PA-RISC information - since 1999

Early HP 9000 PA-RISC Systems

HP 8000 825
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000/800 series were the first PA-RISC systems released in the 1980s. All were server systems, although some had graphics capabilities. The technical and product landscape was changing in the 1980 with HP selling many diverse server and microcomputer series. RISC and Unix servers like the HP 9000 800 were new and niche products at that time, but 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 – the computers were different to later workstations and servers with much custom and specialized design, including TTL, NMOS and CMOS PA-RISC 1.0 processors. Many of the early 800s servers were big and loud departmental computers – and rather expensive. With PA-RISC 1.1 computers in the early 90s, HP standardized and unified PA-RISC products, more affordable computers were offered to a wider customer base – like the 720, 730 and 750 workstations and Nova class 800s.

Processors Group Design Introduced Price
TS-1 840 CTB and CIO 1986 $113,500
NS-1 825, 835,
850
SMB and CTB 1987-1988 $42,500, $45,000,
$220,500
NS-2 845, 855,
860
SMB and CTB 1989 $59,500, $340,500,
$291,000
NS-2 and PCX 822, 832,
808, 815
SIU and SMB 1989-1990 $20,000, $30,000,
$16,000, $14,900
PCX 842, 852,
865, 870
SPI and SMB 1990-1991 $85,000, $143,000,
$275,000, $440,000

The only operating system for early HP 9000 800 servers is HP-UX up to version 10.10. There were a few research and development projects during the 1980s that targeted some of these systems but none were made publically available. As these computers were sold in the pre-Internet era in a niche, available documentation is slim and information not always coherent.

HP 9000 840 – First PA-RISC

HP 8000 840
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The first commercial PA-RISC product was released in 1986 with the HP 9000/840 Indigo server, based on a six-board TTL implementation of 32-bit PA-RISC 1.0 in the TS-1 processors at 8 MHz. The 840 was primarily marketed and used as a server – and only few versions of it remain in existence after the early PA-RISC days.

System Version Processor MIPS Introduced Price
840 840S TS-1 4.5 1986 $113,500

The 840 uses two main buses: Central Bus (CTB, also called MidBus), a 32-bit 8 MHz 20 MB/s bus, connects the processor to the main memory and the secondary I/O bus. Seven card slots are available in the 840 on Channel I/O (CIO), the 16-bit central device I/O bus. CIO has a data rate of 5 MB/s with a clock speed of 4 MHz. Supported CIO devices include HP-IB, the Hewlett-Packard Interface-Bus, used for instrumentation, measurement and networking adapters.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
840 TS-1 8 MHz 128 KB 112 MB CTB and CIO 7 CIO 2.6 GB

Up to 112 MB of RAM was supported: 7×16 MB with 2-16 MB memory modules compatible. The optional graphics adapter used one I/O and one memory slot, reducing the maximum RAM to 96 MB. Included by default into the system was a separate Floating Point Coprocessor (FPC) board. Storage and media devices were attached to HP-IB, SCSI was available only later and with newer boot ROMs. The 840 could be upgraded via a CPU board swap to 825, 835 or 845 retaining the case and memory and I/O boards.

Originally priced for $113,500 in 1986, a HP 9000 840 with maximum options could be had for $240,500. The HP 9000/840 achieved about 4.5 MIPS and was originally shipped with HP-UX version 1.0 (heavily BSD-based).

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HP 9000 825, 835 and 850 with NS-1

Between 1987 and 1988, HP released the first systems with brand-new 32-bit PA-RISC 1.0 processors implemented in NMOS-III, the NS-1, 3: the HP 9000 825, 835 and 850.

The HP 9000 825S was marketed as minicomputer, the 825SRX as Superworkstation and the 835 and 850S as Super-minicomputer. Product numbers changed a few times and some systems were called HP 9000 600 series for a while – a name soon discontinued. 825 and 835 were packaged both as graphics workstations and as headless computing servers, both to be used with HP-UX Unix operating system. The 850 server was HP’s most powerful technical computer at the time.

