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Outdated Classic Computing Analysis: Refurb weekend: Cobalt RaQ 2

Outdated Classic Computing Analysis: Refurb weekend: Cobalt RaQ 2

2023-03-05 00:31:09

Within the publish on our not too long ago resurrected fork of Dreamcast Linux, I discussed the NetBSD NFS server offering mainly all of its persistent storage. A number of days into the event work I began listening to a bizarre whine coming from the server room and positive sufficient the NFS server had a nasty fan — in reality, the one fan cooling your complete 1U system. Meaning it is time … for an additional Refurb Weekend!

As most readers of this weblog will attest, we do not go for that commodity x86 crap round right here: that is really a MIPS field, a Cobalt RaQ 2, primarily based on a 250MHz Quantum Impact Design RM5231 working NetBSD/cobalt. Its title is oulu.

Cobalt Networks have been one of many early pioneers in community equipment {hardware} and produced a number of the first turn-key webserver packing containers you could possibly purchase, based in 1996 as Cobalt Microserver. Cobalt packing containers are instantly identifiable from their distinctive deep blue plastic bezels beginning with the 1998 Cobalt Qube 2700. The Qube used a 150MHz QED RM5230; these CPUs are a part of QED’s R5000 household and we’ll discuss their structure a bit later. They got here with 2.1GB exhausting disks with later bigger choices, 10Mbit Ethernet, 16MB of RAM normal with as much as 256MB supported, and a “console” consisting of a backlit rear-mounted 2-line LCD and management buttons (on later machines, however not the unique 2700, a serial port offered an precise console when you held down a button throughout startup). A good variety of typical configuration duties resembling setting its IP deal with could possibly be finished instantly from the panel and the remaining have been meant to be finished by way of its Perl-based internet console. They have been designed to run Linux from the ground up and shipped with Pink Hat utilizing a 2.0.x kernel.

Nonetheless, the dice type issue, although cool, was not rack-friendly, and 10Mbit was not innovative. To serve the enterprise market Cobalt redesigned the Qube logic board with a flatter, extra versatile format, moved the LCD and button panel to the entrance, and put in all the pieces in a extra standard 19″ 1U type issue. This was the unique Cobalt RaQ (later retconned because the RaQ 1) launched later that 12 months with the identical specs, and later revisions of the Qube 2700 and the O.G. RaQ got here with 10/100 Ethernet. In 1999, they upgraded each the Qube and the RaQ into the Qube 2 and RaQ 2 with the newer 250MHz QED RM5231. The Qube 2 additionally featured a PCI slot for enlargement, and Cobalt moreover provided dual-NIC variations of the ten/100 Qube 2700 and RaQ 2 meant as caching or proxy servers; these have been the CacheQube and CacheRaQ 2 respectively. Seagate OEMed the RaQ 2 because the NASRaQ, and Gateway the Qube 2 because the Gateway Micro Servers 100 and 200, with a 56K modem within the PCI slot and differing quantities of RAM and disk area.

My MIPS RaQ techniques began with an unique RaQ given to me by a good friend (hello Invoice!) who wished to seek out it an excellent house. That system served effectively for a variety of years however finally burned out its energy provide. On the time I used to be meaning to restore it however there was an inexpensive RaQ 2 on eBay so I simply grabbed that, put the previous exhausting disk and RAM into it and saved going (and received a quicker CPU within the course of). Invoice’s RaQ remains to be in my restore bay, although, together with a CacheRaQ I additionally wound up with. All of those are the MIPS variants and never the later x86 nonsense, however we’re getting forward of ourselves.

The LEDs, from left to proper, are Tx/Rx, Hyperlink, Col (for packet collision), 100M (when 100Mbit), Disk and Internet. All of those are self-explanatory however the Internet gentle is especially fascinating: it illuminates on visitors to the webserver, with particular help for it within the working system package deal.

The management panel consists of a U/D/L/R cluster and Choose and Exit buttons. The opening instantly left of them has the password reset button behind it, which you maintain in with a pin whereas turning the system on to allow the serial console (115200bps, 8N1).

Plate sticker on the underside. When was the final time you noticed “Made in USA” in your server {hardware}?

Accordingly there are just a few ports on the again: the serial port, the ten/100 port and the ability change and connector (100-240 VAC, 1.0A, 40 watt max). The community lights minus the Internet LED are replicated on the again together with an LED that illuminates when the working system has halted (from the entrance you’d simply see this on the LCD).

Let’s pull the highest sheet metallic panel off. It is simply two screws and the highest lifts up and away.

There’s nearly as a lot mud in right here as there’s empty area to carry it. Apart from the grit we solely see a single logic board, a separate energy provide, the entrance panel and the exhausting disk. At this level I received out the compressed air and blew out numerous grime earlier than we continued on.

Two ribbon cables connect with the logic board, one from the entrance panel routed underneath the exhausting disk, and one for the exhausting disk’s IDE PATA cable. This was the unique Quantum Fireball drive that got here with Invoice’s RaQ.

