SAIC Galaxy 1100


[Picture of the Galaxy 1100.]


HP PA-7100LC @ 80MHz 16-128MB 1024x768x8-bit, Artist PCMCIA (2x I/II or 1x III)

Operating System Support: HP-UX 10.10 with TAC-4 (primarily), HP-UX 10.20, 11.00 and 11i v1, NeXTSTEP 3.3, Linux, NetBSD/OpenBSD

Actual Serious Content
In 1982, the United States Chief of Naval Operations sponsored the Desk-Top Computer (DTC) program to provide a common fleet standard for "tactical decision support"; at some unspecified point the acronym evolved specifically to "Desktop Tactical Computer." For cost reasons the CNO chose an off-the-shelf system rather than demanding TEMPEST and MIL-SPEC compliance. While the Hewlett-Packard 9836U and 9020A systems were initially selected, the HP 9020C (also known as the 9000 Model 520C, based on an 18MHz FOCUS CPU) won out and became widely deployed.

DTC-1 was the first of the U. S. Navy's several deployments of Hewlett-Packard microcomputers. Although DTC-2 used Sun-4 hardware, the Navy returned to HP for what was renamed the "Tactical Advanced Computer" with TAC-3, selecting the HP Apollo 400 series. [TAC-4 logo.] In 1993, the Navy issued a solicitation for the next generation of TAC, TAC-4, intended as "the next generation of computer workstations, software, support services and logistics in support of Naval requirements, afloat and ashore. It will provide the 'common engine' for mission and mission support applications, tactical, and non-tactical." Despite simultaneous proposals from Sun and Digital, HP landed the contract again for an estimated US$672.6 million, the largest HP ever handled to that point, which included hardware and software deployment for multiple operating environments. HP filled this need with their up-and-coming PA-RISC hardware, in particular the 9000/712 "Gecko" workstation as a desktop client, along with more conventional PCs and Intel servers as the multi-year contract progressed.

Part of TAC-4 was delivering a portable MIL-SPEC ruggedized system for more hostile working environments, something HP didn't have in their product line. For this work HP subcontracted with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), then based out of San Diego and the dominant provider of tactical portable workstations for the Department of Defense. SAIC delivered two systems for HP, the Galaxy 1000 with a 60MHz PA-7100C CPU, and the Galaxy 1100 here with an 80MHz CPU. Generally based on the 9000/712, the Galaxys offered SCSI-2, built-in Ethernet, 16-bit stereo audio at CD rates, 8-bit graphics on a 10.4" 1024x768 display and a built-in keyboard and trackball with ports for external ones. PCMCIA was provided for expansion, though SAIC only offered a 14.4k fax modem and it's not clear if any cards were actually produced for TAC-4. The Galaxy could both function as a fully self-contained portable workstation or as a conventional computer with the lid closed connected to peripherals and a VGA display. It weighed a whopping 16 pounds, which is better than a Commodore SX-64, I guess.

The Galaxys were intended to run HP-UX 10.10 with a thin application and device overlay as part of TAC-4. TAC-4 was actually user-facing, with branded logos at the CDE login screen and on the desktop. However, although the TAC-4 drive I have is bootable, it appears that some components were not stored on the disk and it's not clear (it may be still classified) as to what applications and functions it enabled. The obscured provenance of this particular machine is hinted at by an opaque hostname and IP address scribbled on a taped-on slip of paper, which I have removed and preserved just in case it was meaningful. While the original 1994 solicitation projected over 20,000 total systems would be ordered, the number of these ruggedized systems was almost certainly much less than that and the classified nature of some of their environments means very few of these systems escaped to the outside world. I'm personally only aware of four five, including my two working units and a defective unit I have for parts, and I've never seen a 1000. There is no evidence they were ever sold commercially outside of their HP subcontract.

In 1997 the Navy announced the new IT-21 "Information Technology for the 21st Century" program to succeed TAC-4, intended to replace the older TAC-3 and DTC-series systems that were still in service. IT-21 transitioned to commodity PC desktops and workstations and the older RISC machines were gradually phased out.

Because the Galaxy is just a 9000/712 otherwise, it is able to run everything that its more conventional ancestor can, including most notably the PA-RISC port of NeXTSTEP as demonstrated here. NeXTSTEP 3.3 was the most portable release of NeXTSTEP, running on 68K NeXT, Intel, SPARC and PA-RISC systems, and thanks to NeXT's forward-looking fat binaries (which became Universal binaries in Mac OS X, the successor to NeXT) most apps developed after 3.3 emerged had PA-RISC versions. (id Software, famous for developing Doom on a NeXTstation Color, had an NeXTSTEP Gecko for a brief period before switching to Intel hardware.) There was no emulation layer, unfortunately, so earlier applications and the minority of apps compiled without a PA-RISC version wouldn't run, and NeXT dropped support for PA-RISC and SPARC with OpenSTEP 4.0 leaving some minor bugs unfixed. The Galaxy will also run compatible versions of Linux and NetBSD without modification.

I wrote more on TAC-4: http://oldvcr.blogspot.com/2023/01/saic-galaxy-1100-pre-cde-vue-of-pa-risc.html