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1.4-1.6 GHz Alphas 73

maniack writes, "Looks like the Alpha is striking back at AMD and Intel after a quiet period. has a story on new Alpha processors from 1.4-1.6 GHz being available by the end of the year despite rumors of Samsung pulling out of the processor market. Keep in mind that this is a 64 bit processor, so there will be a lot of competition in the that arena. " At this point, much of it is still conjecture, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
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1.4-1.6 GHz Alphas

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    when will we see some?
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I don't even install *beta* software on production systems!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    when will we see some?

    Get you some sixpacks and just stare at an Alpha later 8*)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    We've been running 1+ GHz Alpha chips in the lab for a while now. API was showing one last August at LinuxWorld in San Hoser.

    I've got a system in my lab in Nashua, NH that has four of these chips and 32GB of RAM.

    Cool stuff. Very cool stuff.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Gotta give Compaq credit for keeping the Alpha alive. Many people thought the Alpha would fade from existence when Compaq acquired DEC, but it looks like its as strong as ever.

    As some have probably already stated, the Alpha21264 series have absolutely mindblowing FPUs, with the 433MHz getting a spec_FP95 of 47 or thereabouts. I think even the fastest desktop CPUs out there are in the low-mid 20s.

    Something as massive as a 1.xGHz CPU would be a godsend for ISPs, ASPs, render farms, etc who wish to reduce the racks of Alphas they already have, and these machines are excellent for the price. And the higher end systems like the SC systems would be wonderful.

    AlphaServer DS10 with a 433MHz (or is that 466MHz) CPU can be had for under $3000 from Compaq. I don't know about you, but I plan on making my next Linux machine an Alpha. =D
  • The Cray T3E [] can have up to 2048 Alpha processors, when liquid-cooled. The low end model (T3E-900 []) can be had for less than $500,000...

    It runs UNICOS/mk, not Linux. Yet :^)

  • the article states that samples will be available this year - no mention of volume production.

    Gee vapourware again :-(
  • Alpha systems interleave PC100 memory for a 256-bit wide memory bus. Latency isn't great, since it's only at 100Mhz, but bandwidth is monstrous.

    The memory is switched also, so that memory access from other devices (like the Ethernet controller) do not create a chokepoint for the processor.
  • Alpha can do triple of x86 FP using only two FP units NOW at same clock (PIII has two that I know about, and SSE). If Intel can just add FP units to beat AXP, are you assuming that the AXP arch cannot?

    The Itanic's larger FP register file should help quite a bit on its behalf, but the FP units are still fairly innefficient even if you don't consider the register limitation, hopefully doing away with the legacy crap will fix it.

    Every architecture is going to be a moving target or die.

    I do agree the AXP fabbers and designers need to get on the ball as the 21264 was about two YEARS late, but apparently there was a huge performance lead as it is.

    Right now we can only characterize what is being produced, as for all we know, the performance of unannounced products could be lies, half truths or excessive wishful thinking.
  • WAHOO!!! I've been waiting a long time for someone to pick up the pace with Alpha! Took a while, but hopefully this is it!! Excellent news for us Alpha Linux users!!!

    LONG LIVE ALPHA LINUX [] and FreeBSD [] too!
  • The Transmeta CPU is actualy a 128 bit chip internaly. It only emulates 32 bit x86CPUs.

    The positbility exists for it to play ia64 at a latter date.
  • Intel owns the former DEC Plant in Mass that used to build Alpha chips. IIRC Sumsung makes them now, and some other coprs may as well. Intel also owns the rights (copyright) to some of the older Alphas, because they baught it from DEC in late 97 - early 98.
  • Alphas have had 64 bit PCI for YEARS now.
    And 66MHz PCI this year at 64 bit.
  • Our 3 year old alphas (only 300mhz) are easily within 2% of our newest 550mhz Pentium machines. This is for floating-point-intensive work, but also lots of file i/o. The code is compiled with both gcc and MSVC++ (both 3 years old as well), compared with code compiled with a very new MSVC++ on the Intel machines.