System Version Processor MIPS Introduced Price
825 825S NS-1 9 1987 $42,500
825CHX graphics workstation with 2D adapter
825SRX graphics workstation with 24-bit 3D $69,500
835 835S NS-1 14 1988 $45,000
835CHX graphics workstation with 2D adapter
835SRX graphics workstation with 24-bit 3D
835CHX graphics workstation with 2D adapter
835SE high-end version with CIO expander $99,000
834 special version with two-user limit
635SV server version without graphics
850 850S NS-1 14 1987 $220,500

These systems used a similar PA-RISC server architecture with three main buses, expanding the original HP 9000 840 system design:4 Processor (CPU and FPU) and memory connect to the 64-bit wide System Main Bus (SMB, peak 220 MB/s), to which two bus converters attach. To these bus converters, two Central System Buses (CTBs, or Midbuses) attach with a throughput of each 27 MB/s. Each of these Midbuses (CTBs) connects two Channel Adapters (CA), to which in turn I/O devices attach via so-called CIO/CIB boards.

As with the original HP 9000 840, these 825, 835 and 850 servers were (probably) supported in the HP-UX 2.0.

HP 9000 825

HP 8000 825
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000/825 or 825S FireFox were smaller servers or minicomputers, also sold as 825SRX Superworkstation, based on the 25 MHz NS-1 processor on two boards, with 16 KB cache and 2048-entry TLB.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
825 NS-1 25 MHz 128 KB 112 MB SMB and CTB 5 CIO 9.14 GB

The 825’s central CTB buses run at 8.33 MHz with seven shared I/O CIO and memory slots. Maximum RAM was 112 MB or 96 MB with graphics adapter, which could be expanded with 16MB arrays. The 825 sold for a price of about $42,500 in 1987, with a performance of about 9 MIPS (or 3 multiuser MIPS?) It was also sold with graphics hardware as 825CHX, which included a 2D adapter and 825SRX with up to 24-bit 3D graphics for $69,500.

HP 9000 835

HP 8000 835
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000/835 or 835S TopGun were slighly bigger servers with the 30 MHz NS-1 processor (maybe also NS-2 processor), with 128 KB cache and 4096-entry TLB, slightly bigger and faster than the 825 servers. Their central CTB buses run at 10 MHz, their maximum, with seven shared I/O CIO and memory slots. Maximum RAM was 112 MB or 96 MB with graphics adapter, which could be expanded with 16 MB arrays. The documentation is not totally clear on the processor, which could also have been a NS-2.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
835 NS-1 30 MHz 128 KB 112 MB SMB and CTB 7 CIO  GB

The 835 were slightly expensive computers for the time, and sold for about US $45,000 in 1988 for a performance of about 14 MIPS. Similar to other 800s, the 835 were also sold with graphics hardware as 835CHX with 2D adapter or 835SRX with up to 24-bit 3D. Special models were the 9000/834, a standard 835 with a two-user limit, and 9000/835SE, a high-end version for 64 users with integrated CIO expander, 24 MB memory sold for US $99,000. Server versions without graphics were shortly sold as 9000/635SV.

A port of early PA-RISC HPBSD ran on HP 9000 834 and 835 servers in the 1980s, as did the Mach 3.0 port from the University of Utah. Chorus was ported also in 1990-1991 as a research project to the HP 9000 834.

HP 9000 850

HP 8000 850
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000/850 are big cabinet servers released by HP in 1987 and marketed as on top of the most advanced computing (which the price reflected). Sporting a 27.5 MHz NS-1 processor with 128 KB cache and 4096-entry TLB, the 850 server was the fastest PA-RISC computer at release and billed as minicomputer for general purpose, engineering, scientific and industrial uses.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
850 NS-1 27.5 MHz 128 KB 256 MB SMB and CTB 10 CIO 42.88 GB

Based on the same SMB and CTB architecture, the 850 had CTBs at 9.16 MHz with CIO for I/O devices. The 850 additionally had two Memory Array Buses MAB, capable of linking up eight 16 MB memory modules arrays via a 72-bit data path to the SMB. Maximum RAM was 128 MB with one memory controller and 256 MB with two memory controllers.

