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2. What is a JavaStation?
This chapter explains to the reader what the JavaStation line is, its components, NC concepts, how to get one, and why one would choose the Linux OS for it.
2.1. What is a JavaStation NC?
The JavaStation NC is a model line of network computers built and sold by Sun Microsystems between November 1996 and March 2000. The JavaStation line was Sun's low-cost terminal option during that timeframe. It was the marketed successor to the Xterminal 1 and is succeeeded by the SunRay, although all three machines are fundamentally different.
The JavaStation hardware ran Sun's own JavaOS and either Sun's Hotjava web browser, Sun's HotJava Views task-manager software, or custom Java applications of the customer's choice.
The JavaStation was originally billed in November 1996 sneak previews as a low-cost desktop terminal, providing customers access to hot new Java applications, "legacy" X applications, and "legacy" MS Windows apps. During its lifetime, The JavaStation's marketed functionality was changed twice from "desktop terminal" to "single-app desktop device" to finally a "browser-based kiosk device".
At no time did Sun market the JavaStation as capable of running its flagship Solaris operating system the Linux OS, or any other OS than Sun's JavaOS.
2.2. Definition of an NC including the Differentiation from PC's
A network computer, or NC, was hailed as "the next big thing" in computing from late 1995 to early 1998. Conventional PC's, called "fat clients", were expected to be minimized in businesses by thin-client NC's.
Thin-clients get their OS, applications, and data files entirely through the network. They are different from dumb-terminals; they run full-scale graphical applications. Thin-clients are also different than graphical X-terminals. X-terminals typically run an X server and display the client programs of a remote server. Thin clients generally run full-scale graphical programs locally, such as a web browser, a Java application, or a "legacy-connectivity program", which enables the thin-client to display X apps or MS Windows apps which run on more powerful servers.
Advantages of NC's include:
Disadvantages of NC's:
2.3. Description of the JavaStation Model Line including Hardware Specs
Depending on who you talk to, the number of JavaStation models that were created is anywhere from one to six. The descriptions below will explain why.
2.3.1. JavaStation-1 [ "Mr. Coffee"] ["the brick"] [Sun Option No. JJ-xx]
This model is the most prevalent JavaStation model you are likely to find, although it wasn't the one and only JavaStation model Sun wished to sell to the public. The JavaStation-1 was the first generation JavaStation, released in November 1996 to pilot deployments as Sun's "proof of concept" of the Java NC design.
Hardware-wise, the JavaStation-1 is a Sun4M architecture machine. It is based on the SPARCStation-4 design, with some deletions and PC-like modifications. It is powered by a 110 Mhz MicroSPARC IIe CPU and has no SCSI, internal disks , floppy, CD or expansion slots. The Mr. Coffee motherboard is Sun Part No. 501-3141.
Instead of using the Sun-type keyboard and mice, JavaStation-1 uses PC-like PS2 parts instead. One of the original marketing highlights of the JavaStation was that it would use standard PC parts wherever possible to keep overall price down.
The "brick" has four PC-like SIMM slots. The SIMMs taken are industry-standard 60ns, 32-bit, 72-pin, 5V fast page SIMMs, installed in pairs. Each slot is capable of holding up to a 16MB SIMM, bringing the maximum total capacity of the unit to 64MB. The "xx" in the Sun Option# of the unit indicated how much memory the unit shipped with.
For video display, the JavaStation-1 utilizes the Sun TCX framebuffer, capable of 1024x768@70Hz in 8-bit color. The port connector however, is a standard VGA jack , enabling the user to use standard PC monitors if desired (again, low cost in mind). The on-board audio is a Crystal CS4231 chip , and the network interface is the Sun Lance 10Mbps interface. In addition, the "brick" also came with a 9-pin serial port and 1/8" audio out jack on its back.
The JavaStation-1 was fitted into the Sun "unidisk" form factor case, and has been seen in a number of color schemes. JavaStations have been fitted with casings in the white with light blue trim scheme used in Sun workstations, as well as the dark blue-grey "new desktop" scheme. Some say "JavaStation" and have the Java coffee cup logo written on it, others do not. Collectors may wish to collect all case variations.
