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Alpha Lives! But Who Will Market It? 269

Posted by Hemos
from the return-from-the-dead dept.
chriton writes "The Inquirer is running articles about HP's and new "Marvel" server which will arrive Tuesday, Jan 14th and the expectation that HP will try to keep it's performance quiet. Not because it's bad like Itanic I, but because it's too good! It's built on Alpha EV78 processors connected by a switched fabric and promises blazing performance. "Marvel has, apparently some rollickingly good benchmarks that HP wants to underplay, just in case people start comparing the performance of the Alpha Marvel architecture with the Itanium 2 it also sells, and perhaps more importantly, the SuperDome machines." Alpha offers the kind of choice and competition the processor market will sorely miss when it goes. The FTC was sleeping when they allowed HP to acquire it."
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Alpha Lives! But Who Will Market It?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:16PM (#5069986)
    Have Spider-Man, Hulk, Wolverine, and all the other X-Men, using Alphas in the comic books. An endorsement from Professor X might be enough to get me to buy one. "Look! Cerebro is now 100 times more powerful thanks to this Alpha!"
  • by DarthWiggle (537589) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <iwikcs>> on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:19PM (#5069996) Journal
    Maybe they should call it the "Spider-Man"... *groan*

    /me whistles his way into the night...

  • by SirTwitchALot (576315) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:26PM (#5070035) Homepage Journal
    and while they're great machines that perform well, they're very limited. It's difficult for us to get many of the applications that we use for the Alpha, and if the app is available, the vendor usually provides poor support for it. Sure you can compile OS software on the alpha, but the commercial world overwhelmingly uses traditional closed software. HP decided to stop production of the Alpha because they had a competing product (pa/risc) that was in higher demand. They even plan to eventually lose PA/RISC in favor of itanium, as the article mentions. As far as price goes, one of our clients purchased a wildfire gs320 because of the low price. They found that while it offers acceptable performance, it's very difficult and expensive to find the expertise needed to properly maintain this equipment. We run a primarily Sun shop not because it's necessarily the best, but because it's what everyone else runs, and thus easier to maintain and cheaper in the long run.
    • I bet Alpha still has a larger software base than Itanium.
      • I'm completely O-fucking-T here, but look at what Slashdot moderation comes down to. This person expresses their one-line, unsubstantiated opinion (never claiming to be doing anything more--no offense to you, TeknoHog), and because he appears to be on the side of the angels, BOOM, +4 Insightful. This is stupid; what good does viewing at +3 or higher do with ridiculous moderation like this? (Well, it will save you seeing this post, I guess ;)
      • And Itanium has much greater vendor support. Not saying much, since Alpha has only slightly more vendor support than OS/2.
      • I'll second that; I have to wonder how many Alphas Cray actually bought, because last I heard they use LOTS of them... Let's not forget that stuff like that is favorite equipment at some large government labs and agencies, mainly for engineering and visualization work.
    • Do you know for sure that the demand for PA-RISC is higher than for Alpha (generally)? I'm not arguing, just questioning. In my field (high energy physics) we never went in for PA-RISC. Alphas were the greatest thing ever, until Lintel took over on the $/FLOP pricepoint.

      The Alpha is still an amazing CPU line, just not cost effective compared to Intel anymore. But completely different markets, I realize.
      • by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:23AM (#5070223) Homepage Journal
        It seemed like there was only a short period of time where Alpha was cost effective compared to Intel, the rest of the time up until maybe three years ago, Alpha was often simply a heck of a lot faster and that performance was only needed in niche markets compared to today's desktop market.

        Now, Alpha is just expensive. It is too bad as my Alpha is still running very strongly after five years of use.

        It also took a little while for me to find an Intel based system that was faster all around AND was more reliable - I found that in an oldish XEON. I've even had a 166MHz Alpha UDB running NT - while its all-out CPU performance benchmarks were poor, its UI latency (time from clicking a button to displaying a result, such as a file list or dialog box) was still better than PIIIs twice as fast.
        • Now, Alpha is just expensive. It is too bad as my Alpha is still running very strongly after five years of use.


          Expensive, yet. Prohibitively expensive? No. We sourced pure number crunching machines about a year ago. Out of the competitors for a $300k CDN contract, Alpha (Compaq at the time) hands down. For pure single-processor number crunching, you still can't beat them. If your app can handle MPP, then of course you can't beat linux clusters...
        • It seemed like there was only a short period of time where Alpha was cost effective compared to Intel, the rest of the time up until maybe three years ago, Alpha was often simply a heck of a lot faster and that performance was only needed in niche markets compared to today's desktop market.


          For us it was waiting for Linux to reach a certain maturity and then realizing that it had. There was also the issue of g77 versus DEC's f77 which exagerated the performance difference.

        • by jpetts (208163) on Monday January 13, 2003 @01:03AM (#5070371)
          It seemed like there was only a short period of time where Alpha was cost effective compared to Intel, the rest of the time up until maybe three years ago, Alpha was often simply a heck of a lot faster and that performance was only needed in niche markets compared to today's desktop market.

          But the cost effectiveness which you are talking about doesn't appear to factor in stability. Alpha machines running OpenVMS were rock, absolutely rock solid. We had a machine running Oracle on OpenVMS/Alpha that was not rebooted for three years, and never once showed ua a single problem. It just ran and ran and rad, and it ran FAST, too. I for one will miss the low admin burden of those Alpha/OpenVMS/Oracle boxes...
          • A guy I know in school works at the regional CitiGroup office, and he says they're using a system like that. Yes, it's a very solid setup. It's nice to know that your mortgage bank has good taste in equipment, especially after making another payment...
      • PA-RISC brings better support revenue. The support contracts are much higher for similar services. It is also more popular with telcos, banks, etc - people who buy and pay support contracts. On the contrary Alpha has been popular in the engineering market which usually does not even like paying for extended warranties. There are exemptions to this rule like older Nortel softswitches, BT, etc but they are not that many.

