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What's Going On With Alpha 86

Fernando Ribeiro Corrêa writes: "Richard Payne, Alpha Processor's Tech Support Manager, talks about Alpha's Linux strategy, market competition with Intel, Transmeta and its Alpha plans for the future."
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What's Going With Alpha

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  • ...least funny, except that is for Dilbert.

    Slashdot is certainly on a humour strike today.
  • I guess it was the "I've asked this before"-bit.
    Jeez... I've forgotten that although there is just so much crap on /. you are not allowed to make such mistakes... silly me -:-)


  • AMD's 1 GHz athlon was out some time late last year. The 1 GHz Alpha was only recently introduced.

    * CmdrTaco is an idiot.

  • The Compaq CC compiler specific to Alpha is available for free for Linux. See the compaw web site for the details, sorry no link.
  • by mikefoley ( 51521 ) <mike@yelo f . c om> on Wednesday October 11, 2000 @06:42AM (#715284) Homepage
    EV6 CPU's are at .35um
    EV67 CPU's are at .25um
    EV68 CPU's are at .18um

    The UP1100 and UP2000 systems from API are EV67's.
    We have been running EV67's for some time now.
    The UP1100 board/CPU combo runs quite nicely on a 300w power supply. The combo pulls around 90w.

    EV68 based systems will be out in Q1 of 2001.

    FWIW, I work at API.
  • Alphas are useful for much more than doing the latest physics simulations. Do you realize the power of a software synthesizer running on one of these things? I wish they weren't so damn expensive; I could set up one hell of a digital audio/music workstation with one of these.
  • I thought Linus just left his alpha in the box and only turned it on so he could say to DEC that he'd switched it on.

    Is Linus now getting credit for doing the port?
  • Can you imagine a Slashdot topic where someone doesn't post this inane message.

    It wasn't funny after two posts, after 100 it just becomes annoying.

  • Traditionally the problem with the Nvidia cards was that it's video bios made some 32bit calls that wernt supported by the x86 bios emulator in SRM. Since SRM-5.8 has been released this problem has since been fixed. So the "only" thing holding back Nvidia support in X/DRI is for some folks to work on it's Xserver. FYI with regards to 3D acceleration DRI does work on Alpha now with the Voodoo 3. Glide3 has also been ported to 64bit and works.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Transmeta is not a competitor to Alpha since the Alpha offers such a huge performance advantage. The market niche for Transmeta chips is in portable devices due to their low power consumption.
  • by greg ( 1058 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2000 @08:11AM (#715290)
    Hmm, no offense but I think you are wrong. Last year Compaq earned more revenue on its RISC platforms (VMS, Tru64, NSK) than on all its x86 NT Server products. Almost $1.5billion more. Those RISC platforms also have a much higher profit margin than the Proliants.

    Don't get me wrong, the Proliant is a strong platform, it has the unit volume for sure, but its not going to replace the Alpha.

    I spent last week at the Compaq Enterprise Technical Symposium, and it was very enlightening. The place was overrun by Alpha users, distributors and VARS. A huge percentage of the course tracks were Tru64, OpenVMS or Linux on Alpha.

    Compaq is a very different company than they were before the Digital buyout. They have alot more enterprise savvy and far superior engineering than the old Compaq did. In fact, they feel alot like the old robust, creative DEC of the 80's but with good marketing, smart management and a decent PC line.

    I think that the PA-RISCS and SGI-MIPS platforms are in alot more danger of becoming extinct than the Alpha.

    Heck if I were Sun I'd be brittin' shicks right about now. Compaq will have Sun in a market pincer next year with IA-64 coming up from the low end and Alpha pressing down from above.

    Also, Compaq doesn't fab or market the Alpha. Compaq designs the chip and uses it in their systems. Samsung and IBM provide the fabs and API does the marketing for third party chip and board sales.

  • No.

    The Linux kernel has never been self-booting on Alpha. You are thinking of MILO, which is based loosely on the kernel sources and which provides BIOS emulation and PALcode for the kernel.

    MILO itself is not self-booting. There was an experimental project to flash MILO, but it only worked on a few systems and was never supported.

    ARC and AlphaBIOS are both history. They aren't available for new systems. SRM is now the preferred bootloader for Linux, and is available for most machines, old and new, except for a few systems that were designed for NT only.

