HP 9000 and PA-RISC Computers Story
This page describes the HP 9000 PA-RISC line of computers from HP from the 1980s to the 2000s. The HP 9000 Series were a set of technical servers and workstations sold for almost three decades by HP and included a diverse platforms of Unix computers. Both RISC and Unix were developed into coherent products during the 1980s, moving from academia via industrial R&D to productization at a time when much computing was still done on mainframes, minicomputers and time-sharing machines such as DEC PDP, VAX, IBM AS/400 and System/360.
|Prelude: Early 1980s|
|Other HP 9000||200, 300, 500 series|
|I||Infancy: Late 1980s|
|HP 9000 800||Early 840 to 870|
|Other HP 9000||400, 600 series|
|II||Growth: 32-bit 1990s|
|HP 9000 700||Snakes 720/730/750|
|HP 9000 800||E-Class, F/G/H/I-Class|
|VME industrial||742, 745, 747|
|III||Maturity: 1990s heydays|
|HP 9000 700||Pizzabox 712 and 715|
|VME industrial||743, 744, 748|
|D-Class, R-Class, K-Class|
|L-Class and N-Class|
|S-Class, X-Class Convex|
HP 9000 and the PA-RISC series were HP’s new line of products in that fledging market in the early 1980s. This page focuses on this PA-RISC part of that story, divided into four periods from the 1980s to the 2000s.
A separate article is dedicated to the History of PA-RISC operating systems.
In the early 1980s, HP worked on both Unix and RISC development and products. Before PA-RISC, the original HP 9000 series was released with the FOCUS-based 500 series (9020). In parallel, the Motorola 68000 were added as HP Unix workstations.
HP moved into the fledging
microcomputer market in the late 80s with several differently positioned platforms.
PA-RISC computers of the HP 9000 Series 800 were HP’s RISC entry into that market.
The other, CISC, HP 9000 offerings were sold by HP in parallel for almost a decade.
The PA-RISC 9000 800 series were offered as servers initially for business applications, but were quickly adapted for technical and engineering.
Several processor, fabrication and systems design were tried by HP in those late-1980s days with the 800s.
Much of the growth and major developments of HP 9000 and PA-RISC happened in the early 1990s.
To round up and segment its offerings, HP released a dedicated PA-RISC workstation line, the HP 9000 700 series.
Based on the new, CMOS PA-RISC 1.1 processors, the original workstations consisted of the
Snake 720/730/750, smaller systems (705/710) and technical desktops (715/725).
They were often used as a platform for Unix-based graphics, engineering and R&D, and slowly became popular for high-end use cases.
Many products were released and the line-up matured during the 1990s, from small desktops to large server cabinets and mainframe-type computers, under increasing complex brands and series names. PA-RISC moved from 32-bit to 64-bit with the revamped PA-8000 processors and its subsequent successors up to the Mako PA-8800.
HP slowly transitioned to a
post-RISC phase in the 2000s, with a long-planned move to VLIW Itanium IA64 for its technical and Unix offerings.
The decline of PA-RISC was set in stone much earlier than that, with the mid-1990s joint development of Itanium together with Intel, but decided with the advent of Carly Fiorina as HP CEO.
Beginning in the late 1980s, PA-RISC systems often wore the crown of fastest technical (RISC AND Unix) workstations until the heydays of the 90s, albeit at a (boutique) price.
PA-RISC was relegated to a niche market of special servers, the rp Integrity PA-RISC servers.
As a result of that and a changing market environment, PA-RISC slowly was phased out of the technical HP line-up.
The following sections for the various HP 90000 series’ are mostly ordered chronologically.
HP 9000 800 servers
The original PA-RISC computers were the HP 9000 800 servers developed by HP in the 1980s and released in late 1980s. They consisted of several computers based on 32-bit PA-RISC 1.0 and 1.1 processors and different designs. System architecture was rather divergent to the 700s workstations with different chipsets, buses and I/O devices. HP 9000 700 series was introduced slightly later than the 800s, with a different, more workstation-centric focus.