    I also got a chance to try a 1ghz Alpha, running Linux. Code compiled with (new) gcc was easily 3-4 times faster than a 550 mhz Intel code compiled with the newest MSVC++.

  • Look at On SpecCPU95 (there aren't enough SpecCPU2000 results to be worth worrying about), top Intel and AMD processors lead on integer performance, followed by Alpha, with HP a poor third and Sun nowhere.

    On FP performance, though it's a different story. There Alpha lead, followed by HP, then AMD, Intel and Sun.

    Horses for courses.
  • Searching a 64 bit address space takes twice as long as searching a 32 bit one.
    are you sure it's not 2^32 times as long?
  • When do you think you will need a 128 bit address space? Have you considered how large a 64 bit one is? How much time would it take to search for an item in a database that is more than 17 million gigabytes long? Just a thought...
  • 1) Compiler quality

    gcc gives good optimization on Intel chips, but its Alpha code quality isn't so great.
    GCC's optimizations are definitely not up to snuff on Alphas. The Compaq C compiler, on the other hand, generates some seriously fast code and takes better advantage of the nifty tricks the Alphas play.

    I wouldn't worry about code quality. Hardware drivers are definitely a different story, or course, but an EV5 or better system running code that's been compiled with EV5 optimizations will generally smoke any of the x86 chips, especially if it's more complex than plain math performance benchmarks. (The alpha's out-of-order execution stuff gets you a big win here)

  • Actually I thought the descision to drop Alpha/NT was Microsoft's? I could be wrong tho'.

    Compaq decided to stop paying for the Alpha version of NT and Microsoft dropped the product since they weren't willing to pay for it out of their own pocket. Microsoft dropped the MIPS and PPC versions of NT under similar circumstances. Supposedly, Microsoft still uses Alpha systems for Win64 work due to the lack of iA64 hardware.

  • It's great that we're getting all of these faster CPU's but when are we going to see faster busses for the data to travel to the memory and devices? Then we're going to need faster devices and memory. IMO we are speeding up the CPU's but not the system.
  • Is the memory access switched also? I'm going to guess it wouldn't be. The memory it self is the slow down. You can fly with the computational speed but when you need to slow down for access to memory we begin to lose the speed (I know that cache helps this somewhat).

    I know on the standard Intel setup the memory is one of the slow downs (~100MHz speed, though I believe there maybe 133MHz available).

    BTW, my particular need is in the area of I/O and prcessing. The server is processing user reequests (usually from an ehternet) and the either accessing a slow speed device (serially attached) or is hitting a network to attach to the low speed device (uController w/ethernet).

    Linux Home Automation - Neil Cherry - [mailto] [] (Text only) htsey/52 [] (Graphics) [] (SourceForge)

  • Actually I thought the descision to drop Alpha/NT was Microsoft's? I could be wrong tho'.

    As far as demand for linux on alpha, I would LOVE to switch over. I can taste it in the back of my mouth but the cost is what is holding me back.
  • Yes. Compaq's Turbolaser series, the GS140 will
    run up to 14 processors. However, this is old technology. It doesn't run the latest alpha chips, but the next generation of high end AlphaServers are just around the corner and they will. That's the WildFire series, which should start at a max of 32 processors using the newer Alpha EV67 chips @ over 700 Mhz. WildFire is a modular system. You plug 4 CPU bricks together to make as big a system as you need. I expect WildFire to be announced in May. They'll have excellent price/performance ratios.

    Lower end systems come in a variety of flavors. From the 1 rack unit single processor DS10L. The 2 processor DS20E, and the four processor ES40.

    For more details, check out: []

    And yes, they can run linux. However, Tru64 UNIX brings out the best in them. :-)

    Sorry about sounding like a sales-droid. I'm not.
  • Alpha systems have a really sophisticated bus to get the most out of the system. It has a PCI subsystem and this is connected to the I/O controllers, memory and CPU not through a bus but a switch. I.E. there is not contention between the various subsystems! They are all switched!
    Run Suse 6.3 or RedHat 6.2 on a DS20 SMP (max 2 CPUs) and you will be amazed at the performance. Nothing really approaches it for the price.
  • Biggest problem (still) with the x86 architecture is the variable length instructions (and all of the old cruft that hasn't been used since the 286 days). Fixed length instructions are so much cleaner, and more efficient. The whole FP architecture for the Pentium-line is slowed up... Check out the SpecFP for the Alphas and Power/PowerPC chips... much happier at the same clock speed - with the same number of execution units, geneally. It's all in the design, and that's one thing that Mertanium was supposed to be fixing...
  • Look at the numbers. The reason NT got dropped from the Alpha lineup is that it accounted for something like 2% of Alpha sales. There was no compelling business case to continue the support.