The JavaStation-1 was used in early Sun demos, and sold to pilot sites. When first brought out, the cost to pilot sites was $699US. This was at a time when PC 's were still higher than $1000US. By the end of the pilot run, Sun was selling any remaining or used units for $299-$399US, in anticipation for its "real" JavaStation model.
See the JavaStation-1 at: http://javastation-howto.homeip.net/Files/photos/mr_coffee_front_view.jpg
2.3.2. JavaStation-NC [" JavaStation-10"] [" Krups"] ["the tower"] ["the percolator"] [ Sun Option No. JK-xx]
This model is the second most prevalent JavaStation model you are likely to find. When you talk to industry folks about the "JavaStation", this is typically the model remembered first. Delayed numerous times, the Krups model officially went on sale to the general public Mar. 26, 1998 at the annual JavaOne conference.
Though generation two of the JavaStation line, the Krups model was the JavaStation . Sporting a completely different board design than JavaStation-1 , Krups establishes what was to be the characteristic JavaStation architecture.
Krups is powered by a 100Mhz MicroSPARC IIep chip, (note the 'p'). Its mainboard had the internal addition of a PCI bus, about a year before this standard bus made its well-publicized appearance on the Sun Ultra workstation line. The Krups motherboard is Sun Part no. 501-4267.
Krups keeps the PS2 keyboard and PS2 mouse ports from JavaStation-1 , keeping in mind the low-cost, interoperable goal of generation 1.
With the new board design, came new memory chip sockets. Instead of SIMMs, the "tower" moved to 168-pin DIMMs. DIMMs had begun to make their way from the workstation realm to PC's in the time between generations one and two of the JavaStation line, so it was fitting for Sun to switch to it in anticipation of their status low-cost commodity memory chips. The DIMMs accepted by the "tower" are 168pin, 3.3V unbuffered EDO DIMMs (not SDRAM). With two sockets capable of holding a 32MB DIMM each, the Krups has a maximum capacity of 64MB RAM. As with the JavaStation-1 , the number "xx" in the Sun option number refers to the amount of memory shipped with the unit.
For video display, the JavaStation-NC utilizes the PCI-based IGS C1682 framebuffer, capable of 1280x1024@80Hz in 24-bit "true color". This is a step up from the 8-bit display on JavaStation-1 . The port connector remained a standard VGA jack like JavaStation-1, enabling the user to use standard PC monitors if desired. The on-board audio remains a Crystal CS4231 chip like JavaStation-1. The network interface on Krups is the Sun HappyMeal 10/100 Mbps interface, another step up from the original offering of JavaStation-1.
The "tower" came with the 9-pin serial port and 1/8" audio out jack as JavaStation-1, but it also added a 1/8" audio-in jack, to do sound recording with.
Another addition in the JavaStation-NC is a flash memory SIMM. This allows one to load the current revision of the OS onboard, increasing boot-speed tremendously.
Perhaps the thing most memorable about the JavaStation-NC is its case design. The Krups comes in an aesthetically appealing casing. The mainboard is mounted vertically, and the shell entraps it, giving it the "tower " or "percolator" shape referred to. With the streamlined case, the power supply is moved outside to small transformer. The Krups unit gives off so little heat that there are no onboard cooling fans, making the Krups a dead-silent machine. Imagine the difference in noise when replacing a lab of traditional desktops with the Krups! This case design earned Krups a" 1998 Industrial Design Excellence Award" from the Industrial Designers Society of America. This award announcement is archived for read at: http://www.idsa.org/whatis/seewhat/idea98/winners/javastation.htm"
The Krups had an initial base price of $599US, $100US cheaper than Mr. Coffee's rollout price. Due to it being the only model formally sold by Sun to the general public, this is how Krups is sometimes referred to as the only JavaStation, and not one model of a product line.
See the JavaStation-NC at: http://javastation-howto.homeip.net/Files/photos/krups_front_view.jpg
2.3.3. JavaStation-E ["Espresso"] [Sun Option No. JE-xx]
This model is extremely rare to find. It was never available for sale in quantities to either the general public or the initial JavaStation deployments, limiting the model's production quantity. To call this "Generation Three" of the JavaStation may be improper, as Espresso is nothing like the generation three JavaStation written about in early Sun marketing literature.