The newly much less dusty logic board itself. Nothing is heatsinked; this technique does not pull numerous energy. The most important parts are the prominently marked QED CPU (with the silver label), the Galileo GT-64111 “all-in-one” MIPS system controller ASIC (containing the 32-bit PCI 2.1 bus controller [up to 66MHz], host-to-PCI bridge, DRAM controller, host-to-RAM bridge and system and DMA controllers, appropriate with 32-bit NEC VR4300 [see our “MIPS ThinkPad” article], QED RM523x and IDT RV46x0 CPUs), a DEC “Tulip” 21143 Ethernet controller (right here manufactured by Intel), and a VIA Applied sciences VT82C586A ASIC containing a PCI-to-ISA bridge and the only ATA/33 controller and real-time clock. The VT82C586A additionally has a keyboard controller and USB controller, however this performance isn’t uncovered on these machines.

The CPU itself. Quantum Impact Design was a fabless CPU design agency based by three MIPS Laptop Techniques, Inc. builders with substantial help from Built-in Gadget Know-how (IDT), who in return received a quick monitor to license their designs for manufacture. QED’s preliminary aim was the event of a laptop computer CPU and to that finish acquired a MIPS license, issuing their first chip design, the R4600 Orion, in 1993. IDT fabricated the R4600 at 650nm beginning at 100MHz in 1994, the place it and different licensees’ chips have been used in the SGI Indy and DeskStation Raptor II and Raptor Plus workstations — to not be confused with the trendy Raptor POWER9 techniques — with the DeskStation Raptors working a “restricted model of Home windows NT” (no matter meaning). It had 16K L1 instruction and knowledge caches, first rate for the time, however was harm by its lack of on-die L2 help and a weak non-pipelined FPU. Nonetheless, it was low-cost sufficient and quick sufficient for lower-end functions. It was succeeded by the DSP-enhanced R4640 (used within the unique WebTV) and R4650 (utilized in Namco System 23 video games like Time Disaster II), and the R4700, a 500nm die-shrink clockbumped to 200MHz.

One of many strangest functions of the R4600 was the 1994 ShaBLAMM! NiTro-VLB, an R4600 on a VESA Native Bus card meant as an ARC-compliant Home windows NT accelerator for 486 PCs. When activated it could take over as the principle CPU, suppressing the 486, and used the PC’s RAM as a DMA buffer for its personal on-card “EDRAM” with interleaved SRAM serving as cache. It shipped with the 100MHz half, however apparently bought poorly, and as VLB was largely particular to the then-fading 80486 the meant 133MHz and 150MHz upgrades do not appear to have ever been made.

In 1996 QED developed the MIPS R5000 core, an in-order two-way superscalar design that might subject one integer instruction and one floating level instruction concurrently, executing most integer directions in a single clock cycle. To scale back die dimension and value it didn’t branch-predict however slightly used static department hints offered by the compiler. It doubled the L1 caches to 32K every, had on-die L2 help as much as 2MB, and at SGI’s request featured a a lot stronger pipelined FPU. IDT fabbed it at 350nm together with NEC and NKK, and SGI provided the R5000 as an Indy improve at speeds starting from 150MHz to 180MHz. It was later the low-end CPU possibility for the SGI O2, and derivatives have been additionally utilized in many Atari and Halfway arcade boards (like the unique Mortal Kombat) in addition to community {hardware}. The RM7000 CPU utilized in greater tiers of the SGI O2 was an R5000 with 256K L2 on-chip and help for L3. The Sony PlayStation 2 R5900 Emotion Engine was a slightly later R5000 by-product with a non-standard FPU and vector extensions.

QED subsequently acquired a producing license and bought bespoke R5000 derivatives of their very own in 1997, the RM5230 and RM5260, produced by TSMC on a 350nm course of. The RM5260 was a lower-end R5000 with 32K L1 caches, no L2, and a 64-bit 75MHz multiplexed address-data bus at as much as 150MHz; the RM5230 was an extra cut-down model with 16K L1 caches and a 32-bit 67MHz bus at as much as 133MHz. Later MIPS WebTV techniques used the RM5230 as a substitute of the IDT R4640, whereas the Qube 2700 and O.G. RaQ used the second model of the RM5230 at 150MHz. The 2 chips have been joined by the RM5270 later in 1997, which had a 100MHz 64-bit bus, restored on-chip L2 help, and ran as much as 200MHz. It was pin-compatible with the R7000 and was meant in its place.

In 1998 QED upgraded the road to the RM5231, RM5261 and RM5271, produced at 250nm. Apart from the die-shrink, the RM5231 now had 32K I/D caches just like the others, bus charges have been notched as much as 125MHz, and the three chips now provided greater prime clock speeds of 250MHz, 266MHz and 300MHz respectively. The 250MHz top-of-the-line RM5231 is the chip right here and was the final MIPS CPU Cobalt used. It is no velocity demon however it runs cool and pretty effectively, applicable for the high-end embedded markets it was targetted at.