    OpenVMS, on the other hand, still has a *huge* customer base. *You* may not like it, but a lot of customers do and they keep buying systems, upgrades and support. OpenVMS will be around as long as it still makes money for us. NT didn't and it's gone.

    I gave my boss a reality check. It bounced.
  • Perhaps you meant 18 billion gigs (2^64).

    Searching a 64 bit address space takes twice as long as searching a 32 bit one.
    Not as bad as you thought, eh?

  • If you want a fair comparison, compare the 275MHz Alpha against a Pentium 75. That's about the era those came out.

    There's a big difference between a 600MHz EV5 and a 600MHz EV6. (about 2x!)

    POVray on my EV6 runs REALLY fast.

  • Where do you think AMD got their fast bus? It's
    the Alpha EV6 bus.

    mike (I work at API)
  • Actually I thought the descision to drop Alpha/NT was Microsoft's?

    No, it was Compaq.

  • 05045.html

    Article implies Atipa wants to become the VA Linux of Alpha hardware vendors.

    Atipa also has acquired Enhanced Software Technologies, makers of the BRU backup software.

  • right, my point being that if your going to ooh-ah and speculate about Alpha vaporware, why examine it in light of the comparable Intel vaporware?

  • The convention is that when a processor is labeled an "xx-bit CPU", the xx is referrring to size of the address space not the size of its data types or data paths. These days, most general purpose CPUs (16-bit, 32-bit, and 64-bit) all support the standard set of integer and FP types which range up to 64 bits in length.

    wrong. cpus' bit-width refers to the width of the general purpose (interger) registers. some modern 32bit cpus, such as some pentium cores, and the latest g4 revision, support 36bit addressing. that doesn't make them 36bit cpus. also, x86 fpu registers are really 80bits wide.

    So far, I don't think I've seen any general purpose processors with hardware support for 128-bit data types, mainly because there isn't really a demand for it. However, 128-bit types are sometimes supported on special purpose hardware for certain applications that need the extra precision.

    wrong, again. altivec, alpha mvi, and other simd instruction sets uses 128bit vectors.

  • Quoting from that press release, "Intel will serve as a foundry." That is, they manufacture Alphas on their production lines under contract to Compaq. This certainly doesn't inhibit Compaq from competing with Intel to design the fastest chips. Compaq doesn't have to make any concessions to Intel in order to keep the manufacturing relationship going. Other companies, such as Samsung, manufacture Alphas too, and Compaq is always looking for better deals from other foundaries.
  • This is a strange article.

    The alpha/x86 competition is fictional; these processors just serve different markets today.
    If memory serves, Intel manufactures the alphas that Compaq designs.

    See the old intel press release [].

  • I mean big whoop, "Our vapour is faster than their vapour" is all kind of amusing but in this case it's more like "Our vapour is faster than their hardware that is actually available right now". Am I missing the point? So what if this CPU that will be available *at the end of the year* will be faster than anything Intel or AMD have. Probably by that time Intel and AMD will have 1.4's and 1.6 's as well.
  • yeah liquid N :-( *sighs*.. head hurts.. need more caffeine

  • WOW... considering you do most of your common welding tasks with an arc welder at 80 amps, that number is quite freaking HIGH!!. I to thought it must have been some kind of mistake. That is going to draw some SERIOUS power. No kidding, keep them submerged in liquid C02

  • The company I work for makes IC testing equipment, and we have a few prototype Itaniums around. From what I've seen, the Merced is going to suck, but the McKinley will be much better.

    BTW, both chips need 125 amps just to get a return signal! Better break out those fire extinguishers.

