November 12, 2005

Sun Fire X2100 server

Hardware | Linux

I bought a Sun Fire X2100 server to act as a back-up for the current dual AMD server I use for hosting this site.

If you decide to buy such a machine, get the basic configuration and buy the rest of the components yourself. Sun charges a lot of money for upgrades. The slim DVD internal drive is $95, but you can get one for as low as $50 (see this drive here).

The default configuration ships with a 512Mb of RAM. To upgrade from 512Mb RAM to 1Gb Sun charges $270. I used the 512Mb memory DIMM which I took out of my Mac mini after I upgraded its internal memory to 1Gb. I bought two additional DIMMs to further upgrade the memory to 2Gb (2 x Kingston 512MB PC3200 400MHz 184-pin ECC Unbuffered CL3 DDR SDRAM DIMM, ~ $78 each). Upgrading to 2Gb cost me $156 instead of the hefty $590 Sun would have charged me.

As for the hard drives, I got two Western Digital 160Gb SATA drives, which cost $95 each. Sun charges $150 for an 80Gb drive and $300 for a 250Gb disk!

As for the operating system, don't bother getting Solaris or one of the Linux systems they offer. I downloaded and installed the AMD 64 versions of both OpenBSD and Debian, and they both work just fine.

To conclude, from the savings described above, you can buy another X2100 machine! I wonder how many people are doing just this.

Posted by ovidiu at November 12, 2005 10:35 AM |

i think price difference is related with additional service cost. if you get everything yourself, you have to handle everything alone..your suggestion is not really good for corporate IMO.

Posted by: afsina on November 13, 2005 09:47 AM

Hi Ovidiu! Just curious: where are these machines physically hosted?

Posted by: Sylvain Wallez on November 13, 2005 11:58 AM

They're in a remote colocation facility.

Posted by: Ovidiu Predescu on November 15, 2005 09:39 AM

At least a few years ago, Sun wouldn't support things like 3rd-party memory. YMMV.

Solaris 10 has some really cool features that you should take a look at.

Posted by: Brian Duffy on November 21, 2005 11:46 AM

Thanks for useful info (that stock Kingston CL3
modules work, and that Debian AMD64 is supported).

Solaris is not completely off the radar now, especially since zfs, zones & Co, and OpenSolaris.

Posted by: Eugen Leitl on November 22, 2005 06:44 AM

Thanks for useful info (that stock Kingston CL3
modules work, and that Debian AMD64 is supported).

Solaris is not completely off the radar now, especially since zfs, zones & Co, and OpenSolaris.

Oh, one thing I forgot to add: consumer drives
are not designed for 24/7/365 operation, and will
fail early. Raptors are definitely enterprise class hardware, and the next best thing is Hitachi (no, really, the Deathstar phase is over, at least for the current crop -- I've ordered me two T7K250s).

Posted by: Eugen Leitl on November 22, 2005 06:47 AM

While consumer drives will fail early, it's not because they are not designed for 24/7/365 operation. It's because they're designed to fail early. Hence the abortive move to reducing waranty coverage. I always use commodity drives, and expect failures on a 1 year average lifetime. $0.35/GB for SATA consumer storage compared to 4x that for SCSI doesn't leave me much choice either.

Posted by: aminorex on November 22, 2005 02:19 PM

What Kingston part did you get ? I'm thinking of getting the KVR400X72C3A/1G which is 1GB 400Mhz DDR ECC CL3 (3-3-3) ? I can't read the kingston part number on the memory link you provided.

Posted by: Erik on November 25, 2005 01:01 AM

In my x2100, I also bought the IPMI module. Unfortunately this IPMI module delivered with the x2100 only contained a single 9-pin cable. You still need to put a 2x25pin cable between the IPMI mobule and the SATA Backplace connector. The documentation for the installation of this element in the x2100 is very poor. BTW the Reference number given in the IPMI mobule is M3289 which is also used by Tyan for thier S2882 SDMC lights-out management.

Posted by: Erik on November 25, 2005 01:01 AM

Erik, the part number of the memory is listed as KVR400X72C3A at, but this might be their internal one, not Kingston's.

Posted by: Ovidiu on November 25, 2005 06:43 AM

Aminorex, consumer SATA drives have 3-5 years warranty. Some brands and batches fall early. Some don't. My beef with enterprise-level SATA is not failure rate or lack of performace, it's because they're too small.

In regards to IPMI, my module arrived yesterday (no X2100 to go with yet). It's a X801A, a Tyan part and did come with the 2x25 pin cable.