        Overall, in the big wide world performance does not really matter when it comes to revenue in the big iron (unix or mainframe) market. What matters is the services and recurring revenue.

        IBM has understood this long ago. HP understood it a while ago. DEC and then Compaq never caught up. And payed the ultimate price. Having better chips it lost to the people having a better (more profitable) business model
    • We also use Alphas at work -- I love the GS series, I'm happy with the ES and DS series, but the GS series is some damn nice hardware.

      I've got reliable sources at HP that tell me to watch for the ES47 and ES80 series boxen as well as the GS1280. All of them should smoke the current EV68 series Alphas. The product line overall is very impressive. The pure scalability of the EV7 architechture is most impressive.

      Take a look at this Document from HP [slashdot.org] and try to keep yourself from drooling.
  • Hmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by buulu (580868)
    It's built on Alpha EV78 processors connected by a switched fabric and promises blazing performance.
    ...[Marvel] So good, in fact, that our friend Jenny tells us the following: "If HP still believed the Alpha chip was worth the candle, rather than being cosy with its friends at the Intel Corporation, and marketed it properly, it might render all other server platforms into carbonised bread, otherwise known as toast".
    But that will never happen. My sources claim that HP realises the EV7 is a fantastic chip and wants to stop potential buyers of the HP Itanium servers from buying EV7 instead.
    And, we understand, the HP suits have now laid down a diktat saying that not one Alpha benchmark will be released until the Itanium platform(s) is/are faster.
    Jenny told us that her friends at HP who understand such things, think this could be a very long time coming.
    And she also said that quite a lot of people inside the corporation wondered why the senior execs wanted to "shoot itself in the foot" by driving potential Alpha customers to the competition.
    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by silentbozo (542534) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:46PM (#5070109) Journal
      In a rational world, management would own up to their mistakes (whoops, Alpha IS better than Intel) and work to make things right. When I was in a business simulations class (we were grouped into teams, and our "yearly" decisions as to the mix of funds devoted to r&d, marketing, production amounts, pricing, etc. for each of our respective companies, were fed into a sim every week), my team made the mistake of trying to eliminate an existing product line in favor of a more profitable "premium" product.

      While it was more profitable, the market was actually bigger in the more mature market - something that none of the teams had taken into account. However, because our team invested heavily into reducing production costs (retooling, R&D into improving production efficiency and unit quality, strategic partnership with suppliers) we were able to shift some of our capacity back into the "classic" product, price it lower than the competition, and royally kick ass in the simulated market in the following year.

      What does this have to do with HP? Well, if you have a superior product, one that will dominate for a pretty good while, and you have the sole source for it, WTF would you want to sell an inferior, lower-margin commodity product in direct competition with a whole boatload of competitors? I mean, isn't that what is killing SGI? The fact that they're trying to compete in the commodity market, but without a superior selling point (either tech, or price), they're getting hammered.

      Florina was death to HP. I'm going to miss their R&D and their printer line when they go under, and only can hope that HP's board members never sit on any other company's boards in the future. Well, any company except maybe Microsoft...
      • The reason why HP favors the itanium is because they spent billions of dollars co-creating it with Intel. Intel only owns half of it. HP also donated their PA-RISC technology towards the project. They want a return on their investment.

        If the alpha and x86 dies and Itanium becomes the defacto standard then the sky is the limit in regards to profits for HP! It is rumoured that Intel and HP paid AMD to make the clawhammer slower then their chips on purpose to help make HP's dream a reality.

        IF Dell, Gateway, and IBM were smart they would convince intel to kill the itanium project and market the alpha's instead. The OEM's in return could make servers with them and pay Microsoft to continue developing Windows2k for it. Linux is already their and the gcc is fully optimized for it. If Microsoft would port all there server apps then it might have a chance. Whats also cool about Alpha NT is the that it came with full x86 emulation that was really fast. If Linux and Microsoft's core server apps are there then other vendors would adopt to it. After compaq refused to pay Microsoft, the alpha then lost all commercial support.

        Itanium is a nightmare to develop compilers for and therefor has terrible performance is is majorly overclocked just to be competive with x86 chips. It really sucks.

        I have a cd-rom with Windows200 beta3 for the alpha so the code is already there and can easily be implemented. With intel behind alpha they could get all the profits rather then share with HP. Intel would make twice as much money!

        HP will always be bigger then other pc makers if itanium lasts because they would get a huge profit per pc sold.

        Its this competitive spirit that killed os/2. All the oems feared IBM. Now they should fear HP with their Itanium. By switching to alpha, everyone but HP wins.

        • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Eric Smith (4379) <eric.brouhaha@com> on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:45AM (#5070840) Homepage Journal
          The reason why HP favors the itanium is because they spent billions of dollars co-creating it with Intel. [...] They want a return on their investment.
          So you're basically saying that HP management doesn't understand the concept of "sunk costs"?

          The fact that they've already spent billions of dollars on it doesn't necessarily mean that continuing to push it is the best business decision. Sometimes you have to realize that you made a bad choice, and write off the investment. Otherwise you may just lose many billions more.

      • by jcr (53032)
        Florina was death to HP. I'm going to miss their R&D and their printer line when they go under

        My HP prediction: a rapid decline, ending with Agilent buying their assets from the receiver just to get the H/P name back.

        -jcr
        • I've noticed lately that Agilent is deemphasizing their old slogan, "innovating the HP way". Maybe they are trying to distance themselves from the HP fiasco. At this point, the HP name has lost most of its value, and people who buy Agilent products know this.

          When they announced the spinoff, it was immediately obvious to almost everyone I know that the wrong part of the company was getting the HP name.