    The package for the Merced looks sort of like a P2/P3 SEC cartridge, except it doesn't have an single-edge connector. It has a traditional PGA coming out the side (well, bottom, really). The PGA isn't much larger than the PGA for a Socket 370, but the socket itself has a surface area similar to a P2/P3 SEC cartridge laying on its side.

    Much of the difference in surface area of the PGA connector and socket is due to the truck load of L2 cache on the PCB with the processor.

  • in, no ATX alpha motherboards, no alpha cpus, the only place you can get the stuff is from ($$)VARs and (gag)ebay.

    IMO, commercial hardware is going to (increasingly) become the standard.

    killer PPC G4's (replete with silk .13 micron insulating substrates) and 1.6 GHz Alpha CPUs have great geek appeal, but waiting years...years...years for the surplus stuff to filter down sucks.

    not everyone can afford (or even wants) to pay 6-8X price for 2X performance.

    i think the dual athlons coming up may well set the performance standard. higher speed, lower cost -- AMD has done more than anyone else to bend the price/performance curve in the geek's favor.

    alpha and ppc just aren't interested in the mainstream market. don't get me wrong; i'd like either of them on my desktop, but they are really only for esoteric server/proprietary hardware solutions.
  • With that much memory you wouldn't even need a hard drive. Just create a virtual drive with your ram :) Imagine how fast you could play Quake 3...

    -Elendale (*quits drooling on himself*)

  • The funny thing about asking why use an Intel processor when discussing Alpha is that Intel owns Alpha's semiconductor production.
  • According to Intel press release [], Intel actually owns the Alpha semiconductor production.
  • I'd say that this is more useful for packed arithmetic. This would allow 8 16 bit operations in 1 shot.

    Of course longer operations are useful for cryptography.
  • They already have huge clusters of Alpha systems... it would just be faster.
  • Do Alpha systems do Multi-Processor boards?

    That would be a nice system... :)
  • They do, and not just 2 processors....

    Grtz, Jeroen

  • Well, AMD is going to a 400Mhz bus, so there is improvement in that direction, but most people still think that the clockspeed of the processor is a good indication of the systems computing power.

    Grtz, Jeroen

  • 128 bit addressing is not that interessting, 128 bit data is. You can make more precisive calculations without having to break data up, and you can transfer data twice as fast.

    Grtz, Jeroen

  • I think you meant liquid nitrogen. Unless you change the pressure, as far as I know, CO2 sublimes-changes from a solid directly to a gas.
  • AMD and Intel have the advantage right now since they have already broken the 1 ghz barrier. Also, the Sledgehammer and Itanium will be x86 compatible, so anyone entering into the 64 bit processor will probably be tempted to buy Intel or AMD.
  • Check out Via's home page -- I don't have the links in front of me, but to paraphrase, they said that in the future, if there was a demand, they might build in support to their motherboards. My understanding is that the two chips are pin for pin compatible, but I'm sure the bios and chipsets would have to be different.
  • Why would anyone use an alpha processor?

    Well performance for one. Have you seen the specs [] on these things?
    And like the other Anonymous Coward pointed out: quality.
    You have to think of this not as a Compaq product but as one from Digital Semiconductor. The guys who not only created Alpha, but StrongARM, PCI Bridge, and other networking components (e.g. Tulip). To me, Digital Semiconductor is the most respected name in the industry.

    Now the real question: Why would anyone use an Intel processor?

    I'll be the first to point out that I have limited experiance with the x86 architecture. But I'll also be the first to point out that this architecture is terrible! I mean when I think about the performance (and quality) that goes into the majority of the worlds desktops -- as an engineer and geek I'm disgusted!
  • You can find a list of vendor's [] on API's website [].

    What I'm really looking for is a EV6 and motherboard. (I had fun building the rest of the box around my EV56 and 164LX board.) Anyone know where these can be found?
  • Wrong.

    Well, at least not any more. (Yes fabbing Alphas was part of the whole patent violation settlement.)

