Boosting your e3000
Project, Part I
By Bob Green
Robelle decided to commemorate the Oct 31, 2003
wake for the HP 3000 by devoting our NewsWire column to
some history. Our story of the original 16-bit HP 3000 (1972-1976) is
told on our Web site at www.robelle.com/library/smugbook/classic.html.
development, the HP 3000 grew and prospered. From 1974 to 1984, HP
continued to produce more powerful 3000 hardware running more capable
software. Each new model was compatible with the previous version and
a joy to install.
But the pressure
was on to switch to a 32-bit architecture, as other manufacturers
were doing. So HP announced a radical change: a new 32-bit hardware
for the 3000. The project was code-named Spectrum. As a 3000 consumer
and 3000 vendor, Robelle was excited and concerned about the prospect
of a new hardware architecture. Certainly it would be wonderful to
have more powerful processors, but what about the disruption to our
steady incremental, risk-less progress?
notice we took of the Spectrum appeared in Robelles December
1984 customer newsletter, with continuing news to follow for the next
four years (my retrospective comments are included as In
Spectrum machine will be an upgrade for the Series 68. Other size
models will follow soon after, since HP is working on different
Spectrum CPUs in three divisions at once (in the past, all 3000 CPUs
came out of one division). This first Spectrum can be expected in the
first half of 1986.
Retrospect: Please make a note of that 1986 promised delivery
date, and remember that HP faced serious competition from DEC and
others. Customers who loved the 3000, but had outgrown the power of
the system, were demanding more capable models.
Spectrum is based
on the RISC concept, modified by HP Labs. RISC stands for Reduced
Instruction Set Computing. Such a computer has no micro code, only a
small number of key instructions implemented in very fast logic. The
original Berkeley RISC machine had only 16 instructions. Spectrum has
more than 16, but not many more. HP selected the instructions for the
fast base set by studying typical application mixes on the existing
HP machines. Other functions will be done via subroutines or
co-processors (e.g., a floating-point processor, an array processor,
or a database processor).
Retrospect: The actual number of instructions in the Spectrum
turned out to be about 130, not 16, but they were all simple enough
to run in a single clock cycle. HP was the first computer company to
go with the RISC philosophy and the only major one to risk the firm
by converting all their computer models, both technical and
commercial, to a single RISC design.
June 11, 1985
HPs new Spectrum machine will have both Native-Mode
software and 3000 software. The first Spectrum machine to be released
will have 3-10 times more computing power than a 68, about 8-10 MIPS
in Native Mode. Programs copied straight across will run about twice
as fast as on a 68, and those that can be recompiled in Native Mode
should run 6-8 times faster. Much of MPE, including the disk portion
of the file system, has been recoded in Native Mode. Since most
programs spend most of their time within MPE, even programs running
in emulation mode should show good performance (unless they are
Retrospect: The expectations were building up in our minds: these
machines would be much faster than our current models!
Spectrum will use
much of the new operating system software that had been written for
Vision, which saves a great deal of development time. Spectrum will
use 32-bit data paths and will have a 64-bit address space. Forty
Spectrum machines have been built and delivered for internal
programming, but product announcement is not likely before 1986.
Retrospect: Vision was an alternative 32-bit computer project at
HP, using traditional technology, which was cancelled to make way for
the RISC design from HP Labs. Invoking Vision re-assured us that this
project is possible, that progress is being made. It was now six
months after the first announcement of the project.
August 16, 1985
According to an HP Roundtable reported in the MARUG
newsletter, Most of what is printed about Spectrum is not to be
trusted. Spectrum will be introduced at the end of 1985 and delivered
in Spring 1986. There are 40-50 prototypes running in the lab and the
project team consists of 700-800 engineers. HP will co-introduce a
commercial version and a technical version with the commercial
version fine-tuned to handle many interactive users, transaction
processing, IMAGE access, and the technical version will be
structured for computational programs, engineering applications, and
factory automation. HP will eventually offer a choice of MPE and
Unix. Most software will be available on Spectrum at introduction
time and over time all software will be available.