The Espresso was designed as an extension of the Krups. It was geared to sites that wanted a little bit more functionality and expansion capability from their JavaStations: a cross between an NC and a workstation.
Espresso is powered by the same 110Mhz MicroSPARC IIep chip as Krups . It's mainboard is similar to Krups, with the addition of PCI slots and an IDE channel for local hard disks. The IDE on Espresso was not enabled in the demo units. Those who have tried to make it work have concluded the wiring is incorrect, and it requires a hardware rework to get working.
Espresso continues with the PS2 keyboard and PS2 mouse ports from Mr. Coffee and Krups.
Espresso uses the same 168-pin, 3.3V unbuffered EDO DIMMs as Krups. The maximum amount of memory for Espresso is reported to be 96MB. As with the Mr. Coffee and Krups , the number "xx" in the Sun option number refers to the amount of memory shipped with the unit.
For video display, the Espresso uses the PCI-based IGS C2000 framebuffer, along with the same standard VGA port connector as Krups and Mr. Coffee. The on-board audio remains a Crystal CS4231 chip like Krups, and the network interface remains a Sun HappyMeal 10/100 Mbps interface like Krups as well.
Espresso came with the 9-pin serial port and 1/8" audio out and 1/8" audio in jacks of Krups, and a new addition of a parallel port, and a second 9-pin serial port. Espresso also comes with the flash memory to load your OS on and bypass the network boot cycle.
One new addition to the Espresso is a smart card slot.
The Espresso comes in a "pizza box" style case like the old Sun SparcStations, only a little taller, and not quite as wide.
The Espresso was never sold to the public. There was an internal testing period at Sun, but the units never went into mass-production.
One Espresso user mentioned he now uses his unit as both a server and router, with the addition of an IDE disk and 3C905 ethenet card, demonstrating the expandability of this unit.
See the JavaStation-E at: http://javastation-howto.homeip.net/Files/photos/espresso_front_view.jpg
2.3.4. JavaEngine-1 ["JE-1"]
Like the Espresso, this unit is also an extremely rare find.
This unit is supposed to be of similar board design to the Krups, but in an ATX form factor, with soldered onboard flash memory, and with a regular SVGA video chipset.
Gleb Raiko <email@example.com)> with the help of Vladimir Roganov <firstname.lastname@example.org> did initial the Linux kernel support on "JE-1". Pete Zaitcev <email@example.com> later obtained a "JE-1" unit and restored full support in Linux kernel 2.3.x+ .
As the author of this document has never seen a "JE-1", submissions from the public are welcome.
See the JavaEngine-1 at: http://javastation-howto.homeip.net/Files/photos/je1_overhead_view.jpg
2.3.5. The "Dover" JavaStation model
This is another box which does not exist officially outside of Sun. Little was known of it at the first revision of this HOWTO. Since then, proud owners have stepped forward. Basically, the Dover takes the Espresso theme and moves it to stock X86 parts.
Dover comes in a case similar to the Espresso, but there's nothing where the 'JavaStation-E' tag would be. Dover can be situated in a vertical position by removable feet. All that is printed on the case is "Sun MicroSystems 1998", and typically a serial number sticker of '12345678' and 'Made in Taiwan'.
The motherboard is 'baby ATX' in configuration, but not quite totally. Near the the front of the case is a fan that points at the CPU heat sink. The CPU heat sink has anothe fan on top of it. The motherboard has a Socket 7 CPU socket that houses a Cyrix MediaGCm-266GP CPU. There are typical PC motherboard jumpers with silk-screened legends for setting both clock speed and multiplier. The motherboard accepts a PC100 DIMM (max. size unknown) and a powersupply with AT-type power connectors. Included among them are two floppy and regular hard drive type plug. There are two small jumpers going to the motherboard, JPSB1 and JAUTO1, possibly for power management.