Sold for a price of US $220,500 in 1987 with a performance of about 14 MIPS, the HP 9000 850 was HP’s most powerful technical computer at the time of release in the late 80s ( – however HP also rated it with 7 multiuser MIPS elsewhere).

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HP 9000 845, 855 and 860 with NS-2

Later, in 1989, similar computers based on the NS-2, a revamped NS-1, appeared until late 1990. These systems are all based on the same I/O architecture and faciliate the same CPU design — the PA-RISC 1.0 NS-2 processor with a SMB and CTB system design and CIO devices, similar to earlier systems like the 825 and 850 servers. These PA-RISC 1.0 servers include the following:5

System Version Processor MIPS Introduced Price
845 845S NS-2 27.5 MHz 22 1989 $42,500
645SV server version without graphics
855 855S NS-2 27.5 MHz 22 1990 $340,500
860 860S NS-2 27.5 MHz 1989 $291,000

HP 9000 845

HP 8000 845
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000/845 ShoGun from 1989 had a 27.5 MHz NS-2 processor (not sure, could also be based on a NS-1) with 256 KB cache and a 16384-entry TLB.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
845 NS-2 27.5 MHz 256 KB 112 MB SMB and CTB 7 CIO

The CTB main buses run at 9.16 MHz for seven CIO and memory slots. Maximum RAM of 112 MB: 7×16 MB, 96 MB: 6×16 MB with graphics adapter. Performance was about 22 MIPS.

Server versions without graphics were shortly sold as 9000/645SV.

HP 9000 855

HP 8000 855
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000/855 or 855S Jaguar are slightly bigger servers than the 845, with a 27.5 MHz NS-2 processor with 256 KB cache and 16384-entry TLB.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
855 NS-2 27.5 MHz 256 KB 256 MB SMB and CTB CIO

CTBs run at 9.16 MHz, maximum RAM is 128 MB with one and 256 MB with two memory controllers. Performance was about 22 MIPS for a serious price of US $340,500 (!) in 1990.

HP 9000 860

The HP 9000 860 Cougar servers were cabinet, mainframe-like systems, based on a 27.5 MHz NS-2 processor with 1024 KB cache and 16384-entry TLB.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
860 NS-2 27.5 MHz 1024 KB 256 MB SMB and CTB CIO

The CTB I/O buses run at 9.16 MHz, maximum RAM is 128 MB with one memory controller and 256 MB with two memory controllers. The 860 was released in 1989 for a price of $291,000 and could be upgraded with newer CPU boards to a HP 9000 865 or 870 server.

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HP 9000 822, 832, 808, 815 with NS-2 and PCX

HP also released more compact PA-RISC servers between 1989 and 1990 for the lower-end Unix business server market for use with HP-UX. Two separate low-cost systems design were offered – the 822 and 832 servers with the NMOS NS-2 processor and the 808 and 815 servers based on the new CMOS PCX processor. For devices and I/O, the HP-PB bus was used.7

System Version Processor MIPS Introduced Price
822 NS-2 10 1989 $20,000
832 NS-2 12 or 15 1989 $30,000
808 PCX 7? 1990 $16,000
815 PCX 7? 1990 $14,900

HP 9000 822 and 832

HP 8000 832
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The 822 and 832 were released in 1989 and based on single-chip VLSI processors for the first time, based on HP NMOS manufacturing process. The HP 9000/822 SilverFox Low was an entry-level PA-RISC business server for Unix with a 25 MHz NS-2 processor with 32 KB cache and a 4096-entry TLB.

