The Jim Austin Computer Collection

High Level Hardware Orions

HLH Orion Clipper HLH Orion

On the left is the bottom rack containing a Clipper based processor, on the right is the top rack with a microcoded clipper.

The HLH Orion computers were made in the UK during the 1980's. The company was founded by founded by Tim Robinson and David Small of Research Machines who came out of Research Machines (David Small owned 1/3 of that company, and sold his shares in RM to fund the Orion company). For more information on the company, see Lisa Robinsons web site.

The collection contains a large number of the machines.

There were about 75 microcoded Orion's produced, one is shown above right. These were about as fast as a VAX 750 running 'C', but at a fraction of the price as the machine was optimised for running C. The Microcoded system was made up of a set of cards CPU 1,2,3,4. CPU1 has a serial line access to allow debugging the card (connector on the back plane). CPU 4 could be a graphics or a floating point card. There was also a separate graphics card (GCR) controller and a bit plane card (GBP) for display.

Later computers were based on the Fairchild Clipper processor. The i/o processors in the machines were computers themselves. They consisted of two cards, one generic and the either allowing to one of; Disk and tape (PIC card), Ethernet (COM card), Terminal multiplexor (MUX card).

The machines used Kennedy disks to start with, but they were very unreliable. These were replaced by Fujitsu drives (much better).

8 machines were sold to the UK government under the 'Alvey' project, one of the collection machines probably comes from there.

The University of York, Computer Science deportment bought two Orion machines in the late 1980's. Unfortunately they had problems. When they were under full load they would crash - usually when a project hand in was due - not good. As a result they were retired. However, it turns out that they used peltier effect devices to cool the processor. The problem turned out to be condensation on the device (under full cooling load).

Here is are pictures of the machines in York taken on March 1989.

Orions orions



Machine 1. s/n 32. (machine in the picture above).

An machine that was originally a microcoded Orion, but upgraded to a Clipper chip system by adding another rack. Made about 1984.

Microcode card set:

Card Serial Number Spec
CPU 1 40  
CPU 2 44  
CPU 3 52  
Control store 48  
5 memory cards   512Mb

It also contains a complete Clipper machine in the bottom rack. Machine s/n 56.


Machine 2

This is stored in an Elliot 903 expansion cabinet!

Contains a clipper card set, three memory cards, and four i/o card pairs.

Machine 3 s/n 70

Half height cabinet containing a clipper Orion, includes graphics controller.

Machine 4

This is a microcoded graphics machine.



Serial number


Control store 11  
CPU 4 36 Floating point
CPU 1 91  
CPU 2 9 Socketed
CPU 3 16 Socketed
CPU4 2 Graphics
GCR 21 graphics controller
GBP 8 Bit plane


4x memory cards   512K each


Two spare racks

Card Serial Number spec
Control store 21  
Control Store 23  
CPU1 72  
CPU 2 93  
CPU3 111  
CPU4 30 Graphics
4x   I/O systems


Card Serial Number Spec
CPU1 50  
CPU2 86  
CPU3 46  
CPU1 86  
CPU2 67  


4x   Memory


Machines 5 and 6

Large machines.

Machine 7

Small machine.


A good review of Orion's can be found at: