP, SecurID, and clear text authenication.

10. Does the type 4 keyboard work with the SparcBook?

It does! Any type 4 or type 5 keyboard should work. (You can also plug a Sun mouse into the keyboard port if you don't like the "J-stick" pointing device.)

11. What about patches with Solaris 2.6?

The following list of patches (with URL) should help you out.



12. Any word on Solaris 7?

It seems that Solaris 7 does run on the unit but the tadpole specific items are not there.

At present it is unknow wether they will be there in the future. Should you happen to know more. please, please let me know.
UPDATE!! Tadpole/RDI WILL be releasing a Solaris 7 CD for the SB3GX!  The price is $450 USD :(  Hopefully this will change.

Do NOT (repeat: NOT) attempt to install the Tadpole add-on packages for Solaris v2.6 on a Solaris 7 installation! (For some this advise may sounds stupid as it seems so obvious to them but at present it is all I can tell about Solaris 7. {I didn't try this myself!!!})

13. Does it run Linux?

You can get Linux on it but with some restrictions if you are installing it. In short: Linux can use the screen (on a TadPole SPARCbook 3GX) if you observe the following guidelines: In due time a more detailed report may be written. This is not meant for people who are not familiar with making their own kernels.

Ian Spruce from Tadpole is working on some of these issue's in his spare time. But as his family just was expanded with a new baby (See also: man baby) he may not have that much time. Thomas M. Roerh wrote the changes in the files stated above.

Rumor has it that RedHat SparcLinux 6.0 will support the Sparcbook 3 series.

13a.  Does it run NetBSD?

   NetBSD is actively being ported to the SB3.  NetBSD-Sparc version 1.4 works fine on the SPARCbook 3GS and 3GX, and  can be installed easily from the distribution CD. However, this version does not support X11, pcmcia, power (microcontroller) management, the internal modem, audio, or ISDN. Thus, you're restricted to a text-only interface, although using a utility like `screen' makes this much less painful; see for the latest version.

   If you really want X11 and NetBSD, and if you're not afraid of a bit more work, NetBSD-current (11 aug 1999 and later) is the answer. It adds native X11 support and some basic power management functionality (like powering down the lcd screen when the lid is closed or X11 does a screenblank). You'll want to follow the instructions on the NetBSD website for installing the latest sparc binary snapshot, and for compiling the TADPOLE3GX kernel. A good starting point for this can be found at but the basic steps are usually something like this:
    1. Install the latest release distribution.
    2. Download the NetBSD-current source; tarballs can be found at:
    3. Compile and boot a NetBSD-current TADPOLE3GX kernel.
    4. Download the latest NetBSD-sparc binary snapshot from:
       The snapshots live in directories with names of the form YYYYMMDD
       which indicate the -current source from which they were built.
    5. Rebuild the entire system from -current source.

   The support currently in NetBSD-current will most likely be first available in a real release as of NetBSD-1.5. However, drivers for the currently unsupported devices are appearing quickly; if you continue to track the -current development, you can get device support almost as fast as it appears (pcmcia development is underway).

14. Does it run MS Windows?

Yes and no. The Sparc CPU is fundamentally different than an Intel CPU (technically: a RICS vs a CISC instruction set). The Sparcbook can run an emmulator such as WABI (from Sun) for Windows 3.1 and Softwindows95 (from Insigna) for Windows95. Both are available (as of this writing) from Sun Express. WABI cost $99 (was free with Solaris 2.5) and $299 for Softwindows95. All of the Sparcbooks can run WABI or Softwindows95, however, performance depends on CPU speed. The 3GX runs Softwindows95 at about Pentium 90 speed, WABI is much faster.

15. Can I get an Office Suite for Solaris?

Yes, StarOffice has an Office Suite that has a word processor, speedsheet, calender, presentation editor, etc. And it can read MS word documents and Excel speadsheets. And, IT'S FREE! (for personal use). Go to for details.

NEWS UPDATE!  Sun has bought Stardivision and is now giving away StarOffice to anyone for any use for FREE!  See

16. What do the green and flashing orange lights mean?

The green light means that the Sparcbook is running on external/AC power. The orange light is a low battery warning. If the orange starts flashing, it means that a shutdown is emanate. This usually happens when the battery gets down to 15-20%.

It has been my experience that the battery does not last anywhere near what Tadpole claims. The SB3 can slow it's CPU clock rate down to conserve battery life, however, even with the CPU only running at 25Mhz the best I ever got out of it was 30 mins. The 3GX is even worst since you can't slow down the CPU and it is running at 110Mhz. (Yes, CPU clock speed does make a big difference in how much power the SB uses).

16a. Can I use an external battery with my SparcBook?

Yes. Tadpole sells an external battery that is rated at 12V, 5.7Ah (1.7kg/3.75lbs) which they claim will last for 5 hours. A simplier/cheaper solution would be to get a 12V battery and put a barrel connector on it yourself. Plug the battery into the same socket that you plug the AC adapter into.
WARNING: be SURE to NOT exceed the SB's power spec or you may damage the input power circuity.

NEW:  I have been told that the external battery from Tadpole was EOL'ed sometime around 1997.  If you want an external battery, you are going to have to make one yourself.

17. If my computer hard hangs and STOP-A doesn't work, what can I do?

The little pin hole to the right of the LCD display on the keyboard is a hard reset button. Use a pin or nail to push it.

WARNING: I have been told that the pinhole is actually a microphone.  I KNOW that this was a reset on my SB3 because I used it, however, this may not be true for newer Sparcbooks.  USE THIS PROCEDURE AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!

18. Is it ok to remove the battery for long periods of time?

No, the battery powers the RTC (Real Time Clock). You should never remove the battery except when replacing it or upgrading the memory chips.

The above answer is not completely technically correct.  You can remove the battery for long periods, however, if you do this, the NVRAM (RTC clock chip) will start using it's built in battery to keep the clock going.  IMHO, this is a very bad thing.  The NVRAM battery is actually built into the chip, IT IS NOT REPLACEABLE.  You have to replace the whole NVRAM chip (or drill out the battery and hook up wires to it).  I have just replaced and programmed a NVRAM chip in a really old Sun 3/80 (circa 1989) and it is not for the faint of heart.

19. How do I open the case of the Sparcbook?

DON'T. You will never get it back together!!! Give up all hope ye who enters here :)

20. How do I remove the hard disk?

The removeable hard disk is located on the left side (looking at the SB from the front). Push the little cover down about 1/8 of an inch and then side the disk straight out. (Of course, only do this when the SB is turned off!)

21. Where can I get more sleds/enclosures for the hard disk?

They are very hard to find. Of course, Tadpole will sell you a disk drive that is in a sled, but they charge out the ying yang for them. You're pretty much on your own for this one.

22. Can I use PC IDE notebook hard disk in my Sparcbook?

Yes and no. The SB uses SCSI drives, however, there is a company in Japan ( Unfortuneity, they will only deal with OEMs) that sells an IDE to SCSI converter. It is a 4.5mm high card that fits on top of the 2.5" IDE drive. Some Apple notebooks use this converter. If you can get your hands on the converter, you can use any 2.5" IDE disk that you want.

I believe that the largest true SCSI notebook disk drive made was 1.2G. If you see a SCSI notebook disk drive bigger than 1.2G, it probably has the converter in it.

NEW!  A company call Mac Components Engineered is selling IDE disk with the converter on them!  A 3.2G
disk cost $349. They are at

NEW!  ADTX will sell to individual buyers, but you have to buy at least 25.  The following is a sniplet from an e-mail from ADTX.

Please find below our International Master Distributors (IMD) Price Catalog
for the SCSI/IDE converter card.
SCSI/IDE Converter Cards
Minimum Order Quantity: 25      Unit Price      Remarks
Unit/1 Yr.      <500            $177.25 Various models exist, depending on application,
platform, etc.
Unit/1 Yr.      <1,000          $168.67 Also available with 2.5 and 3.5" HDDs
Unit/1 Yr.      <5,000          $160.08
Unit/1 Yr.      <10,000 $151.50 IMD Price (MOQ: <500)
Unit/1 Yr.      <20,000 $142.91
Unit/1 Yr.      <30,000 $134.33 IMD Price (MOQ: >500)
Unit/1 Yr.      <40,000 $125.74
Unit/1 Yr.      <50,000 $117.16 IMD Price (MOQ: >5000)
Unit/1 Yr.      <60,000 $108.57
Unit/1 Yr.      <70,000 $99.98          IMD Price (MOQ: >10000)
Unit/1 Yr.      >70,000 Negotiations
I hope this information is useful to you. For some general information on
our SCSI/IDE converter card, please see our Webpage on the subject at , thank you.