    Did you notice that Compaq freed up SRM? It used to require license fees but now it is freely downloadable on all hardware for which it is available.

  • by puz ( 222978 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2000 @08:15AM (#715292) Homepage
    Since the article had only a cursory reference to EV8, let me elaborate on this most significant product. It isn't very often that an idea comes that is so revolutionary that it causes a discontinuity in the year verses performance curve. First was the idea of RISC. Next came the idea of having a plurality of execution units and issuing more than one instruction per cycle. Then came the idea of executing instructions out-of-order. What will be the next major paradigm shift? The answer is Simultaneous Multithreading [alphapowered.com]. And Alpha (EV8) is the chip that is spearheading this revolution. The problem of how to always keep the pipeline full has vexed architects for years. The solution presented by SMT is deceptively simple. When bubbles appear in the pipeline due to branch mispredicts, resource conflicts, etc, why not execute other threads? Most modern operating systems have multiple threads running simultaneously anyway. By adding only 5% additional SMT control circuit, EV8 performance will double [cnet.com]. Contras this to the competitor's CMP approach (chip level multiprocessing) where doubling the chip area produces less than double the performance. Make no mistake, SMT is the next big thing. Expect other companies to follow suit. Even Intel expressed interest in embracing SMT in their future processors. Microprocessor Report Volume 13, Number 16, December 6 1999, page 10. I'm speaking only for myself.
  • No chance, sorry.

    The Ruffian was orphaned by Deskstation. It doesn't support SRM, ARC or AlphaBIOS, but it's very own ARCSBIOS. Fortunately, MILO is available so you can run Linux.

    But since there is no SRM (and never will be) there is no hope of running either Tru64 or OpenVMS. Your choices are NT, Linux, and possibly NetBSD (if somebody ever hacks it to load from MILO, which is possible but nobody's done the work).

  • by Anonymous Coward
    It's a misconception that Alpha is expensive. Yes, for the very latest top of the crop, the machines are high relative to a cheap PC. But the machines from 2 years ago compete very well with todays top-flight x86 chips. You can get a 400Mhz AlphaServer for under $1000 on Ebay, brand new. I've seen several 500Mhz XP1000's (EV6!) for under $1500 on there too, brand new. Anything older than that will be slower of course but old Alpha's are dirt cheap. If you just want a usable 64-bit machine for development and "playing" with, get a Multia or AXPpci for about $100. There is no excuse *NOT* to have an Alpha. Why waste your money on crap. All Alpha's have ECC memory, are built like tanks, are reliable, and have a coolness factor far surpassing run-of-the-mill x86 boxes. Did I say *64-bit*...say it with me...64-bit!
  • There was an experimental project to flash MILO, but it only worked on a few systems and was never supported

    Well, it worked on my 164LX board quite well.

  • But is it really that more expensive? I thought the only things that needed to be different for an Alpha system are the motherboard and processor?

    Yes. But things like cache memory are expensive, you know (IIRC Athlons have only 512K L2 cache).

    And it seems the new motherboards are using AMD's 750 Athlon chipset now. So shouldn't the mobos be cheap, like under $300? Is the processor very expensive?

    Unfortnately the mobo is different than those used for Athlon, and hasn't achieved the same economies of scale.

    Is it possible to get a 21264 system with SCSI for under $3000?

    Don't know about SCSI, but you can find a fully configured UP1100-based system for well under $3000. (Do you really need SCSI? You could always add it on later...)

  • I bought one for home use 2 years ago.
    It was more expensive than my 486 was 8 years ago, but still to this day, it is the best machine I own. The build quality is astounding, and it is a joy to program (I'm a mathematician, and 64 bit registers rock my world).
    I believe that when I buy a 1G Athlon it won't be much better for me than the Alpha, and of course that's 2-3 years later!

    I use Linux, the distribution is irrelevant as long as you get one that is well enough tested before they put it on the shelves.

    The AlphaLinux RedHat mailing list have provided answers to every question I've ever asked about every issue, and they don't even ask which distribution I use...

  • It is now API, not Compaq, who is going after that market segment. The REGISTER has an article on API's 21264E [theregister.co.uk], a poor-man's EV7, so to speak.
  • I got a 164SX sitting right next to this computer, under my bed, in my dorm room. Nice, 533MHz computer. Runs FreeBSD

    Fairly cheap too. Although I didn't buy it myself, my step father traded some old funature for two of these boards. Inside, it is all normal Intel PC parts: Mach64 ATI card, samsung IDE disk, 2.88Mb floppy, Zip (ide), 2 CD-roms, 2 sound card.