- Early 840 to 870: The first PA-RISC systems to market were the early HP 9000/800 servers released between 1986 and 1990 on PA-RISC 1.0 processors. HP experimented with different concepts and designs for both computers and processors in that phase, from the TTL-based HP 9000/840 server in 1986 to the first CMOS-based HP 9000/842, 852, 865, 870 servers. First attempts were also made for lower-cost systems.
- The HP 9000/500 computers were the early-1980s predecessors of the PA-RISC workstations and started the HP 9000 series. They were based on a proprietary HP 32-bit processor — the HP FOCUS. First released in 1982, the HP 9000/520, originally 9020, was quickly followed by the HP 9000 530, 540 and 550 computers. Operating system support was limited to HP-UX which on HP FOCUS allegedly was the first commercial Unix supporting a multi-processor, multi-user system.
- There was a shortly-lived PA-RISC-based HP 9000 600 series in the late 1980s. The HP 90000/635SV and 645SV were supposedly server-only versions of the 800 series PA-RISC 1.0 HP 9000/835 and 845. Both were deskside server systems and ran HP-UX. The 600 series moniker was discontinued shortly after with servers taking the 800 and workstations the 700 series.
- E-Class and F/G/H/I-Class: These were the second generation HP 9000 800 servers from the early-1990s.
The F/G/H/I-Class HP 9000 Nova servers share a similar, distinct 32-bit PA-RISC design.
They had wildly diverse configurations for server applications from the small F10 to the large I70.
The E-Class followed with the
low-costPA-7100LC processor and integrated system design in smallish tower cases with the E25 to the E55.
Due to their separate system design and usage scenarios, HP 9000 700 and 800 series used different HP-UX Unix versions for a long time, until HP-UX 10.20. Support for these 800 systems in open source systems has always been limited, due to sparse documentation on their architecture. The 800 series PA-RISC servers carried on into the Lettered servers of the A/D/K/N-classes that still kept a divergent architecture to the 700 and Visualize workstations focused on multi-user business applications.
HP 9000 700 workstations
A large range of PA-RISC workstations was sold by HP from the 1990s on with the HP 9000 700 series.
These soon became popular 32-bit Unix workstations on a RISC platform, and used HP’s own new processors like the PA-7000, PA-7100 and PA-7100LC.
At that time, much technical computing moved to Unix and RISC workstations, superseding older CISC computers.
These new workstations were often used for CAD, CAM and specialized software and applications for HP-UX or Unix.
As HP acquired Apollo Computers around the time, the
Apollo name and technology was part of some workstations, sometimes called
HP Apollo 9000.
- Snakes 720/730/750: The original HP 9000/720, 730 and 750 workstation computers were the first dedicated PA-RISC workstations on the PA-RISC 1.1 PA-7000 processor. They used rather large and heavy deskside and desktop cases with interlocking modules of backplanes and I/O boards. The 730 and 750 were improved on a year later by the powerful PA-7100/PA-7150 powered HP 9000/735 and 755 workstations, among the fastest PA-RISC computers of the time.
- Pizzabox 705/710: The design of the original
Snake workstationswas integrated into smaller, pizza-box style desktop workstations with the HP 9000/705 and 710 with similar architecture but limited I/O and performance. The 705 and 710 were an early foray into pared-down
budgetworkstations, with full functionality but compromises on performance and I/O, a concept revised later in mainstream PCs (and the HP 9000 712 workstations).
- Desktop 715/725: Soon after the original workstations, in 1991 a range of technical workstations was released with the PA-7100 and ASP based HP 9000/715 and HP 9000/725 in /33 (horrible) to /75 variants.
These featured more standardized hardware and expandability and I/O options for technical users, packaged into a more
normaldesktop housing not dissimilar to contemporary PCs. They were rather popular.