      • by haggar (72771)
        Your wish is partially fulfilled: Rick Beluzzo worked for HP, and havily pushed for NT and against HP-UX ("UNIX is dead"-mantra by Beluzzo).

        That got them into a lot of trouble, and the scars the feel still today. Their giving in to Intel (with Itanium (yeah, yeah, they developed most of it, so what, they're still hanging up on PA-RISC) is an echo of that past, painful blow.

        Rick moved on to SGI and had the same mantra... and we know how good that did to SGI. SGI never really recovered from their attempt to produce intel-based NT workstations. They hemorraged shitloads of money and royally messed up their focus. SGI will never recover from that blow, and it had to sell Cray research to Tera in order to fish for some cash.

        And Rick Beluzzo moved on, to Microsoft! Many thought he was on MS's payroll all along. I won't say anything one way or the other, I leave it to the reader to come to his/her own conclusions. Point in case, Mr. Beluzzo is not at all that dangerous to MS as it was to HP and SGI, even though it's not clear what the heck he's doing.
  • Alpha rules. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MisterQ (60710) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:36PM (#5070074)
    Indeed, now let me see. I could buy a PA-Risc... (Not!), or an IBM/Motorola Chipped thingie (Small market, bounded technology), or a Sparc box - small market bounded technology, arrogant supplier, single source.

    Or I could buy an Alpha. A commitment of at least a Decade of support (What was I using 10 years ago, and what land fill is it in now..) A proven track record of meeting or beating the promises on performance.

    Oh no, wait. I'll get an itanic. What you mean they are only available in limited quantities, and at vastly inflated prices. Oh, and the ones that everyone is raving about aren't going to me around for another 2-3 years. Hey, it takes that long to get orders through purchasing, who is worried...

    And what's that. Adaptive partitioning within the box, (dynamically changable SMP and Clustering). Clustering that is more than Me and a standby mini-me. Couldn't be? When dod they get that working...

    Note that the new Alpha moves the ES40/ES45 range out to GS (Big MF) nomenclature...

    The one saving grace, is that scuttlebutt says that based on the intel thef acquisition of Alpha, that post-Madison Itanics will actually look more like an Alpha than a traditional Intel.

    More things to file in my "I told you so" list, for later...
    • IBM/Motorola Chipped thingie (Small market, bounded technology)

      Uh, POWER/PowerPC is "bounded" and "small market" but yet Alpha is not? Bounded by what? Clock speed? How is POWER bounded but Alpha not? Are you saying that POWER is going to soon hit some performance/clockrate wall? Even if you are talking pure clockrate, IBM has been able to crank out quite powerful cpu's that run at slower clocks.

      A commitment of at least a Decade of support

      Hey, IBM STILL supports OS/2, are you saying that they are likely to just drop support for POWER and leave their customers high and dry? I don't get where you make your comparisons? Sure PA-RISC is obviously dead end and SPARC leaves a lot to be desired performance wise, but "single source" for SPARC? Sun doesn't even make the chips, how is that single source compared to Alpha? Who else produces Alphas, are you including Intel?
    • Quite wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

      by JohnZed (20191)
      You're utterly misinformed on all counts. The best (1ghz, 3MB cache) Itanium2 lists for under $8,000 (see http://www.shopblt.com/cgi-bin/shop/shop.cgi?actio n=Enter&thispage=011003002001_B567007P.shtml&order _id=!ORDERID!) for a quote, or just search for itanium2 pricing). The best current Alpha (1.25 ghz ev68 for the ES45) will cost you $17,000, plus the huge premium that you pay on the server itself. For pricing details, you have to download compaq's crappy alpha configuration utility (http://h18003.www1.hp.com/alphaserver/acu/index.h tml) for Windows.

      Meanwhile, you can check out the SpecFP base of 1019 for the Alpha and 1427 for the Itanium and figure out the price/performance for yourself. If you're more of an integer performance kind of guy, go to SPEC's web page and note that the standard 3.0 ghz Pentium IV (at, what, $750 on a bad day?) beats up the Alpha on integer performance.

      As for partitioning, HP-UX on PA-RISC and AIX on POWER4 both offer far superior (and more mature) dynamic partitioning capabilities and workload management.

      It is also ridiculous to say that POWER processors are a niche market. AIX on POWER has 30% of the unix market while Tru64 on Alpha has a mere 10%, by revenue. The exact same POWER chips are also used in IBM's iSeries (aka AS/400) line, further increasing their penetration.

      Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the EV7 will be a bad processor, but I can't stand it when people malign perfectly fantastic chips (POWER and Itanium) with no information to back up those claims.
      • Re:Quite wrong^2 (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Paul Komarek (794) <komarek.paul@gmail.com> on Monday January 13, 2003 @04:31AM (#5070993) Homepage
        If I were to believe that everything was as simple as you make it, my conclusion would be that I need an Itanium 2 + Pentium IV + PA-RISC or POWER4 to have an overall better machine than an Alpha Server. Is that what you meant? Incidently, the reason the Alpha 21264 has 3 integer units (providing integer scores that dominate Itanic integer scores) is to keep the 2 fp units fed. I'm not an expert on the Itanic architecture, but I'm led to wonder if the Itanic integer units are capable of providing all of the array indexing and loop-counting chores needed for many floating-point numerical anaylysis algorithms. I'd really like to know an answer to this, since the Itanic appears so unbalanced when looking at SPEC scores alone.

        Furthermore, you're comparing prices on processor cards for different systems using full retail price. Have you ever bought this kind of equipment? I know I've never paid full retail price when I have. And you don't need to use Compaq's pricing utility -- just get the model number and search with google like you probably did for th Itanic board. Unfortunately, for the cpu board (KN610-EB) you're describing, there aren't many links. Another problem is that the price you quote for the Alpha board includes additional cpu licenses for Tru64 (for the KN610-EB) or VMS (not sure -- KN610-EC?). I don't see anything at the link you provide which states that the price includes a Windows or HP-UX license (and don't kid yourself, you'll need a license).

