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This designation describes two completely different devices manufactured by Hewlett Packard. One, manufactured between about 1999 and 2001, is an inkjet printer. The other was a PA-RISC workstation, first produced in 1994.

The HP 9000 712, as it is formally known, was the lowest cost, most widely produced HP workstation of all time. Like many other machines of its day, like the NeXTstation and the SPARCstation 10, it is a low-profile pizza box machine, but unlike these, it was designed first and foremost with low cost in mind.

Specifications

  • Production dates: 1994-1997.
  • Application architecture: HPPA
  • System architecture: PA-7100
  • Processor: HP PA-RISC 7100LC at 60, 80 or 100MHz. The 60MHz version has 64kB of L2 cache, while the 80 and 100MHz versions have 256kB.
  • RAM: 4 60ns or faster FPM or EDO 72-pin parity SIMMs. Upgradeable in pairs to a maximum of 128MB. (192MB is possible with some trickery).
  • Graphics: Onboard CRX Artist 8-bit graphics with Color Recovery, maximum resolution 1024x768, 1600x1200 with add-on VRAM card. Color recovery allows emulation of 24-bit modes, with significant artifacting, supported only under HP-UX and NeXTSTEP.
  • GSC graphics options: One extra CRX Artist card in low-pro GSC slot.
  • Floppy: Bay for standard PC-type 1.44MB or 2.88MB floppy.
  • Hard Drives: Narrow Fast SCSI, one internal bay.
  • Audio capabilities: Integrated sound chip. 16-bit, 41400 kHz (CD quality) for both input and output. This system has integrated phono style microphone, line in and line out jacks.
  • Expansion:
    • 1 GSC expansion slot, low-profile GIO variant. (not related to the GIO used by SGI).
    • 1 TeleShare slot. This slot is for the TeleShare card, which allows low-speed, short-range networking over phone lines.
  • External ports:
    • PS/2 keyboard and mouse ports
    • 1 PC-style parallel port. Incidentally, it's possible to connect an HP 712 printer, as in the inkjet variety, to this. Drivers are available for HP-UX and Linux.
    • 1 RS232 high-speed serial port, DB9 male (230kbps maximum)
    • 1 RJ45 Ethernet port (HP LASI)
    • AUI DB-15 Ethernet port
    • HD15 video
    • 50-pin narrow SCSI

What the HP 712 did, and what it can do now

The HP 712 was mostly intended as an entry-level technical workstation. It was quite capable in such tasks as desktop publishing, software development and scientific simulation. Later, they found considerable utility as small servers, handling time, DNS and other such functions. As of 2007, a few of them are still performing these functions in various places across the internet. Nowadays, the slow CPU and 8-bit graphics make it a weak choice as a desktop workstation, but it's not a bad machine for learning HP-UX, or Unix administration in general. As an added bonus, they're the single easiest HP workstation to find. On the downside, the machine is so simple and integrated that it's somewhat of a toaster, and it's not really a great way to learn about HP hardware.

So, what operating systems can it run?

The native OS is HP-UX. Versions from at least 9.x, all the way to HP-UX 11i are supported, though versions later than 10.20 may be markedly slow, especially with low RAM. HP-UX 10.20 is sufficiently old now that it can be tricky to get modern software to compile on it. As such, HP-UX is only a moderate choice overall, unless your aim is specifically to learn HP-UX. Linux, NetBSD, OpenBSD and NeXTSTEP also support the 712. Of these, only Linux and NeXTSTEP have graphics support. The BSDs, however, are great choices as servers, especially if you're lucky enough to find a GSC ethernet card.

As only HP-UX, Linux and NeXTSTEP can give you useful graphics, they're the best choices if you're looking to use your 712 as a desktop. Also, only HP-UX and NeXTSTEP support the Color Recovery feature of the Artist card. This allows the card to pretend to support 24-bit color, albeit with detectable artifacting. NeXTSTEP is an interesting choice, and nearly all of the 712's hardware, save the floppy drive, is supported. This makes it nearly as trouble-free an installation as on black hardware. Unfortunately, NeXTSTEP 3.3 is the only supported version, though this isn't so bad as 3.3 is quite well supported. However, the HP was always the most poorly supported architecture, so many apps aren't built for PA-RISC CPUs.

Finding one, and how much you should expect to pay.

The HP 712 is easy to get, and usually very cheap, between US$10 and maybe as much as $75 for a fully-stocked 712/100. The 80 and 100MHz versions are much faster than the 60MHz version, albeit a bit harder to get. Springing for a more highly configured machine makes a lot of sense.

The is currently the ideal system for someone just wanting to learn about HP-UX, and also a very good choice for a small utility server. However, it's a bit anemic and lacking in power, so one of the more powerful HP machines like the B180L might be a better choice for desktop or developer use.

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