- Pizzabox 712 and newer 715: PA-RISC computer design was updated in 1994 with the HP 9000/712 and newer 715 workstations, based on the modern, integrated PA-7100LC processor and LASI chipset. The 712 was a revolutionary pizza-box design that offered the advantages of a commercial Unix system on a RISC platform in a very small case (something Apple did a decade later again). Both were used for CAD and graphics, and were popular choiced for Unix and open source development.
- The first PA-RISC portable, SAIC Galaxy was developed as part of a military contract (TAC-4) by SAIC. It was based on the HP 9000 712 workstation mainboard, built into a ruggedized case for portable military applications.
- The Precision RISC Organisation (PRO) consortium was formed by HP and Convex in 1992 to promote the PA-RISC architecture. PA-RISC chips and designs were usually not sold to third-parties with licensing and distribution tightly controlled by HP to partners in the PRO. Some HP 9000 workstations and servers were sold by PRO members rebadged as OEM in their markets.
PA-RISC 700 workstations gained wide popularity in engineering, industrial and academic fields during the 1990s.
During that time, PA-RISC with the 700s workstations traded the
performance crown of Unix and RISC computers frequently with DEC Alpha architecture.
Due to that, 700 series workstations were often acquired for high-end boutique applications and priced accordingly.
VME and industrial
The 740s VME-based PA-RISC computers were part of the HP 9000 700 series, sold from the early to late 1990s, used for industrial, scientific and military data measurement and real time control applications. These single-board computers utilized the industrial-grade VME bus for that. Processors included 32-bit PA-RISC PA-7100, PA-7100LC and PA-7300LC with HP LASI and ASP chipsets and some custom VME designs.
Operating systems were native HP-UX and HP-RT, the latter for real-time applications, with some supported in Open Source operating systems including Linux and BSD. They were used in a very wide variety of applications for industrial and scientific control and measurement, including by the US military.
- The first-generation VME computers from the early 1990s were PA-7100 ASP-based designs, the HP 9000/742i single-board computer, integrated into HP 9000/745i and 747i computers. They were closely based on the HP 9000 715 technical workstation, repackaged into single-board VME computers.
- Based on newer LASI and LC processors, the second-generation VME 743i and 744 single-board computers were used in the ruggedized 745 and 748i computers. These in turn used the newer C-Class C132L Visualize workstations system design in a VME board.
- In addition to the VME boards, there were other industrial and measurement systems based on HP PA-RISC, which included the (HP) Agilent logic analyzers of the 16600A and 16700A series and also the HP/Agilent V743/64 (E1497A) and V743/100 (E1498A) VXI computers.
From the mid-1990s on, HP sold its PA-RISC workstations with lettered class names: the B, C and J-Class systems, still formally part of the 9000 700 series.
Most of them were sold with
Visualize branding indicating a focus on their preferred applications and use cases.
They were were geared towards graphics and engineering applications such as CAD or CAM and often used with HP’s powerful Visualize and Visualize-FX graphics adapters.
Processors were almost the whole range of PA-RISC CPUs from 32-bit PA-7200 up to 64-bit PA-8900.
- B-Class: The entry-level and most common HP Visualize workstation during that era, the B-Class used desktop-type designs and streamlined system architecture, including the B132L, B1000 up to the B2600.
- C-Class: More powerful and better resourced HP Visualize workstations than the B-Class, the C-Class were still a desktop-type design with a slightly more sophisticated system architecture that included the C100, C132L, C240 up to the C3600 models.
- J-Class: Combining much of the PA-RISC architecture from the mid-90s to early-2000s, the HP Visualize J-Class workstations were a range of mini-tower computers with many options and designs, usually multi-processor capable, from the J200 to the J6000 and J7000.
- The first PA-RISC laptop was developed and release by RDI Tadpole as RDI PrecisionBook, a rare bird based on the Visualize C132L and C160L workstations.
In parallel to the workstations, HP 9000 servers were renamed with lettered designators and included a spectrum of different 32- and 64-bit PA-RISC computers. These servers were quite powerful at the time of the 1990s with diverse configurations and designs, from the small A-Class to the mid-size D-Class and cabinet-size K-Class. Also during that time, the system architecture between 700s workstations and 800s servers began to converge, only to start diverging again in the late-1990s with the Cell and Stretch architectures, when HP moved to hardware virtualization.