QED additionally briefly produced a PowerPC design in 1996 for Motorola to fabricate utilizing the R4600 pipeline design, the 500nm 160MHz PowerPC 603q, however it was meant for very low-end Apple techniques (probably a student-based house system and/or a Pippin-derived recreation console) which have been by no means finally made. Preliminary samples have been really fabricated and ran at a promising 1.6W typical TDP, however the chip had no different takers and QED had no PowerPC license of their very own. QED was purchased by PMC-Sierra in 2000 after an costly try to develop the RM9000 SOC; whereas accomplished at PMC, the chip was late to market and poorly obtained, and PMC-Sierra was itself purchased by Microsemi in 2016.

The RaQ board has many pads for choices, a few of which may be populated by enterprising tinkerers (I would have a larger danger of wrecking it if I attempted, personally). A second IDE interface can be fitted in order to not run two disks on the identical one, although the case solely has room for 2 3.5″ drives. These pads are on this orientation north and barely east of the VIA controller. It may be extra sensible lately for SSDs.

The clean chip pads instantly east of the VIA controller are for an non-obligatory LSI Logic NCR53C810-compatible SCSI controller. If this chip have been fitted, then the easternmost set of pads can be linked to an exterior 50-pin SCSI port. Sadly, there doesn’t seem like wherever a PCI port could possibly be simply added just like the Qube 2.

The opposite location with possibility pads is the community port space. For those who look again on the general logic board image, you will see unpopulated pads between the Galileo system controller and the Tulip 21143 Ethernet controller. These pads are for a second Tulip to supply the second interface within the CacheRaQ, together with one other PE-67540 choke and an Ethernet port each positioned right here, plus a unique again cowl to really allow you to get on the port.

See Also

The fan was fairly choked with mud and dust, and being its unique fan in all probability meant its bearings have been going as effectively. Cobalt techniques have been infamous for fan issues and it is spectacular this one lasted so long as it did. We’ll simply exchange it as a substitute of cleansing it. I pulled it out and blew the fan aperture fully away from obstructions. Whereas the motherboard in all probability can be okay with out a lot airflow, I am unsure the identical is true for any drive inside.

Though I used to be ready to cut and swap the connectors, I discovered a alternative 30x30x6mm fan with a plug that seemed prefer it could possibly be wormed onto the motherboard pins, and with somewhat little bit of mild coercion it does.

Bolting it securely into the case so it does not vibrate. I additionally checked the voltage on the CR2032 battery whereas I used to be in there, however it’s nonetheless a wholesome 3.1 volts, so I left it alone. Let’s get the highest again on, wipe the dust off the case and put it again in service.

The Cobalt firmware requires that the primary partition on the primary disk be an ext2 quantity and appears there for /boot/vmlinux.gz. The firmware can solely boot kernels 675K and smaller, so most fashionable OSes nonetheless supporting it put a small first-stage bootloader in that location to tug within the bigger fundamental kernel, like NetBSD is doing right here. It may also be set to netboot from a DHCP server and an NFSv2 (not v3) server. The NetBSD Restore CD gives these items, or you can netboot manually with the serial console (requires {hardware} modification for the unique Qube 2700). Comparable steps exist for current Linux distros.

Beginning up the principle OS.

Again in service and glowing shiny, with the brand new fan and newly cleaned fan path now shifting a prodigious quantity of air rather more quietly.

Cobalt by then had developed an enthusiastic following with ISPs and resellers, however no MIPS chip within the pipeline might sustain with what prospects have been demanding, so the corporate switched to a 300MHz AMD K6-2 for the RaQ 3 and Qube 3. This technology was notable because the final of the Qubes and likewise for together with help for scriptable ASP (Active Server Pages) utilizing Chili!delicate’s ASP implementation, whom Cobalt would later purchase out. The RaQ 4 ran at 450MHz and added PHP help, laying groundwork to maneuver the online console to PHP from the previous Perl-powered interface, and provided a RAID possibility. Though a Qube 4 was initially in growth, it was finally cancelled.

In 2000 the RaQ XTR migrated CPUs once more, this time to the Pentium III, with techniques configured as much as 1GHz. It provided 4 detachable drives in the identical 1U type issue however was a difficult system with many bugs, and an preliminary recall required months to repair the {hardware}. Symantec’s VelociRaptor firewall-VPN equipment was primarily based on the 2-port XTR with an added 2-port community card (yielding 4).

Throughout this time Cobalt was acquired by Solar Microsystems in September 2000 for US$2.2 billion (US$3.61 billion in 2023 {dollars}), who meant it to be the linchpin of their lower-end server equipment line. Buyers have been absolutely delighted however Cobalt staff have been upset with the brand new administration and lots of left or have been laid off. On prime of that, Solar had purchased the corporate to help their dot-com enlargement proper about when the dot-com bubble blew. Confronted with quickly slowing gross sales, the 1GHz/1.26GHz Pentium III-based RaQ 550 was the final RaQ system, the one one which supported Java and the one one which absolutely used the PHP-based person interface.

Solar terminated the product line and ended help for all the pieces however the 550 and Qube 3 in 2003, however to their credit score did open-source the working system, although not one of the varied efforts (BlueQuartz, BlueOnyx, Rackstar, Strongbolt, in all probability others) are nonetheless maintained and none of them ever supported MIPS. Official help from Solar for the 550 and Qube 3 led to 2007.

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