The HP 9000/832 SilverFox High was very similar to 822 but higher performance with faster 30 MHz NS-2 processor with 128 KB cache and 4096-entry TLB.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
822 NS-2 25 MHz 32 KB 64 MB SIU and SMB 11 HP-PB 2.6 GB
832 NS-2 30 MHz 128 KB 64 MB SIU and SMB 10 HP-PB 2.6 GB

Performance of the 822 was about 10 MIPS for a price of around $20,000 in 1989, marketed for highly-reliable computational and data processing needs in a normal office environment on the floor without special AC or spacing requirements. Performance of the 832 was slightly higher with 12 or 15 MIPS for a price of about US $30,000 in 1989.

There was an CPU board upgrade path from 822 to 832, and then to 842 and 852. Apparently I/O slots could also be upgraded from 6 to 12, but it is not totally clear how.

HP 9000 808 and 815

HP 8000 808
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000/808 and 815 were more modern low-cost offering sold in 1990 and apparently used PCX PA-RISC 1.0 processors in CMOS. They sported a similar system design with SPI and SMB, which leaned on their predecessors and were an attempt by HP to capture the lower-cost server market with more simpler and limited offerings.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
808 PCX 32 KB 32 MB SPI and SMB HP-PB 6.8 GB
815 PCX 32 KB 56 MB SPI and SMB HP-PB 6.8 GB

Maximum RAM for 808 was 32 MB, for 815 it was 56 MB with expansion cards seemingly using HP-PB. The 808 with a performance of 7 MIPS (which seems rather low for the PCX) was sold for around $16,000, the 815 with the same performance of 7 MIPS in 1990 for around $14,900.

Both 808 and 815 were not distributed on a larger scale it seems – not many machines and even less documentation survived. There are a few inconsistencies in the available mentions of the 808 and 815. HP apparently offered a CPU board upgrade path from 815 to 825, and then to 835 and 845, although it is unclear if that makes sense, as the latter are based on older CPUs.

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HP 9000/842, 852, 865 and 870 with PCX

The HP 9000/842, 9000/852, 9000/865 and the multi-processor 9000/870 include the first PA-RISC processors implemented in CMOS — the PA-RISC 1.0 PCX. These systems are very similar to the NS-2 based servers, with the 860 being board-upgradeable to a 865 or 870, and feature the same principal system and I/O architecture with a slightly modified CPU/SPU design.6 These system use the same 16 MB memory arrays as earlier servers but could also use 64 MB boards.

System Version Processor MIPS Introduced Price
842 PCX 30 $85,000 1990
852 PCX 50 $143,000 1990
865 865S PCX 56 $275,000 1991
870 870S 1-4 PCX 50-224 $440,000 1990

HP 9000 842 and 852

The HP 9000/842 SilverBullet Low used a 32 MHz PCX processor with 1024 KB cache, 8192-entry TLB and 256 MB maximum RAM. The HP 9000/852 SilverBullet High was almost the same design, but with a faster 50 MHz PCX processor.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
842 PCX 32 MHz 1024 KB 256 MB SPI and SMB CIO 342 GB
842 PCX 50 MHz 1024 KB 256 MB SPI and SMB CIO 342 GB

Both machines used a SPI system design and HP-PB expansion cards for I/O and devices. Performance of the 842 was about 30 MIPS for a price of about $85,000 at time of introduction in 1990, with the 852 having 50 MIPS for around $143,000.

HP 9000 865

The HP 9000/865 Panther servers were large cabinet computers, with a larger design than the previous 800 series, based on the new and a fast CMOS-based 50 MHz PCX processor with 768 KB cache and a 8192-entry TLB. For I/O the CIO bus was used, maximum RAM was 512 MB. It was sold for about $275,000 in 1991 and was supposed to have a performance of 56 MIPS.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
865 PCX 50 MHz 768 KB 512 MB SPI and SMB CIO 342 GB

HP 9000 870

HP 8000 870
© Hewlett Packard 1980s

The HP 9000 870 Panther servers were large cabinet computers and the first SMP multiprocessor PA-RISC systems with up to four 50 MHz PCX processors with 1024 KB cache and a 8192-entry TLB each. The 870/100 was uni-CPU, the 870/200 dual, the 870/300 triple and 870/400 quad-CPU.