    My real problum is software. I love Linux, and overall I like RedHat. Since they have allways had an Alpha distro, I thaught things would work fine. I was very wrong. RH6.2 is *very* buggy for the alpha. Not as much bugs, but simple things where overlooked. For instance, I could not use RedHats GUI menu's without playing around with Libs for a while. It didn't feel like RedHat on an Intel. I tried Debian, but had complaints in other areas for it. FreeBSD seems to be the best, and provide the most support. A lot of packages, decent Documentation.

    Most Disto with an Alpha flavor make it very hard to find info on the Alpha port. Take SuSE for instance. Plenty of Docs of how to install it for an Intel, allmost nothing for an Alpha. A lot of Disto's have the minor version number for alpha behind there the version for Intel, and in the case of RH, they have yet to make 7.0 for Alpha.

    My best suggestion is to use the SRM bootloader. Milo works fine, but getting things working with AlphaBISO is less then fun. It seems like they really designed it for WinNT, and not others.

    Overall, I like running the Alpha. Allmost everything for Intel can be found for Alpha too, (Though it takes some looking). There is an Intel emulator, which I have not tried yet. Hardware wise, allmost everything for an Intel will fit and work in an Alpha. Hopefully Compaq will start pushing Alpha more, as it really is a good chip that dosen't get as much attention as it deserves. [Sorry for the spelling mistakes, but I don't feel like copying this from window to window right now]
  • I actually built a fully functioning Alpha system about 2-1/2 years ago for about $800. This machine was completely built using parts purchased from OnSale.com (now Egghead.com) and had a shopping list like what follows:

    • AlphaStation 233Mhz thin desktop machine - $300
    • 17" monitor - $200
    • Extra 32MB RAM (64MB total) - $75
    • 4GB SCSI HDD - $175
    • 8x SCSI CD-ROM - $50

    The individual prices may not be right, but I do remember the bottom line being about $800. My goal wasn't any major application, but to just have a "non-Wintel" machine at home. For that, it has worked wonderfully. Besides, it makes a cool conversation piece.

  • The Linux kernel has never been self-booting on Alpha.

    The Linux kernel has been self-booting on the Alpha since just about day one. You can write a raw kernel image to a disk and boot it from the system firmware, just like you can on the i386 architecture. However, few people do, because this is very limiting (again, just like on the i386 architecture). You can only have one kernel image per disk partition, you have to pre-allocate raw disk space for it, and you cannot pass parameters.

    (For those who are curious, look in $KERNEL_SOURCE/arch/alpha/boot/, especially main.c function start_kernel.)
  • The only problem I think I'll have with Tru64 is my Adaptec 2940. From what I've read, Tru64 doesn't support any of the Adaptec cards. Luckily, only my zip and jaz are on that.

    Oh, there is one other thing. I know I need SRM with Tru64(I'm using AlphaBIOS for the dual boot with NT). I know there's a way I can switch between the two without loosing the other, but haven't found any clear info on how to do that. Anybody know of how to do this??
  • by weave ( 48069 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2000 @06:08AM (#715303) Journal
    Earlier this year, with $250,000 to spend, I was looking at a nice StorageWorks SAN from Compaq. One of my conditions was that it would work with Linux, be it on Alpha or Intel. The sales rep initially took the attitude "why would you want to do that for?" and then pushed an Intel/NT solution. After insisting, they said they could let me in on a secret that Fibre Channel HBA support would be announced in April. Well that came and went, and nothing. Finally in summer they said "Yeah, we support Linux in the SAN, but only when in an arbitrated loop (which sucks since the entire SAN is like a hub not a switch).

    I ended up looking elsewhere...

    My impression was Compaq was giving lip service to Linux support. Maybe that's not the case in the very few months since then. I'd like to know... I saw a freshmeat announcement of drivers for a Compaq HBA for fibre channel since then but after that point it was too late...

  • Yep, I have a 21164a 533. (164LX)

    Absolutly one of the best machines I've ever had. I've had it for two years.. at the time I got it, the equivelant Intel costs twice as much.

    With the advent of Gnome and good support from XFree, the alpha has been a very cool machine for me.

