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The Common Hardware Reference Platform: CHRP

What is the Common Hardware Reference Platform?

CHRP is a standard of system architecture designed around the modern RISC Power-PC processor series. Designed in a joint venture between Motorola, IBM and Apple Computer, CHRP represents a new breed of open standard computers which are similar in many ways to the existing IBM PC compatible systems but sufficiently different to make it worthwhile.

Essentially, CHRP is a definition and nothing more. There are something like 360 different points with which a given hardware must comply in order to be "CHRP compatible". The hardware can be implemented in any way that you like, so long as the requirements for CHRP are met.

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What is good about the Common Hardware Reference Platform?

The existing PC market uses a hardware architecture that was defined, designed and first implemented back in the 1970s. Since then the basic design has been altered very little, due to the difficulty of ensuring backward compatibility with older software. The only real changes have been in processor performance. Unfortunately for PC compatible users, the 80x86 processor range is nearing the end of its development life - there will soon come a point when it is no longer possible to develop the processor further. Current increases in speeds are due mainly to the ever smaller distances between components within the processor, resulting in pulses reaching their "destinations" quicker, and the use of progressively larger and larger buffers to cope with the speed difference between processor and data bus.

The PC has solved many of it's problems. New bus architectures are introduced. ISA is being replaced by PCI and USB. But a few things still remains bottlenecks. CHRP takes the final leap away from the arcane CISC x86 processors with the very elegant PowerPC RISC processor. CHRP replaces the PC BIOS with OpenFirmware. CHRP uses the OpenPIC interrupt standard which will end the ever so frustrating IRQ problems in PCs. OpenPIC is also an open standard which will mean the multiprocessor machines will not be limited to Intel's offerings. Intel currently uses the proprietary APIC system which prevents (say) AMD processors from being used in SMP systems.

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Who will implement CHRP?

After the Apple "clone kill". The alliance between Apple, Motorola and IBM has been less then enthusiastic.

As things look now it's very uncertain if we'll ever see a mainstream CHRP machine. Motorola has reference designs, but no commercially shipping systems. They had the StarMax Pro 6000 ready to ship when Apple pulled the plug.

Apple is currently the only PowerPC desktop manufacturer and their new machines are becoming more and more CHRP-like, but Apple still refuses to drop the last proprietary parts.

The Common Hardware Reference Platform has been designed as a highly efficient, highly expandable hardware solution for personal microcomputers. It is based around a new generation of extremely powerful processors and offers the ability to provide multiprocessor support with ease. What's more, standard graphics cards designed for the PC clone market can be fitted and hence high performance is guaranteed at a low price due to the extreme competitiveness of the PC world. Development cost is kept down to practically nothing - a situation similar to that in the PC market will be created where companies can simply buy a CHRP motherboard, buy a graphics card and so on, put it in a box and then have plenty left over for the marketing department. This will also suit the PC market when the demand for power outstrips supply - at the point when it is no longer feasible to develop the PC further (and that point is not far off) - the existing clone manufacturers will simply be able to buy a CHRP motherboard rather than a PC compatible one, and sell CHRP machines.

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What software will run on a CHRP machine?

Of all the great operating systems which were meant to run on CHRP only Linux and AIX does (as far as I know). Apple probably still has an internal version of MacOS, but chances are that it will stay internal.

The original list of systems included: AIX, MacOS, Windows NT, Solaris and OS/2. BeOS is also close to running on CHRP, but Apple currently refuses to let BeOS run on the PowerMac G3 systems. This will probably mean the end of the PowerPC version of BeOS.

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When will CHRP machines become available?

IBM and Motorola have already demo'd CHRP machines but they are not widely available. PIOS Computer hope to have a widely available CHRP system, the PIOS ONE, available in 1999, but the project is currently being re-evaluated.

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Finding out more about CHRP

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CHRP information compiled for Convergence International by Ben Clarke and updated to January 1999 status by Peter Mogensen.

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