System Processor Cache RAM Design I/O Storage
870/100 1 PCX 50 MHz 1024 KB 768 MB SPI and SMB CIO 342 GB
870/200 2 PCX 50 MHz 2×1024 KB 768 MB SPI and SMB CIO 514 GB
870/300 3 PCX 50 MHz 3×1024 KB 768 MB SPI and SMB CIO 514 GB
870/400 4 PCX 50 MHz 4×1024 KB 768 MB SPI and SMB CIO 514 GB

CIO bus is used for I/O, and maximum RAM was 1024 MB with two memory controllers in 16 slots. Performance was supposedly 50 or 56 MIPS for single-CPU, 90 or 112 MIPS for dual-CPU, up to 168 MIPS for triple-CPU and up to 224 MIPS for quad-CPU. Introduction prices were about $440,000 for 870/300, $530,000 for 870/400.

The later HP 9000 890 mainframe with up to four CPUs is possibly similar to the 870 and was an upgrade and technology enhancement path.

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Benchmarks

Assorted MIPS performance figures for some systems.

Model MIPS
840 4.5
808 7
815 7
825 9
822 10
850 14
835 14
832 12 or 15
845 22
855 22
842 30
852 50
865 56
870/100
single
50 or 56
870/200
dual
90 or 112
870/300
triple
up to 168
870/400
triple
up to 224

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References

Information on these early PA-RISC computers is fragmented and inconsistent, even in official sales and technical documentation, with sometimes divergent accounts of hardware, architecture and PA-RISC processors. Much of the information here was pieced together from old news articles and press releases, plus documentation available at the HP Computer Museum.

  1. INFORMATION ON HP9000 SERVERS AND WORKSTATIONS Hewlett Packard Company (1999. Accessed January 2007) and The HP 3000/HP 9000 model spreadsheet (Excel spreadsheet) Allegro Consultants (2004. Accessed January 2007)
  2. Wayne E. Holt (ed.), Beyond RISC! An Essential Guide to Hewlett-Packard Precision Architecture, p. 95-102. (January 1988: Software Research Northwest Inc.) and Hardware Design of the First HP Precision Architecture Computers (PDF) David A. Fotland et al (March 1987: Hewlett-Packard Journal)
  3. HP 3000 Series 950 and HP 9000 Model 850S Family CE Handbook (PDF) Hewlett-Packard Company (October 1990. Accessed January 2008 at hpmuseum.net) and HP 9000 Series 800 Model 825S Hardware Technical Data (PDF) Hewlett-Packard Company (September 1988. Accessed January 2008 at hpmuseum.net) and HP 3000/925 and HP 9000/825/835 Computer Systems CE Handbook (PDF) Hewlett-Packard Company (May 1988. Accessed January 2008 at hpmuseum.net) and New midrange members of the Hewlett-Packard Precision Architecture Computer Family Thomas O. Meyer et al (June 1989: Hewlett Packard Journal. Accessed January 2008 at findarticles.com, now gone)
  4. Wayne E. Holt, Beyond RISC!
  5. Hewlett-Packard Company, HP 3000 Series 950 and HP 9000 Model 850S Family CE Handbook
  6. Ibid.
  7. HP 9000 Series 800 Model 822S/832S Technical Data (PDF) Hewlett-Packard Company (1989. Accessed January 2008 at hpmuseum.net)
  8. For HP 9000/840: Interview with David Fotland, September/October 2008
  9. HP REDUCES HP 9000 MINICOMPUTER PRICES (PDF) Hewlett-Packard Press Release, October 1989, accessed January 2023 at 1000bit.it
  10. A Broader Vision of Performance For Your Business - HP 9000 Multiuser Systems (PDF) Hewlett-Packard, 1990, 5952-0835, accessed January 2023 at 1000bit.it
  11. Hewlett Packard Update Computer Systems (PDF) Hewlett-Packard, May/June 1987, accessed January 2023 at 1000bit.it

Pictures © Hewlett Packard, scans from product brochures, from hpmuseum.net and 1000bit.it

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