23. What is slice 4 (partition e) on my disk used for?

It is the save area used when you suspend your SB. It should be the exact same size as the RAM in your SB. When you PAUSE-O (suspend) the SB, the contents of RAM are written to this slice. If you never want to use the suspend feature, this slice can be formatted and used like any other slice of the disk.

24. Is the Sparcbook Y2K compliant?

Yes, the entire SB 3 series is Y2K compliant. The Sparcbook 1 and 2 series are not. This means that the *hardware* is compliant. Solaris 4.1.3, 2.5, 2.5.1, and 2.6 require software patches for compliance (don't know about 2.7 aka Solaris 7). And, of course, the particular applications that you use may require patches.

25. What about security?

This is a huge subject covered by other FAQs. Two of the best (free/open source) security programs are tcp_wrappers ipfilter

tcp_wappers is a simple and easy to use program. It is not as thorough as ipfilter, but it protects your computer from the most common Internet programs like telnet, rlogin, ftp, etc. You only need to modify your /etc/inet/inetd.conf file for it to work. You then create a /etc/hosts.allow and /etc/hosts.deny files to control access to your computer.

ipfilter is quite complex and if you are not familiar with networking protocols, this program is probably not for you. It is as good (or better) as any commercial firewall package on the market. However, you need to understand tcp port numbers and the way that inet works to use it. ipfilter installs a small kernel driver that intercepts all ip packets and filters them based on a rule set that you supply. A small sniplet of my rule set is:

block in log quick from any to any with ipopts

block in log quick proto tcp from any to any with short

# the FINAL rule (amazingly this goes first)

block in log all

block out log all

# Computers at work

pass in from x.x.x.0 mask to any

Well, you get the idea...

More security info is at,,, and

26. My machine doesn't have a compiler!

UNIX systems rarely come with compilers now a days. /usr/ucb/cc is only a wrapper for a compiler. You can buy the SparcWorks C compiler from Sun for around $1500 or get the de facto standard GNU C and C++ compilers from Most of the software that you will find on the Internet was built using the GNU C compilers. The GNU compilers are called gcc (for C) and g++ or c++ or CC (for C+) (C+ only became an ANSI standard in 1998).

27. Where do I get software from?

The Internet of course! And all of the big software vendors support Sparc/Solaris. The Sparcbook 3GX is equivalent to a Sparc 5 (110Mhz). Anything that will run on a Sparc4/5/10/20 (and 1000/2000 (sun4d arch) as well as 32 bit apps that run on the entire UltraSparc series (E3000-E10000 (sun4u arch))) will run on a SB 3 series notebook. Your speed/mileage may vary :)

Also, most of the software used on Linux was orginally written on Sun computers. Almost everything that runs on Linux will run on Solaris (source capatible). I quite often use my RedHat and Slackware CDs for source code to build programs on my Sparcbook3GX.

28. PCMCIA Devices that have been found to work with the Sparcbook.

29.  What can I do if I corrupt my save partition (slice 4)?

If you manage to get a corrupted save partiton (which I've done) simple boot off of a CD and newfs /dev/rdsk/c0t3d0s4.  If the machine can't find a save partition, it won't try to resume from it.

30. Is it ok to leave the SB3 running with the top closed?

NO!  Don't do this!  The LCD is very heat sensitive and the SB3 can get rather hot when it's running.  People have reported that the screen became distorted and blotched when they have done this.  However, leaving the SB3 off for a couple of days seems to allow the LCD to return to *almost* normal.

31. Just how hot can the SB3 get?

During long compile jobs like rebuilding the entire X11 distribution or gnome, the SB3 can get very hot.   It would be a good idea to take precautions to keep the SB3 cool if you are planning on doing a build like this.  The MicroSparc II CPU is located in the center and underside of the motherboard.  Some people have put their SB3 on two stacks of books and pointed a fan at the bottom of the SB3 to keep it cool during long builds.  Note:  The SB3s do have a thermal circuit that will shut them down if they get too hot.

99. Contributers

Editors note: I am by no way a Sparcbook expert, however, I used a Sparcbook3 to maintain the Internet/DDN router network from 1993-1996. (For those that will be picky, the Internet and DDN where separated in 1994. The DDN became the NIPRNET and the rest became the Internet.) I've done every conceivable thing to my SB and think that I know it pretty well.... The SB3GX that I just bought was a recent addition to my computer collection.
Copyright © 1993-2003 by Robert Barnes

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