        It's not clear why you mention the 3MB cache on the Itanium. The EV67 boards (KN610-BA, for instance) for the ES40 Model II (which is old) have 8MB cache, and the EV68 board (KN610-EB, for instance) have 16MB of cache (note that these are the big L3 caches for Alphas, not on-chip like I think the Itanium is). Also, it's not clear to me that the processor boards include the same functional components -- do you know that they do (you already seem to have missed the OS license issue)?

        You haven't provided the price for the systems, nor stated their default configurations. This is certainly important when making a comparison. You'll also want to compare memory prices, since ram for these servers sometimes has a special form factor and costs a bundle. Again, never use list prices for any of this stuff, as you can occasionally halve the price with a bit of negotiation. That goes for cars and good office chairs, too.

        -Paul Komarek
        • Actually, I was suggesting that you should look at your problem domain and realize that you can trash the alpha's price/performance and raw performance for either float-intensive or integer-intensive calculations.
          • Oops, mod that down, please, I hit submit by accident. I wanted to mention that the Itanium2 actually has 4 integer units, so it's not a simple FP/integer imbalance that leads to its disappointing integer performance. Rather, the IA-64 instruction set relies on the compiler to detect parallelism and present it explicitly to the processor (EPIC = explicitly parallel instruction computing). The scientific-type codes used in specFP are easier to analyze and parallelize than those in specINT. The compiler makes an incredible difference in IA-64, and as these mature, the architecture will dramatically improve its performance. Look at the jump from 1170 to 1430 in sepcFP when switching from HP's (fairly good) compiler to Intel's (very good) one.

            We shouldn't imagine that IA-64 is just for float, however. If you look at real, commercial software benchmarks (like http://sap.com/benchmark), you can see that a 4-way Itanium 1 ghz handily beats a 4-way 1 ghz Alpha (no scores posted for newer Alphas) on the SAP benchmark, which is certainly not floating point code.

            As for retail pricing, I agree that people don't pay full price. However, they're likely to get similar discounts from both intel/hp and alpha/hp, so this is irrelevant. Knock 30% of each price in your head if you want.

            Still, my original point stands. If you have primarily integer/commercial code, IA-32 provides superior price performance over the Alpha. If you have primarily float/scientific code, IA-64 provides superior price/performance over the Alpha.
          • I guess that's why I responded. The Alpha primary market has been research, though Compaq tried to make noise about its server potential. As a researcher that does a lot of computation, I have no code that ignores half of my cpu. Thats why I like the Alpha, and why our lab group is stunned by the way a 667MHz Alpha performs as well as a P-IV at double or nearly triple the speed.

            Big caches, big bandwidth, big memory (which is the real reason we're using them), and well-designed for numerical codes. I'm happy to defend the Alpha for the "corner" of the research market it does best -- numerical and statistical code. The only people I've met who argue performance/dollar for the Itanium got their Itanium for free.

            -Paul Komarek
      • ...Itanium2 lists for under $8,000...The best current Alpha (1.25 ghz ev68 for the ES45) will cost you $17,000...

        Find me a person who actually pays those prices, and I'll show you a fool. Anyone who knows how to buy hardware doesn't usually buy it from the vendor's on-line store at the vendor's MSRP! High-end salespeople are almost always willing to fudge prices to get a sale--hell, just asking for a quote (especially with the economy now) will make a salesperson piss themselve with joy (oh boy, a potential sale!).

        You really can't know the true price of either the Itanium or the Alpha until you call someone and price out a specific system.
  • by tcc (140386) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:37PM (#5070083) Homepage Journal
    Yey, 500th post, on a subject I like :)

    I remember when Compaq bought the Alpha technology. I was invited to a demo for their new workstation machine, that was back in the late 90s, I remember the workstation they were demoing in front of everyone, nice audience, people that worked on the movie Titanic were there to explain how they used the alpha technology to render those huge datasets, manipulate large 3d models, etc etc...

    They were so EVASIVE when people would specifically ask them to compare the Alpha Workstation to intel workstation. I mean everything looked professionnal up to that precise moment. Why on earth are you getting yourself in so much trouble to advertise your alpha workstation, invite people to costly hotel floor, serve them good food, etc, if you don't want to address the PRIMARY concern of your target audience? What "non-alpha" people (new customers) want to know is why would they go alpha if it's not for the proprietary software?

    (In this case, Lightwave was one of the tools and it was cross-platform, every Lightwave users KNEW that the alpha crushed the PC in rendering, so hiding this fact looked very suspicious for this small portion of the people that were there. Then you add the fact they they didn't want to give any comparing numbers, being evasive and all. The only positive thing they mentionned is the FX32 emulator and the fact that they could run non-native software like photoshop in their alpha workstation. Now who the hell would buy a workstation like this if it doesn't show any appeal outside from the people that already know about it? If you say "3x faster rendering, only 1.5x the price" now there's an apeal! They didn't! How on earth are they going to gain sufficient marketshare with mouth-to-ear strategy, where amiga, for example, failed. With a CPU R&D buisness, you need a LOT of sales to cover you expenses, they had a bomb on their hands, and while I understand that they had to play nice with Intel, they could have thrown the bomb at intel instead of blowing up with it.

    This is another situation where Money and Monopoly is bad for evolutions and revolutions, try to find ONE SINGLE alpha user that bitched about the architecture (before it got left out dying, obviously), make a percentage (you'll probably get something close to 0%), then compare that percentage with Intel users. Not that Intel technology is bad, but it sure isn't revolutionnary, heck I'm still waiting to get that 7505 chipset board with 2 2.8Ghz Xeon on it, everything is back order or N/A yet. If compaq would have had a clue, I'd have a box probably 4x more powerful today with win2k support and good driver support for about the same price... shame.

    • I don't think it's quite right to characterize the Alpha as being dead or dying. Alpha is just a brand name. The engineers who worked on it live on. Don't be surprised to see a lot of the Alpha's better architectural features resurface elsewhere.
      • The engineers who worked on it live on.

        ...and most of them work for Intel now... (at least the architects)

        • Last I heard, the important Alpha guys ended up at AMD or in small companies. I remember hearing that some or all of the DEC engineers working on StrongArm refused to move to Intel when Intel aquired that cpu, and that Intel had to move some people from the, geez, i810 or something similarly not StrongArm-ish into the StrongArm project.

          At some point, I thought the important Alpha folks went to Nexgen, which was bought (directly or indirectly) by AMD.

          I'd really like to have a more detailed and more accurate picture of who went where, but it's bedtime for me. Maybe someone else would like to elaborate.

          -Paul Komarek
          • I'd really like to have a more detailed and more accurate picture of who went where

            Me too. Just because the know-how survives, doesn't mean it will ever see the light of day. I had it in my head that a lot of these guys were now working on Itanium - but I have no idea why I think that..

            I'm not so worried about the existing Alpha technology disappearing as I am about the potential for less competition to slow the pace of innovation. If a bunch of these guys have gone over to AMD, I would be very relieved to know it.
          • Intel actually purchased the Shrewsbury, MA Alpha EV8 design team (and facility). How many people left, I'm not sure, but I know several of the lead designers are still there (like Joel Emer, who's worked for 4 companies without ever changing his desk...) and that they're working on Itanium now.

  • it is sad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:39PM (#5070090)
    As an engineer that worked on EV7 it is sad to see such a wonderful machine fall by the way-side. When the SPEC numbers do come out not only will all the world will see that Alpha is again the world's fastest processor, but that Marvel systems scale linearly. We'll all eventually go over to Intel, which a lot of us aren't looking forward to, and hope not to get laid off
    • Re:it is sad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dmp95 (640686) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:27AM (#5070768)
      The Alpha has long been the best RISC chip, and probably best overall chip on the market. What may be more sad isn't just the loss of the Alpha, but the loss of innovation that DEC was responsible for. Ethernet, major SCSI improvements, Alpha, RDB, DLT and clustering a'la VMS. Many people don't realize how far ahead DEC was on their products. The quality of engineering that DEC put into its products may never be seen again. DEC would acutally specify that Seagate should change the RPM of the DEC drives they manufactured, so the vibration frequency would be better for the longevity of the drives. (Not to mention the cooling, power, etc...) DEC systems worked and worked well. People without DEC experiences may not realize the level of engineering and quality that went into DEC products. (Of course, having DEC personel with an office in the back of your computer room didn't hurt, but DEC's incredible customer service organization is worth another post entirely :-) Which brings me back to the clustering. Why is it that Linux or 2000 doesn't have the incredible clustering capabilities of OpenVMS? (This is rhetorical, I know about the ci and ssi stuff for Linux on source forge and I know how DEC (West) held back on moving their full clustering to NT because of pressure from Microsoft. They actually had NT and Alpha systems running Digital Clusters for Windows, but wouldn't release it.) Why can't we have a real distributed lock manager like VMS with a single system image on a cluster that isn't a total kludge? It is 2003 for Christ sake. Did I mention that Unix was orginally coded for a DEC PDP???? Sure DEC stuff was expensive, but as I learned, it was worth every penny. Hardware is a minor part of TCO, and DEC hardware kicked ass. Then Compaq bought DEC and managed to ruin themselves and DEC. What a bunch of mangement morons. Now HP, a bunch of bigger management morons, will kill the remaining legacy of DEC. Too bad the families lost the lawsuit to stop the merger. The burying of the EV7 is the final nail in DEC's slow death. So long EV7, so long VMS clusters, so long world-class engineering... The only hope left is IBM, the only company left with the true R&D strength, but I'm not betting on that no matter how much they tout Linux in ads.
  • Alpha never seems to "make it" after all these 11 years, and still it seems doomed.....and two of the three operating systems introduced with it are NOT the choice of the data center, and the third dropped Alpha support! Maybe we should start a folk legend about "The Curse of the Alpha!"

    Anyway, a cool kick-butt chip, it was....and if we ever see the benchmarks on this latest generation, I'll bet it still is. Too bad on this planet technical excellence and superiority of function and performance don't determine success in the marketplace.
  • Sad but true (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cluge (114877) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:42PM (#5070099) Homepage
    Alpha's have always had awesome specs, hell I think slashdot started on a UDB (early alpha unit, small compact case, built in sound). The alpha processor has long been one of the best performing and worst marketed main processors in the history of computers.

    The fact is that DEC wasn't in a posistion to market it, and when they COULD have sold the chip to use in apples (instead of PPC) they declined (morons). Compaq bought DEC and had NO clue what the hell to do. It took them almost 2 years to wrap their head around the fact that the alpha servers where the only profitable product they had. (See service support contracts and high margins for the high end alphas). By then it was too late, they were working on the merger with HP.

    No HP's here, and doesn't want to compete with it's own inferior equipment. Lines are being drawn and you can bet that the superiour technology of the alpha will again suffer. Remember that the EV78 is an OLD alpha design and it still kicks ass. Compaq basically stopped developing the alpha series AGES ago. (the EV8 was supposed to be out early last year according to one of the early compaq alpha ropadmaps)

    Too bad the alpha is dead. It is taking years for intel and IBM to come up with a chip that comes close to alpha performance. Good thing that they are competing against old alpha designs and the EV8 has been killed. Otherwise those darn pesky spec numbers would have been embarassing.

    cluge

    • by bitfoam (189527)
      Who wants to run missions critical apps on an Alpha processor? No wonder it can't sell! If it's really good and been around that long, it should be at least a Beta processor by now... ;-)
    • Too bad the alpha is dead. It is taking years for intel and IBM to come up with a chip that comes close to alpha performance. Good thing that they are competing against old alpha designs and the EV8 has been killed. Otherwise those darn pesky spec numbers would have been embarassing.