Posted by: Eugen Leitl on November 30, 2005 02:43 AM

There are some rather good drives rated for continuous duty made by Western Digital and Seagate. I've used both and had very good results. Saying that a drive is rated to fail early is simply silly. They build them to last as long as they can, but heat, usage and anomolies tend to take a few out early ;-).

Posted by: nomercy on December 1, 2005 12:35 PM

Hi Ovidius! Thanks for great informations. I want to buy new X2100 without HDD and buy two WD hard drives. Will I need any special cables or connectors? How do I mount hard drives in? There's only hot-plug boxes... Thanks for nice blog! Frank

Posted by: Frankie on December 6, 2005 08:48 AM

Frankie, you don't need any cables. The Sun box comes with two hot-swap bays, each with its own SATA connector inside. You attach the drive to the mounting frame provided and slide it inside the machine. Just make sure the outside latch is completely closed, and everything should work just fine.

Posted by: Ovidiu on December 6, 2005 12:30 PM

Thanks for useful info. I order x2100 with slide rails + Kingston 512 MB + 2x Seagate 250 GB. I Hope, that will work :-)

Posted by: Frankie on December 8, 2005 01:20 AM

I have a Sun Fire X2100 (with the service processor, using openipmi) now running nicely with Kingston KVR400X72C3A/1G memory (1 GB PC3200 CL3 ECC 184-pin DIMM) and two Hitachi T7K250 drives as RAID 1 (ext3 file system) on Debian AMD64. CentOS 4.2 server x86_64 worked well, too.

I tried Solaris Express (B24) and turned away in disgust. Opensolaris/Solaris Express Community Edition are purportedly much better, but also very bleeding edge.

Posted by: Eugen Leitl on December 11, 2005 10:54 PM

for the DVD internal drive you need a special cable to connect to the 42-pin connector. Is that included with the Panasonic, or where do you get that from? The slimline DVD drives I've seen have some 50pin ATAPI connector, I haven't found a suitable cable in local stores. Any hints?

Posted by: jiri on December 15, 2005 02:23 AM

The cable is already inside the server, so you don't need to buy another one. I actually bought the drive from Sun, but it was a mistake, I could have gotten a generic slim CD drive.

Posted by: Ovidiu on December 15, 2005 11:42 AM

I was about to order an X2100 to try out, but hit two snags:

- the case is much narrower than standard (16.75"), so it won't fit in my standard 19" rack. I suppose I can just drop it on a shelf...

- more importantly, the Sun sales rep says that hard drive caddies are not included if you don't order hard drives, and he says the caddies aren't available separately. Ovidiu, did you get caddies with your unit, and if not, how'd you mount the drives?

Posted by: Chas on December 15, 2005 03:56 PM

Yes, they come with caddies.. Your rep is a dork. :-)

Posted by: Paul on December 15, 2005 05:31 PM

Regarding the cable for the DVD: I bought the X2100 without a DVD drive, and the cable is not inside the server, just an empty connector. Anyway, the fans are so noisy, I'm moving the box from the office space to the basement, and there I don't need any dvd drive. Will mount it remotely from a more quiet machine.

Posted by: Jiri on December 23, 2005 10:29 PM

Two Questions:

Am I to assume I can purchase a bare SATA drive with no cables and it will work?

And, can I boot this system with an external USB 2.0 DVD drive?

Posted by: Peter Kellner on January 8, 2006 10:42 AM


With the bare SATA drives you don't need any cables, they will fit inside the provided hot-swap bays. I have not tried booting off an external DVD drive.

Posted by: Ovidiu on January 8, 2006 09:21 PM

Is this the same IPMI module from Sun?!ORDERID!
Wonder if I can buy this instead of paying Sun for $150...

Posted by: Daniel on January 17, 2006 10:27 PM

Is X2100 SATA-II and NCQ compatible? Should I buy NCQ SATA drives or there is no use?

Posted by: Eriks on January 23, 2006 12:23 PM

Can anyone try booting off of an external USB Drive?

We bought five of these, without the internal drive, and are having a hard time installing them. I assumed a modern PC could boot off an external USB drive but I seem sadly mistaken. Our network administratation dept. won't let us run a PXE boot server.

The servers were an educational special; you had to order them as-is, and they were all spec'd without the internal drive.

Posted by: David Carlin on January 31, 2006 09:19 PM

I was finally able to get the X2100 to boot off of an external USB CD Drive. I had to upgrade to the latest bios release 1.0.7 first in order for this to work. The machines arrived with 1.0.0 installed.

In order to install the BIOS update without an internal drive, I had to follow the instructions in the users guide on how to boot the supplemental CD from a PXE server in Linux.

Posted by: David Carlin on February 1, 2006 09:19 PM

My co-worker wrote up a nice summary of our x2100 installation horror stories, and I included a summary of how to install the BIOS update quickly over PXE - check out

Posted by: David Carlin on February 1, 2006 10:38 PM

I just bought an x2100 and I'm having a hell of a time find a cable for that DVD drive. I never got one with my server, should I call sun and ask them for it? if its only included with the dvd unit, where else can I get one? One last question, are there sun forums for help with these machines? I love the thing so far, but I'm sure i'll come up against issues in the future.

Posted by: Josh on February 4, 2006 06:59 AM

David, I cannot confirm with your problems with the BIOS and USB. I just rebooted the box to verify the BIOS, it's still at 1.0.0. When I got it some months ago, I found a DELL USB keyboard at a friend, and an old LiteOn external USB DVD drive in my parents' HW 'archive'. Both worked instantly. I booted off the Ubuntu Linux CD, installed Ubuntu, configured bios and linux for serial console, attached it to a console server, and returned both keyboard and DVD drive to the owners. Since then, it runs without any issues. Only the noise level is annyoing.

Posted by: Jiri on February 9, 2006 04:26 AM

Jiri, there's a BIOS upgrade (as a burnable .iso) on Sun's site. It fixes USB keyboard problems, and a few other things with Linux, purportedly.
There's now a BIOS option for redirect console over IPMI. I think default user is Admin, and default password is admin -- haven't gotten Tyan's software nor openipmi to work with it yet -- I just can ping the IMPI module, that's all.

We've got now three X2100 systems set to arrive tomorrow, and I will test them with Raptor drive (the 74 and the new 150 GB one) -- I have read elsewhere that they work. Oh, and 500 GB drives purportedly work with the new BIOS.

Posted by: Eugen Leitl on February 15, 2006 05:47 AM

I have to agree with Jiri somewhat. I started off enormously frustrated because I couldn't get the keyboard or USB cdrom to work reliably. However, after reading some info and playing a little bit, I found a very reliable procedure to get the BIOS up to at which point I did not see the symptoms any longer. I used 2 tips I found to be very helpfull. First, the back upper left usb seems to be more reliable than the rest. (from cwru site) I can't confirm this, however I used it in my process and had very few problems. Next, I found (somewhere, I thought it was here but I can't find it now) the tip that if you have problems with the system recognizing the USB devices to power off and *UNPLUG* the machine for at least one minute. This worked like a charm for me. The very first thing I did after unpowering the machine was to boot (keyboard in front, usb cd in back upper left); hit F8 to go to the boot prompt (perhaps hit F1 if it thinks the boot devices changed); then select cdrom from the boot menu with the image of the X2100 system supplement in the drive. When the supplement boots choose 2 to flash the bios and you're done. Since I am going to be installing debian on these I used a third hint and after the machine restarts from the bios flash, I go into the BIOS screen (F2) and select "set optimized defaults" (??) to allow linux to boot properly. I can't confirm this one either but the source I got it from is reliable (to me at least).

Posted by: tony on March 31, 2006 02:45 PM

I bought my X2100 about a month ago and had no problems with it to start with until debian began to frequently "kernel panic" (My linux is not so great so i'm guessing that's pretty much a linux bluescreen) Now I am unable to run any sort of OS on the machine at all, CentOS doesn't boot after installing, debian doesn't install, ubuntu live won't start.

However I am still happy with it mainly because of the price, it will work again and in the end I will have gotten a dirt cheap server. I will stick with acer R510s for my more serious applications tho.

Posted by: David on March 31, 2006 04:45 PM

Any suggestions/experience on sourcing dual or quadruple ethernet PCI-x cards (preferably Intel) from elsewhere other than Sun? I read somewhere that the two built-in ethernet ports (nVidia and Broadcom) on the X2100 are found wanting.

Posted by: JR on April 12, 2006 02:52 PM

I found this slim DVD drive, but I don't know if it will work.

FYI the X2100 is being offered for trial starting today (25 May 2006).


Posted by: Michael on May 25, 2006 06:44 AM

Hello, i just bought a Sun Fire X2100 and it came with a 80GB SATA HD, i know that solaris is preinstalled in the hd, i read it in the manual.
My question is this...

When i boot on the system, everything goes right until i go to the Solaris booting options, i choose the partition 2 the name is Solaris 2, assuming that is the solaris os preinstalled... And it just got stuck up there.

It doesnt do anything... just a blue screen, i tryied to put some commands and nothing comes up.

If anyone have any idea what could be this.
I know this is a noob question, but hey... im learning.

Thanks in advance, and sorry if my english is Bad. Im from Mexico.

Posted by: Diego Ivan on May 25, 2006 06:48 PM
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