Expansion in Dover is via a two-card riser, with one PCI and one shared PCI/ISA slot. As mentioned earlier, the motherboard deviates slightly from standard ATX. Along the back edge under the cards are connectors for audio out, audio in, mic, HD15F video, two USB ports, D25F parallel printer, stacked PS/2 keyboard/mouse ports, and four 9-pin serial ports, marked A through D. Unlike other JavaStation models, there is no on-board ethernet. Instead, it typically is provided by a supplied 3COM 3C905B-TX Fast Etherlink XL PCI card (with a wake-on-LAN cable going to the motherboard). There is a standard Sun MAC address label on the back of the case.
Video is via a Cyrix CX5530 chip, but with the MediaGX chip, may be just an auxilliary chip. There exist both a FDD and HDD headers on the motherboard, but nowhere to mount a FDD in the case and no provision for an HDD bracket either. There is a simple piezo buzzer mounted to the motherboard and additionally a speaker with a cable leading back near the audio out jacks. Like the Espresso, there is a smart-card reader as well, and what looks like a compact-flash socket inside.
When booting it up, you get a blue JS screen. Under the exclamation point, are two memory card icons and a <...> icon. It reads:
The Dover model, since it is based on an x86 chip, is supported by Linux. This HOWTO however focuses on the SPARC-based JavaStations, so the procedures presented here will not work with it. However, there's plenty of x86 documentation out there to go off of.
See the Dover at: http://javastation-howto.homeip.net/Files/photos/dover_inside.jpg
2.3.6. The Generation 3 "Super JavaStation"
Sun originally envisioned three generation models of the JavaStation: Mr. Coffee, the Krups, and the "Super JavaStation". Generation Three was billed in early literature as going to be the fastest JavaStation offerred, with a high-speed CPU and a JavaChip co-processor to translate Java-bytecode in hardware.
All indications are that it never got beyond the mental stage, and was more of a marketing myth than anything else.
First, consider that the cost of higher performance CPU as a factor. If Sun packaged a high-performance CPU into a JavaStation, the low-cost advantage of an NC goes away.
Next, Sun did have their PicoJava chip available to decode Java bytecode, but rumor is the performance was not as good as expected, and the JavaChip project was shelved in the Summer of 1998, not long after Krups was formally released. The "Dover" project was being worked on, but the "Corona " project, which would go on to become the Sun Ray , was the final nail in the JavaStation 's coffin.
So all indications are that this model is a piece of "vaporware". It is included here though, for the sake of completeness.
2.3.7. The Pre-Mr. Coffee JavaStation Prototype
After the original publishing of this HOWTO, word of one more "JavaStation" model surfaced. John of bodoman.com, a reseller of JavaStation equipment, chimed in that he has a motherboard of a pre-JavaStation machine. It was made by Diba Corporation, which was later bought out by Sun. The unit was released as an early embededded Java platform that developers could use to build embedded Java machines. It has a Motorola 68030 CPU, 14.4k bps modem, ethernet interface, standard VGA interface and even a TV output. The prototype's date is circa 1996.
See the JavaStation Prototype at: http://javastation-howto.homeip.net/Files/photos/pre_js_1.jpg
2.3.8. The Pre-Mr. Coffee JavaStation/Fox
After receiving word of the JavaStation prototype from Diba, yet more information has come regarding another pre-Mr. Coffee model. This one though, has a greater known history we can share here.
This model was the JavaStation development box used by the developers of early JavaStation software. Basically it was a SS4/110 in a smaller, custom case similar to the Mr. Coffee enclosure, with more squarish profile.
The case has an off-white color with lateral stripe in Sun gray. It sits like a Mr. Coffee would on its side. The front was a 1/2 cyclinder i design in Sun gray, has the Sun Logo, the word "Sun" under that, and the Java cup logo at the bottom.
When booting up it claims to be a "JavaStation/Fox". The motherboard does not have a normal Sun part number. The CPU is a microSPARC-II running at 110MHz. The box has an onboard external SCSI connector, dual A and B serial ports, audio in and out sound ports (Crystal Semiconductor 4231, lance ethernet network interface, onboard PCMCIA (stp4020), one SBUS expansion slot, one AFXbus expansion slot, 2 72-pin SIMM slots (double-banked SIMMs only), and no on-board video. One would then add their own S-Bus frame buffer, or the 24-bit frame buffer from a ss5. Also, an optional internal SCSI laptop hard drive could be put in.
