The Sun-1 was Sun Microsystems' first Unix workstation. As described in its Wikipedia article, it had a Motorola MC68000 processor and a custom memory management unit:

The Sun-1 MMU was necessary because the Motorola 68451 MMU did not always work correctly with the 68000 and could not always restore the processor state after a page fault.

Exception handling that could restart an instruction did not appear in the M68k family until the MC68010. So how was the Sun-1 able to recover from virtual memory page faults?

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    Didn't it have a second 68000 for that purpose? Jun 27 at 5:32
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    The answer is contained here retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/a/24729/4692 (search for 'two 68000')
    – lvd
    Jun 27 at 8:20
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    While other 68k workstations did use two 68ks, I’m not sure the Sun-1 did. The architecture paper says “The original 68000 processor cannot fully recover from page faults because it does not save sufficient state information to continue an aborted instruction. However, for a limited set of operations, such as load and store, recovery from aborted instructions is straightforward. With additional software assistance, recovery from more complex addressing modes appears feasible.” Jun 27 at 8:26
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    And judging from "The Sun memory management provides all the necessary mechanism for demand paging and virtual memory and will be fully compatible with the 68010 virtual memory processor when it becomes available.", and the fact that you can retrofit a Sun-1 with an 68010 (Model 100U), maybe they just made do with the 68000 until the 68010 was available, and avoided the more complex instructions in earlier code. And a custom-built MMU may have been chosen for other reasons (2-level translation instead of what the 68451 does).
    – dirkt
    Jun 27 at 9:28
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    @StephenKitt: I suspect that if OS documentation were to specify that all 32-bit operations must be 32-bit aligned, and that the OS makes no attempt to correctly handle 32-bit operations that cross page boundaries, hardware to record the address of the first word of a faulting instruction might be sufficient to allow OS software to take care of all other related cases.
    – supercat
    Jun 27 at 17:41

2 Answers 2


I haven't looked at the relevant versions of SunOS, so I can't say for sure which method they chose, but I'm aware of three methods for dealing with this problem.

The first method uses two CPUs. You basically run one CPU one instruction behind the other. When the leader encounters a page fault, you halt the follower, handle the page fault, then unhalt the second to execute the instruction that caused the fault (and the former lead now becomes the follower).

The second method is based on the observation that the instructions that cause problems are those that use autoincrement or autodecrement addressing. So you simply write your compiler to never generate instructions that use autoincrement/autodecrement addressing. As @supercat points out, there may be a few other restrictions, but the basic idea remains: just avoid generating instructions that cause problems.

The third method is to have your fault handler disassemble the faulting instruction, check whether it used autoincrement/autodecrement addressing, and if so adjust the appropriate register to undo the state change that had already happened from the partially executed instruction.

In both the second and third methods, after you've handled the fault, you restart execution starting from the instruction that faulted.

Apollo used the first (dual CPU) method. But to my knowledge, they were the only ones to do so (and I seem to recall their having gotten a patent on it, so it's particularly doubtful that anybody else did it).

Apple used the second method in the LISA. If you (for example) used a third party assembler to generate autodecrement/autoincrement instructions on your own...well, you were on your own.

I think Sun used the third implementation, but as I said up front, I'm not certain of that. But also note that the difference between the second and third is entirely in software, so it's possible to switch between them without changing hardware.

One final note: the third method (and to a lesser extent, the second) does depend on behavior I'm reasonably certain Motorola didn't actually document. So you needed to start by testing the processor to be sure what it was doing, and act accordingly. And basically anytime Motorola did even the slightest update, you needed to rerun acceptance tests, since you were depending on behavior they didn't guarantee (but as far as I know, they didn't actually change).

  • Another requirement would be that software never access a 32-bit value that's split across a page boundary. The 68000 documented that 32-bit values could be loaded or stored from half-word boundaries, and supporting software that did this in page-crossing scenarios was a major complication. If a fault stores the address of the faulted instruction, rather than the instruction following, I don't think identifying the bit patterns associated with pre/post-increment addressing be that hard. I think much of the complexity of the 68010 was its ability to handle page faults on split writes.
    – supercat
    Jun 27 at 20:32
  • @supercat: for the 68010 that was clearly a consideration. But for Sun, I'd guess it simply didn't arise--they probably just never generated code to allocate a 32-bit word crossing a page boundary in the first place (and Apple probably didn't either). Jun 27 at 20:49
  • Surely it's not realistic completely to avoid autoincrement/decrement addressing, as per JSR, RTS, etc?
    – Tommy
    Jun 27 at 22:49
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    Completely? Probably not. That pair, at least, can be dealt with by always keeping the stack in physical memory. And obviously you can do that use them in any other code that addresses only physical memory as well. Jun 27 at 22:59

The original Stanford University Network computer design used a 68000. Several companies (Callan, Pacific Microcomputers, SUN, maybe others) marketed computers based on the Stanford design. I used computers from all three of the ones above.

I don't know about the earliest SUN but the other two used the 68000 and did not implement virtual memory. My experience with SUN started a couple of years later. By that time they were using the 68010.

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