VAX was an instruction set architecture (ISA) developed by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in the mid-1970s. A 32-bit complex instruction set computer (CISC) ISA, it was designed to extend or replace DEC's various Programmed Data Processor (PDP) ISAs. The VAX name was also used by DEC for a family of computer systems based on this processor architecture.
The VAX architecture's primary features were virtual addressing (for example demand paged virtual memory) and its orthogonal instruction set. VAX has been perceived as the quintessential CISC ISA, with its very large number of programmer-friendly addressing modes and machine instructions, highly orthogonal architecture, and instructions for complex operations such as queue insertion or deletion and polynomial evaluation.
"VAX" is originally an acronym for Virtual Address eXtension, both because the VAX was seen as a 32-bit extension of the older 16-bit PDP-11 and because it was (after Prime Computer) an early adopter of virtual memory to manage this larger address space. Early versions of the VAX processor implemented a "compatibility mode" that emulated many of the PDP-11's instructions, and were in fact called VAX-11 to highlight this compatibility and the fact that VAX-11 was an outgrowth of the PDP-11 family. Later versions offloaded the compatibility mode and some of the less used CISC instructions to emulation in the operating system software.
The plural form of VAX is usually VAXes, but VAXen is also heard.
The "native" VAX operating system is DEC's VAX/VMS (renamed to OpenVMS in 1991 or 1992 when it was ported to Alpha, "branded" by the X/Open consortium, and modified to comply with POSIX standards). The VAX architecture and VMS operating system were "engineered concurrently" to take maximum advantage of each other, as was the initial implementation of the VAXcluster facility. Other VAX operating systems have included various releases of BSD UNIX up to 4.3BSD, Ultrix-32, VAXELN and Xinu. More recently, NetBSD and OpenBSD support various VAX models and some work has been done on porting Linux to the VAX architecture.
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