      As I said last time the Alpha was a /. story, it is still the processor in the #2 & #3 fastest systems in the world. Not to mention that it seems to have more, faster, positions on the list of the top 500 supercomputers than ony other processor.

      http://www.top500.org/ [top500.org]

      Everyone seems to be ignoring power requirements and heat output when talking about processors. Sure, anyone can make a processor that is faster than anything else, but you may have to soak it in liquid nitrogen just to keep it cool.

      Fast processors are easy... COOL processors that are faster for their heat output is where the market goes.
      • Re:Sad but true (Score:4, Interesting)

        by binaryDigit (557647) on Monday January 13, 2003 @01:09AM (#5070386)
        it is still the processor in the #2 & #3 fastest systems in the world

        You have to be careful bringing up the SC lists. Keep in mind that those machines are multi-cpu. It takes 4096 1.25ghz alphas to hold #2/#3, it takes 8192 POWER3's, but they're only running at 375mhz, so which processor is "superior"? #5 is 2304 Xeons (I assume P4), is the Xeon superior to Alpha since for half the processors you get 80% of the performance?

        Not making any statements about superiority here, just saying that the top500 list isn't exactly the best indicator.
        • Like I JUST SAID. Processor power verses heat output, and the power required, is what makes a processor good for high-performance mainframes.

          Price is a pretty low priority in most cases.
          • Processor power verses heat output,
            is basically a linear factor for all processors, unless you can find a processor that is radiating one heck of a lot more RF than the others.

            OK, it's a joke. I know what you meant. But power consumption is only a relatively minor factor in the purchase decisions for massively parallel supercomputers. The main criterion is Gflops/dollar.

            • Re:Sad but true (Score:4, Insightful)

              by evilviper (135110) on Monday January 13, 2003 @06:05AM (#5071168) Journal
              is basically a linear factor for all processors

              That is absolutely NOT TRUE. If nothing else, you can compare the heat from a (say) Intel, 1GHz Processor, with that of the earliest 1GHz processor.

              But power consumption is only a relatively minor factor in the purchase decisions

              Gee, thanks for telling me. And here I was thinking that a company might be willing to pay a few bucks more for a system that consumed a fraction of the power, while performing just as well, thus lowering their Total Cost Of Ownership, and making the lower-power machine a much better value. What was I thinking? You're right, I'm sure you'd never TCO in a corporate meeting.

              The main criterion is Gflops/dollar.

              If that was the case, there wouldn't be anything even resembling mainframes, as they would need a large ammount of space and heavy-duty cooling systems for all of their AMD Duron processors.
              When you have one computer in your house, it can run very hot without causing real problems. When you have hundreds of processors in a rack the size of a small closet, you need something that runs incredibly cool, while giving you good performance.

              That must be why Google's setup is so famous, because they are doing the same thing as everyone else, and disregarding the issue of heat.

    • Re:Sad but true (Score:3, Insightful)

      by binaryDigit (557647)
      when they COULD have sold the chip to use in apples (instead of PPC) they declined (morons)

      I've never heard this, do you have any links to articles that talk about this? I don't know that I'd go as far as calling them "morons", without knowing the details, but if Apple were looking for something along the lines of their deal with IBM/Mot, I could see how DEC wouldn't want to get into such a intimate deal. Plus the monikor "morons" has to be reserved for Motorola and their handling of RISC and the cpu market in general. Makes any blunder that DEC made look small chips in comparison.
  • NetBSD 1.5.2 (XJ6) #2: Tue Oct 29 21:04:19 EST 2002
    xxxxx@alpha:/usr/src/sys/arch/alpha/compile/XJ6
    D igital AlphaPC 164 400 MHz
  • Poor Alpha (Score:2, Offtopic)

    by drmofe (523606)

    This has got to be the most under-rated project, at least commercially, in computing history.

    The original DEC Alpha was cancelled at least twice before it was even launched. DEC never made anything of it, even though the technology was good for 20 years of expansion.

    When this little portion of technological history gets written, people are going to wonder why we were so stupid as to let marketing get in the way of technological progress. HINT: There is no competition on the planet - the big stakes are for when we get out of this gravity well...

    STF

  • I am priviledged to maintain a PWS600au USB machine on my desktop, and when I look at the modern alpha technology (Alpha@Samsung [samsungelectronics.com] -- only recently taken offline) it is very very expensive. The majority of new alpha product is targeted at enterprise infrastructure, but my point is I feel there is a lot of stock placed in market reputation, and much of this is due to consumer adoption.

    HP is wise to flog Itanium 2 -- a lot has been invested in selling this new 64bit shit. But soon consumers will get their hands on new x86-64 machines from AMD (and maybe one day money-grubbing Intel will offer consumer-priced Itaniums) and no consumers will be adopting new Alpha machines.

    I think current use by general consumers is a large contributor to the acceptance of (very expensive) machinery at the high-end. A large user-base has a lot to do with future support.
  • by vandelais (164490) on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:41AM (#5070284)
    Ellen Feiss

    My school had this great server we used to play games on, but then the company that made it got bought out by this bitch named Carleton and then they stopped promoting it and it was a... (wait for it) ....

    bummer.

  • by XBL (305578) on Monday January 13, 2003 @01:19AM (#5070425)
    What if some company, for example Red Hat bought the Alpha technology. Just think how a premier hardware architecture could be marketed along with Linux, which has huge growth potential.

    If Linux is to totally dominate, Linux vendors need to come up with some better hardware.
    • Red Hat doesn't have anywhere NEAR the resources needed to start building state-of-the-art (or even nearly-s.o.t.a.) microprocessors.

