PA-RISC information - since 1999



The PA-RISC Linux port runs on a broad range of 32-bit and 64-bit HP PA-RISC workstations and servers. Most HP 9000 700 and B/C/J-Class workstations are supported, both 32-bit PA-7x00 processors and 64-bit PA-8x00. SMP multi-processing is supported, though not as smooth as other Linux platforms or HP-UX. Linux runs also on many HP 9000 PA-RISC server systems, although some proprietary I/O, CPU and memory combinations are not supported.

Originally started by the Puffin Group in 1998, the port of Linux to HP PA-RISC gained momentum after HP started helping with equipment and documentation in 1999. It quickly superseded the earlier Mach-based MkLinux. Because of HP’s assistance, the machines targeted at that time were newer than what other ports like OpenBSD or Mach supported, such as the A180, B180 and 64-bit PA-RISC 2.0 systems.

The center of kernel and toolchain development is the offical PA-RISC Linux project with access to the source code, mailing lists, install instructions, an array of documentation and a hardware database. Since 2008/2009, work on the PA-RISC Linux port became slower, similar to the other ports, but the tempo increased in 2014 again. Since then, PA-RISC Linux has become a stable Linux platform in Debian and Gentoo.

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Systems support

PA-RISC Linux supported systems
Class Computers
700s 705, 710, 712, 715, 720, 730, 750, 725, 735, 755
740s VME 742i, 743i, 744, 745i, 745, 747i, 748i, 748
A-Class A180, A180C A400, A500
B-Class B132L, B160L, B132L+, B180L+, B1000, B2000, B2600
C-Class C100, C110,C132L, C160L, C160, C180, C200, C240, C360, C3000, C3600, C3700, C3750, C8000
D-Class D210, D220, D230, D250, D270, D280, D310, D320, D330, D350, D370, D380, D390
E-Class E25, E35, E45, E55 (very limited)
J-Class J200, J210, J280, J282, J2240, J5000, J5600, J6000, J6700, J6750, J7000, J7600
K-Class K100, K200, K210, K220, K250, K260, K370, K380, K400, K410, K420, K450, K460, K570, K580
L-Class L1000, L2000, L3000
N-Class N4000
R-Class R380, R390
rp rp2400, rp2430, rp2405, rp2450, rp2470, rp3410, rp3440, rp5400, rp5450, rp5470, rp7400
Portables RDI PrecisionBook, SAIC Galaxy 1100

Performance on Linux is not quite on par with original HP-UX — 50% was a rough estimate in the late-2000s. However the overhead of running a full-blown HP-UX probably consumes much of this advantage, especially on older systems.

Hardware support

Most I/O subsystems are supported in PA-RISC LInux, including many common PC expansion options. Correct X11 graphical support is limited to a small set of HP adapters via the framebuffer device. As newer machines are more similar to standard Intel PCs, support is generally better but still lacking in some areas.

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In the late 1990s, PA-RISC was the last big RISC/Unix architecture without a proper Linux port, besides the limited Mach-based MkLinux. This had multiple reasons – PA-RISC systems were not widely used in academia with a stronger market share in the technical/industrial space, from which they did no escape for a long time. HP only reluctantly released technical documentation on their systems to the public, which limited interest in and progress of development efforts.

The confinement to the industry was a limited hobbyist base for PA-RISC as the available machines were not well documented and without proper operating systems for private users, as compared to more popular Sun SPARC systems. Slow progress was made in 1999 with the initial start of the original Linux kernel on PA-RISC, as there was growing interest in these machines when more made their way into the second-hand market, and finally more and more documentation was released.

PA-RISC Linux/Puffingroup

Early work on PA-RISC Linux started in 1999 with the help of The Puffin Group, which later employed several kernel and toolchain developers. Development was at first directed towards 32-bit systems; later on, with the help of HP, more modern machines were made available to developers, resulting in better hardware and 64-bit support. Several important parts of the kernel PA-RISC support were written by HP employees in the project. The support was made through a new Open Source Solutions Operation unit within HP. PA-RISC Linux affiliations changed multiple times, HP and developer support fluctuated but the port reached a stable state.


Contributed by Thibaut Varene

The PA-RISC Linux port effort started at the French network of graduate schools ESIEE (École Supérieure d'Ingénieurs en Électrotechnique et Électronique) in December 1999, with Thierry Simonnet, who was then managing the General IT Resources Service at ESIEE getting involved in the early stages of the port. In 2000, Simonnet decided to get students involved and started a case study as part of their school curriculum. The study was conducted in parallel by HP Labs, who sponsored the effort of the school, being a long time partner. This enabled the students to acquire skills, the study was completed in 2001 and presented at Linux Expo in Paris and at the Debian 1 Conference in Bordeaux, France.

With its increasing success, the initial case study spawned into a larger project that was open to students on their free time or as part of their classes, and more joined what was to be called the PATeam. From 2001 to the end of 2003, the team has been very active, doing PA-RISC development in the Linux kernel with writing drivers and improving overall stability. In 2004 and thereafter, ESIEE gradually reduced its support for the project.

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Two Linux distributions have included the PA-RISC port since the 2000s: Debian and Gentoo. The Debian version of PA-RISC Linux is available in the Debian-ports repositories where regular installation medias are made available


Other documents

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