    I'm planning on getting an XP1100 here in the next few months. (AGP baby! Uses the AMD Irongate chipset!)

    Anyhow, I highly recommend one if you want to do 64 bit hacking NOW.

    And anyone out there waiting for 64bit intel can thank the Alpha people for working out most of the 64 bit issues in the software they (might one day) use. Or you could get yourself an alpha.

    Just stay away from nVidia. Their cards do NOT work on alpha systems.

  • by Tet ( 2721 )
    Richard Payne: The Alpha was the first non-i386 processor to run Linux.

    Actually, no. m68k was the first non-x86 processor to run Linux, but Alpha was the first to get integrated into the main kernel tree.

  • Man yeah, Alpha servers run in Space Heater Emulation (tm) mode. We have a Compaq GS140 cluster, that with all the disk spinning and 16 cpus humming draws 192 amps at 240V! I'd say Compaq is not worried about power consumption with their AlphaServer line.

    I'd like to be able to afford the power to run one of these in my garage. I won't even abide the 80W required by an Athlon though and wouldn't consider an Alpha at home for this very reason.

    I think it's somewhat better power-wise than IBM's equivalent offerings though, in which you could slow-cook a roast.

  • Hi,

    I think I've already asked this on /. but here you go anyway :)

    I've got a ruffian (samsung) motherboard with a 21164 on it, and was wondering if I can install Tru64 on it:
    If I remember, digital unix could only boot on digital unix mobos, not on alphaPCs. Is that still the case?

    Not that I dislike alphalinux or anything (still haven't updated from 2.0.38 yet, need to flash a milo 2.2.something), just wondering :)


  • For a long time digital (and now compaq) have claimed that their optimizing compiler for the alpha was dramatically better than gcc. Does anyone know if this is still the case?

    Slashdot ran an article [slashdot.org] linking to some benchmarks. According to the results, compaq's claim is correct, their compiler is much better than the gcc port.


  • >My impression was Compaq was giving lip service to Linux support.

    Well they are!
    BSD is the real future....

    If you are interested in Open Source, you'll want to try FreeBSD, an advanced Unix operating system based on code developed at the University of California at Berkley and made available as a Berkley Software Distribution. FreeBSD runs on many different platforms, and is powerful enough to drive some of the most popular sites on the Internet, like Yahoo! We have Test Drives of it running on AlphaServer
    DS10-L's Look for Test Drives of other BSD variants in the future! Sign up for an account and take FreeBSD for a spin

    The reality is the expected boost from NT isn't there for the Alpha. So *ANY* OS they can get running and supported, they will. If they can give away a box or 2 and have people write code for no money out of Compaq's pocket.....its a great deal for Compaq.
  • I just don't have enough money. Alphas could be really sweet for music production (think realtime DSP). Grab a couple of these things and whip up some good assembly routines and you're in business. How many voices could you get out of one? 64? 128?
  • One would wonder though, why you looked to Compaq for the HBAs when there are plenty of other HBAs out there. It should have had no difference in the connection to the Storage Works SAN system.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I have two 533Mhz LX164 21164-based boards in PC cases. Each started identically: 512MB, 20GB IDE, CDROM, Floppy, Matrox MG200 PCI video, SMC(?) Tulip-based ethernet.

    I started with both running Linux (RedHat 6.1) so I knew the hardware all worked. The machines serve as test systems for a large physics code. This summer, I bought and loaded True64 5.0 on one of the machines in order to be able to test the code on both OSs.

    The basic load from a CD was fairly straight forward. The machines had AlphaBIOS and so the True64 box had to be upgraded to SRM. The CD was in the set. The X-based installation tool was about the level of a Red-Hat 6 setup (that has had lots of complaints of being too basic). In particular, the graphic disk-partition tool was more of a pain than RedHat's disk druid.

    True64 would only see the Matrox as 16-color VGA. True64 would see the Tulip chip set (it IS a DEC product) but after initialization would say something like "I don't see the DEC part-numbered PROM on the ethernet controller. I won't use it."

    I purchased two Compaq/DEC ethernet cards ($100 each.) which, interestingly enough, have Intel chip sets on them. True64 would now see the net, but trying to put the Compaq/DEC card into the Linux box failed. The AlphaBios thought the card was some sort of SCSI and hung trying to initialize it. So, my two machines are no longer identical; they heve different ethernet cards.