- A-Class: The first PA-RISC servers geared towards large-scale deployments into rack-space, the A-Class were small and use a streamlined system design specifically geared towards
Internetapplications (time of the dotcom boom). The HP 9000/A180 was a 32-bit PA-7300LC budget-oriented design similar to the HP Visualize B180L, while the HP A400 and A500 with a variety of 64-bit PA-8x00 processors were the early harbinger of the rp moniker with a similar architecture to the Visualize C3000/C3600 workstations.
- D-Class, R-Class and K-Class:
Three groups of servers from the HP 9000 800 range that were all based on the premise of flexibility in system design, configuration and upgrades,
and shared similar system designs from 32-bit PA-7100LC up to multi-processor 64-bit PA-8200.
enterpriseHP 9000 D-Class servers had up to two CPUs, eight hard-drives and eight I/O slots, from the entry D200 to the bigger D390. Built into a rack-mountable case, the HP 9000 R-Class R380 and R390 shared the D-Class platform with slight differences in I/O and storage.
- L-Class and N-Class: Rack-mountable 64-bit PA-RISC servers in two classes but in four different variants and system architecture, when HP experimented with designs and concepts for both PA-RISC and Itanium. Released between 1999 and 2002, the L1000 and L2000 were based on the Astro architecture used in workstations as well, the L1500, L3000 and N4000 on the Stretch chipset, a rather strange bird, with the later N4000 using the Cell crossbar chipset also used in the Superdome mainframe. These were already renamed into the rp category during their product lifecycle, in the rp5400 and rp7400 range.
mainframe is used rather broadly here to include all larger HP PA-RISC computers with a large amount of computing resources that were either multi-processor or cluster-type systems.
Some were HP’s own development, like the T-Class, an outgrow of the original 800 series servers, and the later Superdome, while others were either co-developed or acquired externally, like the SPP Exemplar architecture from Convex.
- T-Class and 800s: The HP 9000/T-Class servers were large 32-bit and 64-bit PA-RISC mainframes from the mid-1990s, built with modular system cards that contain processors, memory or I/O devices. The HP 9000/890 was an early iteration of the architecture, with the later T500/T600 being updated sucessors. After the 64-bit T600 the basic system design of the T-Class was discontinued in favor of the more flexible Superdome systems.
- S-Class and X-Class Convex: The SPP Exemplar were cluster mainframes developed by Convex in the 1990s, based on a multi-processor system design with up to 128 PA-RISC 1.1 processors. Multiple types were available in the SPP1000, SPP1200 and SPP1600: compact systems, hypernodes and clusters. This was followed in 1997 with the 64-bit SPP2000 S-Class/X-Class, jointly marketed between HP and Convex. All these are based on a crossbar architecture with an internal switching component, based on GaA. The SPP Exemplar all ran Convex SPP-UX, a custom Mach-based Unix operating system.
- V-Class: The V-Class V2200, V2250 and V2500 and V2600 were the second generation scalable PA-RISC servers based on the Convex Exemplar architecture, with up to 32 64-bit PA-RISC processors in a single cabinet. The architecture was HP’s own HyperPlane crossbar chipset, a continuation and upgraded from the original Convex GaA architecture with faster processors and memory. Individual V-Class nodes could be clustered into groups of four, connected by CTI links. Operating system was HP-UX.
The Superdome servers were a completely new design, for up to 64 processors per cabinet.
Legacy, or white systems, used a Cell crossbar chipset with 64-bit PA-RISC processors, while the newer Superdome sx1000 and sx2000, or black systems, used SX chipsets and a mixture of Itanium 2 processors. They all ran HP-UX and Linux, while the SX models also Windows and OpenVMS.