      Not to mention that HP wants Alpha to dry up and blow away, since it competes with their home-grown stuff. If it weren't for contractual obligations, they'd drop it in a New York minute.

      Nice dream, though.

      At the moment it looks like the only way that mainstream processors are going to move to a (slightly) less ugly architecture is if AMD succeeds with the Hammer parts (Athlon 64 and Opteron). At least they've managed to increase the number of general registers.

    • by Paul Komarek (794) <komarek.paul@gmail.com> on Monday January 13, 2003 @04:43AM (#5071013) Homepage
      CPU R&D is *really* expensive. That's probably why Intel doesn't seem to do much CPU R&D and sticks mainly to manufacturing (note: Itanic arch came mainly from HP, StrongArm and XScale came from other outside sources). It takes very special companies to support this cost, and there aren't many that want to stay in the CPU R&D business anymore (much less get into it).

      A large part of the reason GNU/Linux is doing so well compared to other UNIX and UNIX-like systems today is that it runs well on cheap *commodity* hardware. Nobody is going to be impressed if GNU/Linux runs better than WIntel on really expensive equipment. Not to say that people aren't impressed by GNU/Linux running on the IBM S390 for its own sake. =-)

      It's not even clear that people *want* better hardware. After all, better hardware has been losing to cheaper hardware for at least 5 years now. It is suprisingly hard to explain to someone why adding an $1800 (or $5400 full-retail) cpu card to a Compaq ES40 is better than buying a new Athlon XP or P-IV since many of the costs aren't easy to account for. But the sysadmins using the scalable ES40 know just how much easier that machine is to care for (esp. remotely) than a uniprocessor $1800 commodity x86 box.

      -Paul Komarek

      -Paul Komarek
      • CPU R&D is *really* expensive. That's probably why Intel doesn't seem to do much CPU R&D and sticks mainly to manufacturing [...]
        Intel spends approximately 15% of their revenue [yahoo.com] on R&D (it is not clear how much is used specifically for CPU R&D). What makes you say that "Intel doesn't seem to do much CPU R&D"? On a side note, would you count compiler research as CPU R&D?
        note: Itanic arch came mainly from HP [...]
        The Itanic joke is getting old, Itanium 2 is now competitive [slashdot.org], especially in floating point applications. Do you have any evidence that HP was more involved in the design of IA-64 than Intel?
        • My comment about Intel's level of CPU R&D was meant one of two ways:

          1) They do lots but have little new to show for it.
          2) They don't bother doing much since their slowly evolving x86 cores seem to earn them a whole lot of money.

          Intel obviously has some great engineers holding that stupid x86 arch together. That anyone has ever gotten any speed from that ISA is remarkable. But Intel hasn't come up with any new *and* good designs for quite some time. The Itanic has been hyped for many, many years and has only managed to pull even with existing RISC cores (many of which are less expensive and lower power). As you said, "Itanium 2 is now competitive". Finally, Itanic is the only really new-ish cpu thing Intel has done in recent years.

          Furthermore, everything I've read about the Itanic over the last five or so years suggests that HP was responsible for the bulk of Itanic's design. I don't have any percentages, as Intel wouldn't release them if they knew what they were anyway. I've read articles suggesting that Intel gagged HP about their role in the design of "Intel's" chip.

          Overall, I'm not impressed by the R&D of Intel, a company whose R&D budget is probably larger than MIPS' gross revenue.

          -Paul Komarek
        • Do you have any evidence that HP was more involved in the design of IA-64 than Intel?

          No evidence, but I remember reading this back in the day when they were being designed. The Itanium (Merced) was the Intel designed chip, while Itanium II (McKinley) was more on the HP side. HP had been doing 64 bit chips for some time, and had expertise. It showed in the performance boost Itanium II vs original. Most of the bickering on who did what was years ago, so hard to find something today.
      • You got it completely reversed: CPU R&D is not necesserily expensive but it requires brains.

        Intel has lots of money but not really much R&D brains. So they buy it from somewhere else.

    • by rve (4436)
      I think Red Hat is a couple of orders of magnitiude too small for that :)

      There is a reason why there are only about half a dozen companies in the world that can afford to develop high end CPUs
    • If Linux is to come up with better hardware, Microsoft will have to do it first. Linux gets installed on so many systems because a lot of people get fed up with Windows and install Linux over it (or beside it). If they need to buy an entirely new machine to run Linux, a machine that costs considerably more, they will be inclined not to choose Linux. After all, it would "cost more." Linux can be successful because it runs well on cheap hardware.

      That said, I would absolutely love to see more support for the Alpha architecture among the Linux distros; it just doesn't seem to get the same attention that the inferior x86 gets.
  • The FTC was sleeping when they allowed HP to acquire it.
    If HP hadn't acquired Compaq, Alpha would still be just as dead. In fact, quite probably more dead. The FTC has screwed up on allowing many acquisitions, but I don't think this was one of them.

    On the other hand, I think HP was incredibly stupid to buy Compaq. What a brilliant plan: "There's no money to be made on commodity PCs, so we'll buy another PC vendor that's in a world of hurt. We'll still lose money on each one, but we'll make it up on volume." I'm pretty sure it's dragging them down, but they can play all sorts of accounting tricks to make it look OK on the books.

  • by haggar (72771) on Monday January 13, 2003 @02:40AM (#5070684) Homepage Journal
    ..the Alpha CPU, but I'm sure many are attached to Linux. As a small aside, know that RedHat Linux Advanced Server will have an important role in the undoing of the Alpha vs. Itanium II.