    The whole experience was quite unplesant. For a total of over $4000 (at the Lab's 36% discount) and a few months of time, I have a machine that is back to the level it was at with Linux before. I don't need the console (most all access is remote with ssh) so the lack of X at over VGA resolution isn't a problem for me.

    The bottom line: although DEC really pushed third-party motherboards in PC cases, if it doesn't have Compaq/DEC part numbers, it isn't going to work very well with True64.

  • Quake didn't exist in '94 or '95. Qtest itself came out 24 FEB 96, with the release date sometime in JUL 96 also, if you had the VESA drivers, you could run software quake as high as you wanted (albeit slowly). Amorphis
  • Good to know!

    Yes, linux runs very fine. At least Debian does...
    I still need to upgrade my box to patato and check-out ccc, but all in all, it looks like the box will never run Tru64, then :-/

    I wasn't impressed by the speed of say... povray compiled with gcc, but with an alpha compiler released by compaq, I should still see some improvement in my calculations...

    You ever tried to solve a 4000x4000 double float system? it's... slow. All I'm waiting for is a decent 4 to 8 SMP athlon box with 2Gb of memory. That should last a couple of years in terms of my computational needs! I think ;-)


  • I thought Linus just left his alpha in the box and only turned it on so he could say to DEC that he'd switched it on.

    You've got the story right, but you've got your machines mixed up - either IBM or Motorola (I can't remember which) wanted him to port Linux to PPC, but once he had it working on the Alpha he got from Mad Dog, he left the PPC in the box. One day he turned it on just so that he could tell them he turned it on.

    Linus has been an Alpha supporter for a long time.
  • Anyone make the decision to buy an Alpha for personal use, or do most people just get them as left-overs from work? I just don't see an influx of personal computing on Alphas... What all do you think about their practicality?


  • I've got an LX164 (600mhz EV56, 512MB of RAM, 8GB SCSI drive) and it's the sweetest machine I've ever had, and one of the fastest ones I've ever used (the only faster one was an Alpha I got the opportunity to play around with at Goddard Space Center, which was a dual 600mhz Alpha with 4GB of RAM :-)

    I have to admit, I don't use it as my main machine, mostly because I use 3D Studio and Painter 6 often and don't have NT for Alpha. But it's the workhorse around here - it's our IP Masq box, Samba server, web server, FTP server, SMTP server, and POP/IMAP server, and it used to be the home for Smokedot [smokedot.org] until our DSL got cut off. When i do hook my 19" monitor up to it and use X, it is FAST. Blindingly fast. I didn't think it was humanly possible for X with Helix Gnome to go so fast, but it's much faster and more responsive than my roommate's Athlon 800 running either Win2k or Linux, and it just blows my P2 350 out of the water.

    Conclusion? Any geek who runs Linux would be, IMHO, much happier with an Alpha than x86. I run RedHat, but I know Debian and SuSE both have Alpha distributions, as well as Free- and NetBSD. Every open source program I've tried on it has worked great - some of them give warnings on compile which seem to indicate that they're not 64-bit clean, but they work fine nonetheless. It's also got a ridiculous number of PCI/ISA slots and drive bays - 10 full-height drive bays, 4 ISA, and 6 PCI slots.

    The only issue is games - I haven't seen a single commercial game which has a Linux/Alpha port, which kinda sucks. It would make a sick gaming platform, especially now that the SRM compatibility problems with nVidia cards have been fixed.

    Not to mention the fact that any CPU with 4MB of L2 cache is good in my book :-)
  • ... from intel vs. AMD to alpha vs. transmeta??
    Would be interesting to see...

    -- Don't you hate it when people comment on other people's .sigs??
  • Hrm....guess I should get that Alzheimer's checkup.

    I'm pretty sure it was Quake, and I know I was in DC, so it could have been late '96. FedUnix (now known as OpenSourceWorld if it's still around).
  • Is this statement in the article acutally true?

    OLinux: The use Linux is more frequent in Alpha or PCs? How long do you use it in Alphas? Have any numbers?

    Richard Payne: The Alpha was the first non-i386 processor to run Linux. It all started when Digital (now Compaq) gave Linus an Alpha machine several years ago. I don't have any numbers of Alpha with Linux vs. PCs with Linux. I'm not sure anybody has accurate numbers of that.