The motherboard's part number is 501-2785. The CPU is dated 1995 while the NCR chips are dated 1994, establishing the time frame of the Fox.
The NetBSD/SPARC FAQ has a few more words on the Fox at: http://www.netbsd.org/Ports/sparc/faq.html#fox
See the JavaStation/Fox at: http://javastation-howto.homeip.net/Files/photos/fox_face.jpg
2.4. Reasons for Running Linux and NC Myths Dispelled
It turns out that Linux makes the JavaStations perform more than adequately on the desktop. Thanks to the dedicated work of the Linux developer community, the JavaStations offer users the low-cost, zero-admin, versatile desktop NC's they were originally billed to be, but with the added freedom granted by the Linux OS.
While low-cost PC's now eclipse the JavaStation in terms of default CPU speed and RAM size, the JavaStations running Linux are still well-suited for a number of tasks:
In all of the above scenarios, there is little to no maintenance of the machine once configured properly. Such is the advantage of the NC hardware.
JavaStations run so much better with Linux than JavaOS, one would think that even Sun should have offered it as an option. Unfortunately, Sun had killed the line in favor of the Sun Ray . While the performance of the Sun Ray is good, keep in mind it is not intended as a dedicated computing device, and due to its firmware is little more than a graphics display hanging off your Sun server, which can give you some unexpected bonus features (translation: "brand-name product lock"). The performance on the JavaStations with Linux will be similar to what you can get with a Sun Ray, but if ever you want to do something different with your machines, you have the flexibility to do so with the JavaStations. There is rumor of work to try and override the default behavior of the SunRay firmware, but until that happens, running another OS on a SunRay is just a pipe-dream.
Lastly, if you're thinking of switching to diskless Xterminals on your network, you might consider the JavaStations over stripped down PC's. The hardware is standardized, smaller, and you do not need to worry about burning boot PROM's and the like.
2.5. Why JavaStations are No Longer Produced
Sun's official stance is that the JavaStation line was terminated in favor of the new Sun Ray line. A trip to the former JavaStation section of Sun's website at http://www.sun.com/javastation verifies this formal positioning.
As the Sun Ray is not an NC in the traditional sense (it has a MicroSparc IIep CPU, but the firmware on the device prevents anyone from grasping it), there is no explanation why the two products could not co-exist.
In talking to the users of the JavaStations in the pre-Linux era, you will find strong opinions as to why the JavaStations are no more. The common thread in almost all opinions collected is that the software provided by Sun was inadequete for a production environment. Here are collected opinions from users of the Sun-provided software, included with their permission:
More comments and rebuttal statements by Sun employees are always welcome.
2.6. Where to Purchase a JavaStation
Since Sun has canceled production of the JavaStation line, it no longer sells them through their official channels. Sun contacts have informed me that all internal JavaStation stock was cleaned out and dumped in 2000. Therefore, All JavaStations are now found out in the wild.
Your best bet to get JavaStations though is out on the open market. Educational institutions which received a handful from Sun as demo units are now trying to offload them any way they can (too bad they don't read this HOWTO). Search around the auction sites like Ebay and Yahoo Auctions, and you should be able to turn some up.
A great resource for JavaStations is "Bodoman's JavaStation site" at: http://www.bodoman.com/javastation/javastation.html. Here you can find Mr. Coffee and Krups models. As of May 2nd, 2001, Bodoman was out of stock of Mr. Coffee models, while he was selling Krups models now at the premium price of $365US complete in an unopened box, $295US unboxed with 32MB RAM.
Mr. Coffee is the most widespread JavaStation model, and has tended to sell around $50US consistently for the last year or so. Krups models more rare and sell at higher prices, probably because the stylish case still stands out today. Many reports have come from the UK telling of many Krups models getting dumped there, while numerous Dover sitings are now being reported from South Africa. The Espresso and JavaEngine models are near impossible to find.