    You might be surprised now, but in a couple of months you'll know why I said this.
  • by pantherace (165052) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:23AM (#5070757)
    I have been a supporter of alphas for a while. When I got the first alpha I could play on it was highly superior to anything else. (The University had for it's high performance computing a 16-way mips) and several persons got 533MHz alphas, when they were the first chip >500MHz. Originally NT ran on them. It was stable. (Primarily because DEC rewrote most of the important parts themselves for alpha) and fx86! was wonderful-ran x86 code the fastest at the time.

    Then DEC kind of died. They didn't seem to market. The tech was good, but no marketing, and some issues. Before the compaq merger, DEC sold StrongARM, and all it's fabs (aging) to intel, in return Intel was supposed to fab the next generation alpha chips, and was prevented by the FCC/court (or a combination) from aquiring alphas (due to anti-trust, not that that mattered to the DOJ when they did...) Intel did not fab the next generation (21164@smaller process and 21264s) of alphas. They claimed that they couldn't because the chip was too complex. (There is no evidence that they ever did, and this was just before the compaq merger)

    Compaq acquires DEC. It takes it's time, but releases 21264s (fabed mostly by Samsung, and some supposedly by IBM), They branch off the alpha tech to API (Alpha Processor Incorperated) which sets the EV7 (21364 = (21264 core w/improvements + RAMBUS controller) development back. (additionally, MANY alpha engineers were hired by AMD when DEC was merging, and the EV6 bus (and many other tech goodies) were licenced to AMD (Slot A was originally an Alpha slot) for inclusion in Athlons (who still run on an Alpha bus)

    Compaq decides to inhouse the developers again and sets EV7 back more. (EV8 is reportedly mostly on schedule) Then Compaq decides to sell the alpha tech (or much of it) to Intel (DOJ apparently doesn't care about anti-trust at this point) and cancels EV8 (which was reported to include Hyper-threading, multiple cores on a die, Onboard Memory controller (like the ev7) (pretty much every "cool" thing Power4, Intel, and AMD were planning on having.)...and was due out this year) EV7 is phenominally behind schedule. Finally EV7 makes an appearance, or will (asuming the article is accurate) as basically an EV6 core with tweaks and a RAMBUS memory controller onboard the chip (256-bit dual channel, so it actually isn't a POS like many RAMBUS inmplentations. (for comparison some RDRAM implementations have been 16-bit, many currently are still that or 32-bit)

    Now, Alpha is slowly slipping, but currently (aside from Power4) the only chip holding it's own against Intel/AMD. (based on a several year old core at that) The EV7 will be the last generation of alphas, without all of the features the EV8 would have had (and probably the performance crown for a LONG time)

    (compiled from memory, it is 1:30, and post errors/debates as responses)

  • Geek Museum (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer (95088) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:31AM (#5070783) Homepage Journal
    Someday there will be a grand museum of clealy superior technology that failed in the market anyhow (CSTTFMA).

    In it you will see the Amiga, OS/2, and the Alpha.

    Hopefully we *won't* also see Linux there :-)
    • Someday there will be a grand museum of clealy superior technology that failed in the market anyhow (CSTTFMA). In it you will see the Amiga, OS/2, and the Alpha. Hopefully we *won't* also see Linux there :-)
      Well you damn well won't see windows there, thats for sure :P

      smash.

  • by DZign (200479) <averheNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday January 13, 2003 @04:16AM (#5070950) Homepage
    If I remember correct about 2 months ago HP announced the end of life for the Alpha
    (in about 2-3 years I believe).


    So what does this news mean ? Just trying to sell
    some more alphas ? How long will they support this system ?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      So what does this news mean ?

      Presuming you mean the news about good EV7 performance, it means Compaq was correct when they decided to continue with EV7 even though in the longer term they will be moving VMS to Itanium.

      Just trying to sell some more alphas ?

      The goal is to have VMS on the fastest possible system. The plan was that that would be EV7 for a while, until Itanium catches up.

      How long will they support this system ?

      Their standard is that they will support a system for at least five years after they stop selling it. They say they will continue to sell Alpha as long as there is a demand, but at least until 2006. If customers keep buying new Alphas (likely until Itanium catches up), they will sell the new ones. As for the 5 year support after sales end, that might be a bit misleading, as they still support machines sold 20 years ago (although at a steep price).

      If it is not obvious, some of us have been following this rather closely :-)

  • SPEC CPU2000 (Score:4, Informative)

    by Luminous Coward (445673) on Monday January 13, 2003 @06:45AM (#5071251)
    CINT2000 and CFP2000 results from the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation website.

    AlphaServer ES45 [hp.com]
    1250 MHz
    SPECint2000 = 928
    SPECint_base2000 = 845
    SPECfp2000 = 1365
    SPECfp_base2000 = 1019

    CINT2000 [specbench.org]
    CFP2000 [specbench.org]

    HP server rx5670 [hp.com] (Itanium 2)
    1000 MHz
    SPECint2000 = N/A
    SPECint_base2000 = 807
    SPECfp2000 = 1431
    SPECfp_base2000 = 1431

    CINT2000 [specbench.org]
    CFP2000 [specbench.org]

    Dell Precision WorkStation 530 [dell.com] (Xeon)
    2800 MHz
    SPECint2000 = 957
    SPECint_base2000 = 921
    SPECfp2000 = 887
    SPECfp_base2000 = 878

    CINT2000 [specbench.org]
    CFP2000 [specbench.org]
  • Imagine how fast OS X would be if it were ported to Alpha! Apple could dump Motorola, annoy IBM and its installed base, and continue a tradition of adopting elegant hardware and staying with it until it marginalized itself in the marketplace!

    Just in case anyone was unclear on the above... ;-)
  • It's built on Alpha EV78 processors connected by a switched fabric and promises blazing performance.

    EV78? Not likely. I seriously doubt that EV8 has even taped out yet. Marvel servers are powered by EV7 processors. EV78 will be a die-shrink version of the EV7 (don't recall the timeline for its appearance - probably about a year and a half).

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