HP renamed its PA-RISC servers again in the early 2000s into the rp series, and shifted the focus of PA-RISC more towards servers with that move. The rp servers were based on 64-bit PA-RISC processors from the PA-8500 to the PA-8800, all multi-processor. Only the first rp branded systems shared design features with contemporary workstations and older servers, while the rest were new, server-only designs.
- rp2400: A rebranding of the original A-Class 64-bit A400 and A500 servers as rp2400 to rp2470 2U rack-servers, that had one or two PA-RISC 2.0 processors in an Astro system design.
- rp3400: Successors to the popular rp2400 line, the rp3410 and rp3440 used the HP zx1 Itanium chipset for up to two PA-8800 or PA-8900 processors, also in a 2U case. Upgrades to Itanium were available.
- rp4400: Closely related to the rp3400 above, the rp4410 and rp4440 were 4U rack servers with up to four dual-core PA-8800 and PA8-900 on the HP zx1 chipset, released in 2004. Their design featured up to 128 GB memory and quite high memory data rate.
- rp5400: Again a rebranding, with the L-Class 64-bit servers including the rp5400 and rp5450 being the former L1000 and L2000 based on Astro/Elroy design, and the rp5430 and rp5470 the former L1500 and L3000 using the sophisticated Stretch chipset. These were again rack-mountable, in 7U, and had up to four processors.
- rp7400: Both a rebranding and redesign of the N-Class servers, the rp7400 was the original N4000 on a Strech chipset server, with the rp7405 and 7410 sharing the N4000 name but using a completely new, Superdome-like Cell design, for up to eight processors. Later versions include the rp7420 and rp7440 that supported even newer CPUs, expansion and more memory.
- rp8400: Some of the largest Cell-based 64-bit servers before the Superdome mainframe, the rp8400, rp8420 and rp8440 used up to sixteen processors up to the PA-8900 plus large amounts of expansion and RAM.
With the rp range HP moved its PA-RISC offering closer to the new Itanium architecture, which were called
Product and technical design was similar between rp and rx, and the PA-RISC rp moved strongly towards Itanium design with the zx1 chipsets and upgrade paths to IA64 processors.
The rp were the last line of PA-RISC servers.
Around the turn of the century, HP started to offer servers and workstations based on Itanium IA64 technology, a VLIW architecture jointly designed with Intel. System architecture between the PA-RISC rp and IA64 rx servers converged with similar designs and chipsets. The zx1 chipset and Itanium buses were used and Itanium slowly phased out PA-RISC from HP’s technical and Unix lineup, albeit at least half a decade later than originally planned.
- rx Series:
A large variety of systems were available in parallel to their PA-RISC models to run either HP-UX, Linux, Windows or OpenVMS.
Most of the rx are multi-processor systems, with many based on HP’s own zx1 chipset, that was also used in PA-RISC systems, some using the zx2 and some the SX1000 and SX2000.
A slew of systems were available, with the first generation based on zx1 including the 1U rx1600 and rx1620, the 2U rx2600 and rx2620, the 4U rx4640, the legacy 7U rx4610 and the 7U rx5670. These were followed soon by zx2 based systems, that were similar but offered more speed and newer Itanium 2 processors with the rx2660 and rx6600 servers, among others.
- Itanium workstations: Only three Itanium workstations were offered, the very early HP i2000 with a first-generation Itanium CPU and an Intel reference architecture, and the later, more flexible HP zx2000 and zx6000. The zx2000 had a sleek tower casing while the zx6000 was the dual-processor rack system. Both zx workstations were technically similar the the PA-RISC HP C8000 workstations and used the same HP zx1 platform. Itanium workstations were not a relevation performance-wise when compared to both earlier forecasts as well as to modern Intel x86 or even the last PA-RISC designs.