Retrospect: HP tried to dispel rumors, but still predicted 1986
for delivery. HP would produce two Spectrum lines: the Unix line for
technical users and the MPE line for commercial users, using the
exact same hardware.
following describes what will be required to convert Least:
restore files and IMAGE databases as they are and run. Next:
recompile programs in native mode. Next: change over to new IMAGE
database system. Next: change source code to take advantage of
RISC. Robelle Prediction: Spring 1986 for a Spectrum that will
reliably run existing MPE applications is not an attainable release
Retrospect: The new relational HPIMAGE database mentioned here
was cancelled much later in the project, after a brief encounter with
end-users. I dont remember much about HPIMAGE, except that a
lot of work went into it and it didnt succeed as hoped.
TurboIMAGE ended up as the database of choice on the Spectrum.
Without any inside information, but based just on past experience and
common sense, Robelle tried to inject some caution about the 1986
release date. During the original traumatic HP 3000 project, Dave
Packard sent a memo to the HP 3000 team, according to
Chris Edler. It was only two lines long and said, essentially,
that they would never again announce a product that did not then
currently meet specifications. The division listened for over
10 years, but eventually, people forget
a Spring 1985 UK conference: Most existing peripherals will be
supported and it will be possible to use networking software to link
existing model HP 3000s to Spectrum, with the exception of Series
II/III and 30/33. These would need a Series 37 or other current range
machine to act as a gateway to Spectrum.
an HP press release: 100 prototype models were already being
used internally for system development as of April 1985.
the new operating system for the commercial Spectrum is a superset of
MPE. It will have two modes of operation: Execute mode (HP 3000) and
Native Mode. The switch between the two will be made on a procedure
call, but there will be some programming work needed to translate
parameters when switching.
Retrospect: Execute mode was eventually called Compatibility Mode
and switching between modes turned out to be major CPU bottleneck in
the new system, albeit one that would be removed over time.
Spectrum is rumored to provide 32 general-purpose registers to the
user program and a virtual data space of 2 billion bytes.
December 30, 1985
Gerry Wade of HP: The name of the Spectrum machine, when it comes
out, will not be Spectrum. Another company already has that name.
Spectrum will use the IEEE standard for floating-point arithmetic and
will also support the HP 3000 floating point. Each data file will
have a flag attached to it that tells which type of floating-point
data it contains (the formats are not the same).
Retrospect: The file flag idea never happened, although the
TurboIMAGE database did introduce a new data type to distinguish IEEE
floating point. Information on implementation details is starting to
flow, which helps us believe that the project is on schedule and
likely to deliver the more powerful servers we desire.
June 16, 1986
reporting on Joel Birnbaums Spectrum presentation, the HP
Chronicle had these observations: Comparisons with Amdahl
and DEC mainframes in slides showed areas where the Spectrum
computers topped the larger machines benchmarks. Even
with un-tuned operating systems software, its significantly
superior to the VAX 8600, Birnbaum said.
Retrospect: Joel was the HP Labs leader who was the sparkplug of
the RISC project, building on research that he had done previously at
IBM. In retrospect, we can see that Joel was talking about the
performance and delivery of the UNIX Spectrum, not the MPE version,
but customers took this as a promise of vast performance improvements
in the very near future. It was now past Spring 1986 and the promised
new 3000 machines were nowhere in sight. In fact, HP has not yet
announced the new models and pricing. This was the first slippage in
the project, barely noticed at the time.
July 20, 1986
people have been asking, What is Robelle doing about
Spectrum? HP has invited us to join its Fast Start program for
third parties and we have agreed. This program gives us pre-release
access to Spectrum information and actual systems. We have visited
Cupertino and run our software on the new machines. We are confident
that all of our products will operate properly at the time that
Spectrum is officially released.
Retrospect: Since Suprtool and Qedit were essential to the large
3000 customers that HP was targeting, HP asked Robelle to start
porting and testing our products on the new systems. But to do that,
we had to sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement, the most draconian one we
had ever seen. We used careful wording in our announcement above.
From this date on, until years later, we could not tell our customers
anything useful about the new machines. HP was especially sensitive
about their reliability and performance.
arrived in Cupertino to do our first testing, we found the prototype
Spectrum systems crashing every few minutes and running slower than
our tiny system 37. We were appalled. Nothing in HPs public
statements had prepared us for the state of the project. I had
personally gone through a similar situation with the original 3000 in
1972-74, and I wondered if upper management at HP knew how terrible
things were. I thought about talking to them, but our NDA also
prohibited us from talking to anyone at HP.
Unix versions of Spectrum, on the other hand, seemed to be humming
along nicely, showing that it was not a hardware problem.
We will bring
you more of this history next month.
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