The PA-RISC Linux port runs on a broad range of both 32-bit and 64-bit workstations and servers.

Most of the unlettered (the HP 9000/700s) and B/C/J-Class workstations are supported, both 32-bit (based on PA-7x00 processors) and 64-bit (PA-8x00) systems in the same distribution. SMP is supported, though not as smooth as on other Linux platforms or HP-UX and not necessarily with the theoretical maximum of CPUs. PA-RISC Linux runs on most server systems, although several which use proprietary I/O and CPU/memory combinations are unsupported.

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gained momentum after HP started helping with equipment and more importantly, documentation, in 1999 and quickly superseded the earlier Mach-based MkLinux. Because of HP’s assistance, the machines targeted at that time were newer than what other ports (e.g., OpenBSD or MkLinux) supported, like the A180, B180 and 64-bit PA 2.0 systems. Nevertheless, PA-RISC Linux also supports older HP 9000/700 systems like 712, 715 and 735.

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Supported systems

Performance is not quite on par with original HP-UX — 50% is a fair rough estimate of the relative peak performance, although the overhead of a complete running HP-UX probably consumes much of this advantage, especially on older systems.

Supported hardware

Most I/O subsystems are supported, including many common PC expansion possibilities. Correct X11 graphical support is limited to a small set of HP adapters via the framebuffer device. As the 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 useful Mach-based MkLinux. This had multiple reasons, including that 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. Another reason was HP only reluctantly releasing technical documentation on their systems to the public, which limited interest in and progress of development efforts.

A function of the confinement to the industry was a limited hobbyist base for PA-RISC as the available machines were not well documented and did not have proper operating systems for private users, as compared to e.g., the 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.

Since 2008/2009, work on the PA-RISC Linux port became slower and more quiet, similar to other open-source PA-RISC ports.

PA-RISC Linux/Puffingroup

The primary center of kernel and toolchain development is the offical PA-RISC Linux project. A range of resources is provided, including access to the source code, mailing lists for users and developers, installation instructions, an array of documentation and a hardware database.

Early work started in 1999 with the help of The Puffin Group, later employing several kernel and toolchain developers. Development was at first directed towards 32-bit systems; later on, with the help of Hewlett Packard, more modern machines were made available to developers, resulting in generally broader hardware and 64-bit support. Several important parts of the kernel PA-RISC support were written by HP employees participating in the project. The PA-RISC Linux affiliations changed throughout the last years, HP and developer support fluctuated but the port reached a stable state.


Contributed by Thibaut Varene

The PA-RISC Linux port effort started at ESIEE 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. By mid September 2000, Simonnet decided to get students involved, and he started a case study for students to participate in as part of their school curriculum. The study was conducted in parallel by HP Labs, who massively sponsored the effort of the school, being one of its long time key partner. This enabled the students to rapidly acquire skills and credibility, and the study was completed in February 2001, and presented at Linux Expo in Paris, and several months later 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 either on their free time or as part of their classes, and more of them joined what was to be called the PATeam. From 2001 to the end of 2003, the team has been very active, doing numbers of development in the Linux kernel (writing drivers and improving overall stability).

Unfortunately, in 2004 and thereafter, ESIEE gradually reduced its support for the project, and nowadays it doesn't support it anymore, save for website and machines hosting.

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There were two popular Linux distributions that include the PA-RISC port throughout the 2000s: Debian and Gentoo.


Debian includes PA-RISC Linux from 2002 until 2012 as Debian/hppa in various releases, including 4.0 (Etch), 3.1 (Sarge) and 3.0 (Woody). 3.0 (Woody), 3.1 (Sarge), 4.0 (Etch), 5.0 (Lenny). CDs can be ordered as media or downloaded as ISO images from Debian FTP mirrors. Support for PA-RISC was dropped from Debian 6.0 on.


Gentoo was the second distribution which included a PA-RISC port. Gentoo is completely compiled from source and uses a BSD-style ports system.

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Other documents

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