    But now, that's what Samsung is for.
  • ...but how many mp3's can it play at once, and can it run 40,000 copies of Linux? Isn't that the TRUE test of a system?
  • I've been waiting to upgrade my 500Mhz Alpha for some time now! Hurrah! I'm itching to get my hands on a 1.5Ghz jobbie to see it wop some serious Intel backside.
  • Sounds more like vaporware to me - 'developing', 'clock speed as high as', 'planning to launch' etc. Unfortunately.

  • Don't bet on that. I have a 600MHz Alpha next to me right now, and for many tasks it performs at the same level as my 450MHz PII. There's two things dragging down the Alpha:

    1) Compiler quality
    gcc gives good optimization on Intel chips, but its Alpha code quality isn't so great.

    2) Driver quality
    Many drivers are simply not optimized for 64-bit systems. They work, but they don't fully utilize the system's potential.

    (1) can be partially solved by using Compaq's cc compiler for the Alpha, but even that has its limits. (2) can only be solve if enough developers get behind the platform (not particularly likely unless the price of an Alpha drops to PIII levels).
  • Yes they do.

    The current debian build system donated by Alpha-Processor is.

    Check Look for UP2000
  • I keep hearing low-grade rumors that AMD may end up actually making Alphas. If true, that plus the motherboard commonality might put a dent in the price.

    Nice would be if AMD postured the Athlon as an "entry level Alpha". Buy Athlon & board now, upgrade to screamin' Alpha later.

  • Hmm... well, I'm not sure we've gotta give them credit, because their business model seems pretty weak. I mean, these guys are still pouring money into not just Tru64 (a not-particularly popular Unix), but also OpenVMS?!? Come on guys, you're willing to drop support for WinNT on Alpha, but not your frickin' proprietary minicomputer OS? No one can really understand their strategy for the chip, with on-again, off-again support for Linux. Read interviews with their execs, who really haven't seen all that much demand for Linux on Alpha. It just doesn't make sense for servers on a price/performance level, so it's relegated to the (important, but unpredictable) scientific market. I guess a lot of this comes down to whether or not McKinley lives up to expectations. --JRZ
  • While I agree that the TurboLaser architecture is old technology, I must point out that it WILL run the latest processor chips. I have a GS140 in my lab that has eight EV67 processors @ 700MHz and 20GB of RAM.

    The Wildfire series will be cool when they start shipping. Up to 32 processors and 256GB of RAM in a single system based on switching technology. Then you can start clustering those puppies together for some really impressive numbers.

    My favorite, though, is the ES40. It is, without a doubt, the nicest machine we're currently shipping. My ES40 with 667MHz EV67 processors is almost twice as fast as my "old" GS140 with 700MHz EV67 processors. How? It's the memory switch!

    I gave my boss a reality check. It bounced.
  • Already been done.

    The AlphaServer SC is a cluster of up to 64 ES40 machines connected by a high-speed memory channel.

    The ES40 can take up to four EV67 Alpha processors running at 667MHz and 16GB of memory. Memory is 4-way interleaved on a crossbar switch rather than a conventional memory bus. It's a really nice machine.

    A fully decked-out AlphaServer SC can, therefore, have up to 256 processors and 1 Terabyte of RAM.

    Is that enough for now? :-)

    I gave my boss a reality check. It bounced.
  • You can get an EV67-based 600MHz 2MB cache UP1000 SYSTEM for $3000. That includes software. Ads are running here on Slashdot and Freshmeat.

    Yea, it's not $1500, but if you need what Alpha has, it's a good price.

    Speaking of price, what IS a good price?

    mike (I work at API)

  • I'm curious to see whether Intel designed the floating point units in Itanium or whether that was an HP contribution. If Intel got the HP floating point units as part of the joint-development deal, this would obviously narrow the gap substantially; HP and Alpha have been pretty neck and neck in the SPEC race the last few years.


  • Maybe for what you're using it for but when I ran Povray on my 275mhz alpha w/2MB cache it ran slower than it did on my girlfriend's new PII-266. And the Alpha had twice as much memory. Not that that would have mattered--it was a fairly simple raytracing.

    True though, Alpha's rock.

