Installing Solaris Express x86 on a Sony VGN-SZ4XWN/C laptop

For many years I have been a user of first SunOs, then Solaris, which are produced by Sun Microsystems. Solaris used to be very expensive and only run on Sun hardware, but more recently Sun have made Solaris free, and it runs both on Sun SPARC hardware as well as x86 based PC hardware (both 32-bit and 64-bit).

Needing a laptop, I decided to splash out and buy the expensive, but high spec Sony VAIO VGN-SZ4XWN/C. At the time this was purchased (mid 2007), it was one of the highest spec laptops available, and cost me #1620 (UK pounds) - around $3200 at the time. Despite being the newest computer I owned, with a dual-core 2 GHz CPU and 2 GB of RAM, its performance was not too good, which I put down to two problems

For one reason or another, I ended up reinstalling Vista 3 times in 6 months. The performance of this top-end laptop was bothering me, so I decided to install Solaris 10. This describes my ups, downs, and progress to date.

Getting Solaris Express on DVD or via download

Solaris Express Developer Edition can be downloaded from the Sun web site, or currently (December 2007), Sun will send you a copy in the post for nothing - not even carriage costs. If you either want to download it, or get Sun to send you a copy, just visit the Solaris Express web page.

Installing Solaris Express

There are two stages to this:
  1. Shrink the Vista Partition so there is some unallocated disk space to install Solaris.
  2. Insert the Solaris DVD and let it convert the unallocated disk space to a Solaris partition, then let the installer install Solaris in that partition.

The hard part - Shrink the Vista Partition so there is some unallocated disk space to install Solaris.

The hardest part of this was getting Vista to give up some disk space so Solaris could be installed. The Solaris installation was quite easy once it had some space As shipped from Sony, this laptop has two partitions: I had long since deleted the recovery partition (after having created the recovery DVDs as documented by Sony), so I had a single 120 GB partition, of which more than 70 GB was free.

Windows Vista has a tool to shrink the partition size, which one can get at by:

  1. Left click Control Panel.
  2. Left click System and Maintenance.
  3. Left click Administration tasks.
  4. Left click Computer Management.
  5. Right click Computer Storage and Disk Management in the Computer manager and select Shrink Volume

Given I had more than 70 GB free, I assumed Vista would allow me to shrink it down to about half its size. Unfortunately, that is not true. Vista would allow me to shrink the volume by only 17 GB, and wished to keep the extra 53 GB to itself! I initially suspected the disk was fragmented and do Vista could not shrink it for this reason. Trying to defragment the disk using the tools in Vista did not help.

After asking on newsgroups, and various sources, it became apparent this is a known bug in Vista. There are numerous things which prevent the volume being shrunk much, but include:

So in order to be able to shrink the volume it was necessary to One the disk had been defragmented, it was possible to shrink the NTFS partition that Vista was using.

The easy part - Installing Solaris Express

The Sony VAIO has a switch on the top marked Stamina/Speed. This selects either the GMA 950 graphics module that's integrated in Intel's 945GM Express chipset or the Nvidia Go GeForce 7400 GPU. Since power consumption is more important to me than graphics performance, I decided it best to install Solaris Express using the low power Intel graphics chip, then add a driver later for the higher performance Nvidia chip set. So I switched the Speed/Stamina switch to Stamina and inserted the Solaris DVD. Soon it gave the message that the graphics adapter was not supported, but I could install in text mode. That was not attractive so I switched the switch to the Speed position and rebooted. This time it went very smoothly. Solaris Express found the unallocated partition and I was soon able to have Solaris running on it.

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