HLH Orion

HLH Orion

The Orion was a series of 32-bit minicomputers designed and produced in the 1980s by High Level Hardware Ltd. (HLH), a company based in Oxford, UK.

The original Orion (sometimes referred to as the "microcoded Orion") employed a processor architecture based on Am2900-series devices. This processor was novel in that its microcode was writable; in other words, its instruction set could be redefined. This facility was used to customise some Orions with instruction sets optimised for functional programming, for example. The operating system for microcoded Orion machines was OTS version 1.x, a port of the 4.1BSD UNIX operating system.

Later, HLH launched the Orion 1/05, which replaced the microcoded CPU with the much faster Fairchild Clipper RISC processor. An Orion 1/10 model was also produced.

The Clipper-powered Orions ran OTS version 2.x, a port of the 4.2BSD UNIX with some additions. This was not notably reliable or secure, and had a tendency to 'forget' process user IDs, randomly leaving user processes running as root.

HLH also produced a graphics terminal for the Orion called the StarPoint, to which they ported the X Window System.

The Orion series was moderately popular with British university computer science departments - for example the University of York standardised on Clipper Orions for undergraduate and MSc computer science timesharing in 1988, although this may have been related the fact the Department's spinoff company had received a lucrative contract to write an Ada compiler for the Fairchild Clipper CPU; it had already employed microcoded Orions as laboratory machines for microprocessor cross-development, and for functional programming research. A typical multi-user Orion configuration would have had 8 MB of RAM, an SMD hard disk (eg. a 168 MB Kennedy or a 434 MB Fujitsu Eagle), a 60 MB QIC-24 tape drive and 8 to 32 RS-232 terminal ports.

HLH machines were also found at Bath, Warwick, Southampton, Kent, Heriot-Watt and various other universities.

HLH abandoned the hardware market in the early 1990s and concentrated on high-end Apple Macintosh sales.

External links

* [http://www.cb1.com/~john/research/PhD/bath-univ.html Photo of an HLH Orion at Bath University]


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