  • I guess 1.4 to 1.6 GhZ isn't a particularly big deal to them. I have to wonder why they're not pushing the 64 bit advantage while they're still one of the only players in the market. Once Itanium comes out, everyone will want one.

    I've upgraded my expectation of the Itanium. I still think that it's going to suck for Windows, but SGI and others seem to be really focussed on getting it working and working WELL with UNIX.

  • I like Alpha chips. For number-crunching, they are the best, but their commercial future has been a concern. Intel doesn't have the best chips but they do make A LOT of them. The sheer volume brings down not only the selling prices of the cpu, but also the prices of motherboards etc. Alpha chips might still be the king for FP computations but IBM and Sun have pretty good chips, too. How many High-end chips can the market support? I am afraid that Alpha chips will be forced into a very small niche. People would have to pay a lot more for the same porformance/price ratio if they want alpha machines. If that happens, it will only be a matter of time before Compaq pulls the plug. The key point I see is the volume. How can they sell more to justify the R&D cost? One possibility I saw is to let Aplha chips use the same MBs as AMD's K7s. That has not happened, right? Even AMD has troubles to bring down the prices of the K7 motherboards. Is there a way out?
  • With that much memory you wouldn't even need a hard drive. Just create a virtual drive with your ram :) Imagine how fast you could play Quake 3...

    If you've got 256 processors and 1T ram, you're probably not using it for Quake. :)

    NOC: "Network Operations, this is Bob speaking." Jim: "Hey Bob, this is Jim. We've gotta take the server offline. Necesary Maintenance." NOC: "No sweat. Thanks for the warning!" Joe: "We're set?" Jim: "Yep! QUAKE ON!"
  • by szyzyg ( 7313 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2000 @03:27AM (#1150516)
    Even the 500Mhz alphas in our year old machines are still faster than the gigahertz athlons and PIII's which are grabbing the headlines.

    Processor speed isn't just about the clock - The alpha's rock in every way
  • by Soko ( 17987 ) on Wednesday April 05, 2000 @04:46AM (#1150517) Homepage

    I can't wait for one of these - I've always wanted to see a heat sink the size of a shoebox...

    Let's see - Linux et. al. have M$ on the decline, and IMHO the Alpha could sink _any_ x86 processor out there. The guard is changing. Two years ago I was getting bored with this industry, but not anymore.

    BTW, check out c/ref/ref_alpha_ia64.pdf [] for the reasons Alphas will smoke IA64. Technical, but interesting.

  • This is good news for Alpha, but the delivery date will leave them under substantial pressure this fall and even after the new Alphas come out for two reasons:
    • Intel's Willamette will be out in Q3 running at 1.1 GHz to at least 1.4 GHz, coming pretty close or equal to these Alphas on megahertz, and likely on SPECint (integer and branching performance where Intel typically lags Alpha by 5-50%.) The proper comparison is current -products-to-current-products or future-at-dateX to future-at-dateX products, not current-to-future.
    • Alpha's pre-eminence in floating point is about to drop sharply due to Itanium and Willamette products from Intel with substantially improved floating point (many more fp execution units). Alpha has traditionally provided 3x the floating point of Intel. About 3-4 years ago, Intel realized that floating point was useful for the mass market (3D games) and the workstation space they were starting to enter, and these two processor cores are the first to reflect significant prioritization of floating point from Intel (SSE in Pentium III was a minor modification of a existing core design.)
      • While Intel has kept this mostly under wraps, some details have leaked out indicating that Willamette/Foster (Foster is the "Xeon" version of Willamette) will have equal or better floating point than Itanium [], and Itanium's floating point has been publicly characterized in things like Kenneth's Intel roadmap []. Note that the existence of only 8 registers on IA32 designs like Willamette probably substantially restrains performance on real apps. Intel will add 144 new SSE2 instructions according to Sharky [] and eliminate the switch time previously required when going from regular fp to SSE instructions. The memory bandwidth gap between Alpha and Intel will also narrow with Willamette/Itanium.)

    Net: Intel may be about to catch up a significant amount on floating point, a historic Alpha differentiator, and Intel clock rates and integer/branch performance definitely keep pace at the 1-2 GHz levels.


"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972