No RISC No Fun
OpenPA is an independent technical resource on HP 9000 and PA-RISC computers and operating systems. Information on PA-RISC is contained in more than 100 articles published on OpenPA since 1999 on HP 9000 computers, PA-RISC architecture and software ecosystem:
- Hardware: Technology covered by this site is based on HP PA-RISC architecture and processors from the 1980s to 2000s. Most of the chipsets and system designs used were custom HP for its PA-RISC servers and workstations.
- Computers: Many different PA-RISC computers were produced between the 1980s and 2000s, the majority from HP in its HP 9000 range of servers, workstations and mainframes. Over 245 systems covered on OpenPA.
- Software: A broad range of Unix operating systems has been available over the years for PA-RISC workstations and servers, from HP-UX to Mach and BSD, with fifteen operating systems detailed here.
Sources used on OpenPA are mostly PA-RISC technical reference manuals, HP handbooks and architecture documents, correlated with articles and news releases – many disappeared lately. OpenPA is independent of and does not represent HP in any way. Read also the OpenPA book.
PA-RISC Laptops and Portables of the 90s
Only three portable PA-RISC workstations were produced during 1990s — all by third-party vendors utilizing HP 9000 workstation designs from that era.
First, there was the military-focused SAIC Galaxy 1100 portable from 1994, based on HP 9000/712 workstations and available through the Navy TAC-4 program, a very rare computer almost completely used in the military.
Then at the end of the 90s, RDI designed and sold PrecisionBooks, true laptops based on C132L workstation designs from HP. They were designed into a military-focused portable system by RDI and used 32-bit PA-RISC PA-7300LC processors.
Targeted for intelligence and measurement applications, the PrecisionBook did not enjoy widespread success. RDI was later acquired by Tadpole and also sold other RISC workstation designs in the same case, such as the UltraSPARC-based Tadpole Ultrabook.
In the mid-1990s, Hitachi of Japan designed another PA-RISC portable, the 3050RX/100C for the Japanese market, based on the Hitachi PA/50L processor and own custom Hitachi designs. However, PA-RISC was never popular with portable designs, as the instruments and machines controlled by PA-RISC computers were most often stationary (or onboard vessels) themselves.
OpenPA and Internet History
When OpenPA was founded in 1999, Unix/RISC companies like HP just started to open up to open source projects, the Internet and the public interest in general and began publishing much information freely on the web. The main job for OpenPA at the time was to find, analyze and correlate this growing heap of distributed information into a single, coherent resource on PA-RISC – which was missing at the time.
PA-RISC computers were stilly widely used and just about to be resold to second hand users, open source projects – forming a growing, active public community.
The main challenges for OpenPA at the time were both finding all the available information, as search engines were still young in the late 1990s, as well as making sense of it all as it was just so much and new sources kept appearing. This went on until the mid to late 2000s, when solid and stable sources could be found and referenced, which OpenPA did.
The Internet and information on it changed since then, slowly but surely, in a profound way. Many original sources have disappeared and so much information has been lost in only two decades – making OpenPA the authoritative source for PA-RISC in some ways. A long journey from documenting complex information of the 1990s to an historic archive on the PA-RISC era.
PA-RISC in the Eighties – Early HP 9000
The HP 9000/800 series were the first PA-RISC systems released in the 1980s, all server systems, although some had graphics capabilities. Both the technical and marketing landscape was changing in the 1980s, as HP had many other server and microcomputer series that it was selling. RISC and Unix servers were both new and niche products at that time, but both soon became hugely successful for business, scientific and industrial uses.