  • by redelm ( 54142 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2000 @05:41AM (#715321) Homepage
    I love the Alpha processor, but it needs a shrink in the worst imaginable way:

    A 0.35um 600 MHz 21264 sucks back 47A @ 2.35V = 109 W! The things desolder themselves (apocryphal). In 0.18um, 600 MHz would only be ~16A @ 1.6V = 26W leaving plenty of room to go up to the coveted GHz (26A@1.6=43W).

    Is Compaq trying to kill this processor by denying it a shrink? Sorry, the font on that URL was too small to read.
  • Do you see the pattern?

    From the AMD Athlon FAQ [amd.com]:
    • System Bus: The AMD Athlon processor's system bus is the first 200MHz system bus for x86 platforms, as well as the fastest x86 processor bus available, delivering up 50 percent more peak bandwidth than any other x86 system bus. The AMD Athlon system bus is designed for scalable multiprocessing and leverages high-performance Alpha(TM) EV6 bus technology to enable exceptional system performance.
    Yes, I see the pattern.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    there is no mention of Alpha's lack of first post power.
  • EV6 != K7

    From the AMD Athlon FAQ [amd.com]:
    • System Bus: The AMD Athlon processor's system bus is the first 200MHz system bus for x86 platforms, as well as the fastest x86 processor bus available, delivering up 50 percent more peak bandwidth than any other x86 system bus. The AMD Athlon system bus is designed for scalable multiprocessing and leverages high-performance Alpha(TM) EV6 bus technology to enable exceptional system performance.
    You sir, have no idea what you are talking about.
  • by Jeffrey Baker ( 6191 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2000 @05:41AM (#715325)
    I saw this juicey bit over at the AlphaLinux Homepage. [alphalinux.org]. The Linux kernel's assembly routines for Alpha have been updated, resulting in a large system performance boost on EV6 machines.
  • Check out Microway [microway.com].
    You can pick up a 533 Mhz Alpha system for $1995. It comes with everything except a monitor.
    Hrm... 64-bit cpu w/ 2mb cache system for under 2 grand. Not to shabby.

  • I've bought an Alpha (500 MHz 21164 on 164LX) and have no complaints. I told myself I'm buying it to do my computational physics code developement (ab initio molecular dynamics; might GPL it when it's ready enough) at home so I don't waste project's CPU time, but now that I think about it, the coolness factor played a major part, too...
  • if you want to do 64 bit hacking NOW

    Submitting 64-bit bug-fixes to Linux kernel and applications, by the way, is an easy way to contribute back to the OS community. With the upcoming 64-bit Intel and AMD processors in the horizon, the more applications are made 64-bit clean and kernel bugs get fixed, the more advantage OS community will have over the closed operating systems.

    You don't have to give up your current setup. Just buy some inexpensive left-over Alpha and try compiling software on it. If it doesn't compile, fix it and release the patch to community. In time this will benefit everybody.

  • Three levels of cache is always nice to have!

  • I've had lots of joysticks, and I _HATE_ MS joysticks. They feel very...cheap. Same goes for gravis..lots of nice buttons on those Gravis sticks though :)

    By far, my favorite joystick company is CH Products. Nothing beats an F-16 Fightertick with a Pro Throttle and Pro Pedals. MMMMMMMMM :)
  • Dumb moderator, that was supose to be a joke.
    Perhaps that wasn't funny after all, eh...
  • One would wonder though, why you looked to Compaq for the HBAs when there are plenty of other HBAs out there.

    Good point. The problem is that by its nature, the SAN and storage unit becomes the mission critical piece. All of your eggs go into that basket and when in a business, you really want a service contract on that stuff. Even though there's lots of redundancy set in, if something fails, I want it repaired that day. For Compaq to provide that level of service, they want nothing but HBAs, and driver kits that they have certified...

    I gotta tell you, I was really disappointed at my experience in dealing with sales reps from Compaq and other vendors like EMC. You mention Linux and they do their best to talk you out of it. Now I know that Linux is currently lacking in areas that commercial UNIXes have, like LVMs and journaled file systems, but the point of a SAN is for me to be able to hook up various boxen running various OSes to the SAN's storage. Some of those I want to be Linux based due to application needs.

    p.s. I know there is now some level of LVM and JFS support in newer linux kernels. But other vendors have had this stuff in their OSes for several years now. Sometimes it doesn't pay to be on the bleeding edge when your butt is on the line...