This was the end of the PA-RISC platform at HP, which vanished with diminishing market share until the mid-2000s. The process of the long decline of RISC and commercial Unix servers was already underway then, with Unix relegated to special applications and later to high-end, mission-critical servers. HP started withdrawing from Unix workstations before Itanium, but pared down its offering even further with the new CPU architecture. Shipments of Itanium workstations ceased two years after release, at the time when Intel moved the x86 architecture to 64-bit. Originally envisaged as an industry-changing architecture, Itanium ended up as alternative to other RISC platforms it was meant to replace, and marked the end-phase of HP Unix and RISC platforms.
On a side tangent of history, HP inherited both DEC Alpha RISC and OpenVMS through its acquisition of Compaq in the early 2002, both had been having rivals for HP platforms for decades. After discontinuing DEC Alpha, OpenVMS was to find a new home with the Itanium platform at HP, to which it was ported around 2005 to run on HP rx servers, being the first computers to offer both HP-UX and OpenVMS.
There were a few other computer series offered under the HP 9000 label before PA-RISC computers were released. This includes early Unix platforms from HP based on Motorola m68k CISC processors, the HP FOCUS line that preceeded PA-RISC and the HP 3000 minicomputers, that later switched to PA-RISC.
The HP 9000 200 series were the earliest incarnations of HP Unix platforms based on Motorola 68000, and started life as HP 9826 in 1981, all using the Motorola 68000 processor.
Soon followed by other
high-end technical desktops, such as the HP 9836, 9816, 9920, 9817 and 9837H, there series was renamed in the early 1980s to HP 9000 200 series, and the individual computers to, for example HP 9000/220 (for the 9920).
The 200s also ran versions of HP-UX Unix.
The other series based on Motorola M68k processors was the HP 9000 300 series, sold from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s and also a Unix platform. The 300s had a new, functional design with several distinct boxes for each computer, a design later taken over for the first HP 9000 700s series workstations. The 300 series used Motorola CISC processors from the 68010 up to the -40. Besides HP-UX, the 300 series were supported by a variety of BSD operating systems from the 1980s well into the 2010s, including the mythical 4.4BSD and the OpenBSD/hp300 and NetBSD/hp300 siblings.
Related to the 300 series but incorporating technology from the 1989 acquisition of Apollo Computers, the HP 9000 400 series were based on Motorola 68030 and 68040 processors and ran HP-UX and Domain/OS (Apollo Unix). The 400 series were sold in parallel to PA-RISC computers of the 700 and 800 series in the early 1990s, and were widely supported by BSD and open source operating systems. Many designs, devices and peripherals were shared between the Motorola 68000-based 400 series and the PA-RISC 700 and 800 series, including the SGC and EISA buses, SCSI controllers, HP-HIL and HP-IB peripherals, graphics adapters.
The HP 3000 line were the HP business minicomputers, first released in 1972, with their own operating system MPE, application stack and distinct customer base. From the late 1980s on, HP 3000 moved to the PA-RISC platform and used systems that were closely based on the HP 9000 800 series. HP 3000 used PA-RISC actually earlier than the widely-popular HP 9000 700 workstation series. The first MPE for PA-RISC release was MPE/XL, the last MPE version was MPE/iX with limited Unix support and POSIX compliance. HP 3000 and MPE have been discontinued since. For more information read the 3000-MPE (Software) article from hpmuseum.net and The History of the HP 3000 from Bob Green.
This page is an attempt to unify all the different leads and streams of HP 9000 and PA-RISC into a single story, but simplifications were made. The information on this page is based mostly on existing OpenPA content, but also includes new content and interpretation of other sources. Some pieces were sourced from the great HP Computer Museum, but also from news releases, journals or HP Labs communication.
For release dates of HP 9000 computers and their entry prices, there is also the PA-RISC Timeline page. A tabular overview of HP 9000 PA-RISC systems is on the main PA-RISC Computers section that links to pages with more details for individual systems. The history of PA-RISC processors and system architecture is covered briefly in the PA-RISC Hardware page.
The history of PA-RISC operating systems merits its own article, which is covered in the PA-RISC Operating Systems page. Four main streams of systems are covered — commercial Unix, open source, research projects, and others. Release dates and versions are in more detail on the PA-RISC Timeline.