The early PA-RISC 800s and 600s servers were HP’s first foray into that world – with the HP 9000 840 computer the first RISC computer. Early PA-RISC computers were rather different to later workstations and servers with much custom and specialized design, including TTL, NMOS and CMOS PA-RISC 1.0 processors. Thus many of these early 800s servers were big and loud computers not meant for personal or office use – and rather expensive to boot. It's part of computing history mostly forgotten these days, although some new archives appeared.
|TS-1||840||CTB and CIO||1986||$113,500|
|SMB and CTB||1987-1988||$42,500, $45,000,
|SMB and CTB||1989||$59,500, $340,500,
|NS-2 and PCX||822, 832,
|SIU and SMB||1989-1990||$20,000, $30,000,
|SPI and SMB||1990-1991||$85,000, $143,000,
Historic timeline of PA-RISC Computer Series
The HP 9000 family of computers was produced by HP between 1982 and the 2000s and included a large range of Unix computers in different classes – from the early FOCUS 500s to servers and workstations based on HP PA-RISC, the HP 9000 800 and 700 series
HP 9000 started as a family with 500s in 1982, PA-RISC joined with the 840 server in 1986, giving birth to the 800 series of department servers.
HP soon started to diversify the Unix and PA-RISC offering, introducing the 700 series workstations, the 740 series VME boards and latter followed in the middle of the 90s by a large range of
lettered computers (A-Class, J-Class ...) that were also marketed as Visualize and Integrity, then switching to rp and rx naming.
Oddball PA-RISC Operating Systems
Besides the well known commercial PA-RISC operating systems and research projects based on Unix and Mach, several rather odd operating system choices were ported to PA-RISC over the years. Forgotten since, some diverse corporate development projects targeted PA-RISC for commercial operating systems throughout the 1990s – with mixed results.
HP undertook efforts in the mid-1990s to port Microsoft Windows NT to PA-RISC in order to hedge their bets in the workstation and NT markets.
While pursuing a PA-RISC port, HP modified the PA-RISC architecture for bi-endianess and even conducted a
back-room presention in 1994 of a PA-7100LC workstation running Windows NT.
Reports of this port continued through 1994 and 1995 but sources at HP soon spoke of
dim prospects for NT on PA-RISC and a
dead-end architecture with a seeming consensus of a post-RISC (Itanium) future around the corner.
In the same era, a port of NetWare to PA-RISC was undertaken by HP and Novell for Processor-Independent NetWare (PIN). NetWare 4.1 was slated to support a variety of RISC architectures such as Alpha, Sun, MIPS and PowerPC. However, development at Novell for PIN on PA-RISC took longer than planned, and HP finally pulled out in 1994 after Novell was unable to deliver Processor-Independent NetWare (PIN) on schedule.
Apparently there was also a prototype of HP-UX on x86 hardware a few years later, when the future of HP-UX and its sole surving platform Itanium came in doubt during the early 2010s. PA-RISC was long gone by then.
PA-RISC in Japan – third party vendors and PRO
Not only HP sold PA-RISC computers in the golden decade of Unix RISC workstations in the 90s. Several third party vendors organized in the Precision RISC Organisation (PRO) sold rebadged HP 9000 computers in East Asia in the mid-1990s or developed custom PA-RISC platforms.
- Hitachi sold custom 3050RX and 3500 PA-RISC workstations and servers with HP CPUs and relabeled HP 9000 systems as OEM, the 9000V series. Hitachi also developed own PA-RISC processors, the PA/50 and HARP-1, used in some specific Hitachi computers.
- Mitsubishi marketed the original HP 9000 720, 730 and 750 in the early-1990s as MELCOM ME RISC and sold them in Japan.
- NEC was very active in PRO with the NX7000 and TX7 ranges of PA-RISC computers that were based off OEM rebranded D, K, L, S and T-Class.
- OKI offered a large range of HP 9000 PA-RISC servers and workstations, OEM rebranded as OKITAC 9000 series. In its semiconductor business, OKI also developed a custom PA-RISC processor, the OP32 for embedded devices.
- Samsung marketed rebadged HP 9000 715 workstations in Korea.
These computers were shipped with Unix operating systems, geared towards technical and scientific users. Vendors either licensed HP-UX Unix directly or slightly modified it like Hitachi with HI-UX/WE2 and HI-UX/MPP or Samsung with SS-UX (?). Documentation on these computers and software is almost nonexistent, few sources describe them at all, except some press releases.
Download the OpenPA Book of PA-RISC
(PDF, 991 KB, 350 pages, 2022, V2.8)
Includes all content from the OpenPA Winter 2021/2022 online version.
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