  • Actually, you can get Netscape, along with a lot of other software from Compaq. I don't have the web addy handy, but do a search on Compaq's webpage for Alpha Power Tools and you should be able to find it.
  • Thanks for that! And I thought I had problems booting milo from my floppy :-)

    My config is a samsung mobo with a 2940 adaptec, a 3c905 and somekind of ATI that was working well under NT.
    Nothing's recognised by the bios (especially not the adaptec), but it will still boot milo and linux from the floppy. Amazingly impressive that everything works under linux as is, especially with cards that were after all designed for x86.
    So I might have trouble with my config under tru64? it's a pitty, because I was having the best transfer rate with the 3c905 nic and the adaptec card instead of using the onboard chipset.

    BTW, I remember reading somewhere that you have to flash an alpha specific bios in your videocard, in order for it to work under alpha... but I guess that's not a problem if you're using a separate xterm.



  • Yes there is a big performance increase under ccc over gcc.
    As to performance, I am willing to bet that under ccc, a 2 year old alpha would kick the stuffing out of any x86, m86k, sparc, mips or any other arch.
    In fact at my University, they got a 16 processor origin box that linking 8 alphas from the math department in a beowolf (ranging from ~133 (or 166) to 533) would kill it.

    I sit here typing on a 5 year old alpha which is 300MHz :)

  • Even though the Alpha processor has its technical merits compared to Intel, or perhaps AMD, consider also the fact that in any market, diversity is _good_ in and of itself.

    Even though I do not (personally) have the funds to buy an Alpha, a SPARC, a PPC-Mac (or RS6000) or an SGI/MIPS, I recognise those machines as being of value to the industry, by their mere existence. The diversity in engineering provides much-needed flexibility and a 'different perspective'.

    If we all were the same, we would all use Windows...
  • For what its worth Compaq now fully supports Alpha and x86 Linux on its RA8000, ESA12000 and MA8000/12000 RAID arrays. They support FibreChannel HBAs and proper FC switches not just arbitrated loop.

    All of this information is available in the Compaq Quickspecs. Here is the link to the MA8000 quickspecs for North America: http://www5.co mpa q.com/products/quickspecs/10545_na/10545_na.HTML [compaq.com]

    I don't know if this support was available back in april, it may not have been, or the sales rep may have been one of the Proliant old guard types.

    I got a little hands on time with an RA8000 and Linux last week and it was very slick and easy to set up.

  • Try it out. The compilers and machines to run them on, are available for free [compaq.com] (as in beer). OK, so you can't keep the machine.

    For several of my (integer) applications, an alpha 21264 at 466 Mhz is literally twice as fast as a pentium III at 500 MHz speed. Something like 20% of this is in the compilers. For one application, the fact that the alpha is 64 bit is the killer point. For the other, I'm not sure what the issue is. The tests are on the smallest cache size 21264 currently shipping, which is 2M.

    As for what is the best price/performance ratio, this is a tougher call. Remember that to most people one system twice as fast is worth lots more than 2 systems once as fast. And yes, especially in a beowulf.

    One area where alpha _systems_ really clean up is in memory bandwith and (64bit) PCI bandwidth. For applications like cplant where the network (myrinet) is faster than a PC PCI bus, this is a killer factor.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    You are completely off base. Compaq and Samsung have pumped over half a BILLION dollars into Alpha engineering. And Compaq has cinched deals with the the DOE and has made other huge deals in Europe. You are looking at it from a "PC" users perspective. Look at the *enterprise* and you'll see a much different picture. Nothing competes with Alpha in the high end, and that picture won't change. Alpha has had the engineering lead since 1993. Its a wonderful scalable and clean architecture.
  • by orz ( 88387 )
    The MJ5200 from Sun? I think it was supposed to be released about 4 months ago but got delayed... It supposedly some some simliar stuff, w/ 4 registers sets per core, and switching which thread is active anytime a stall occurs. (and not counting that it's also doing CMP, with 2 cores per die) Also, I think IBM has some significant research project on the subject, and a few of the smaller-name designers of embedded processors are seriously contemplating that stuff.
  • Um. An alpha is no more than 30% faster?
    A friend of mine benchmarked a 500 Atlon vs a (2 year old) 533 Alpha) results:

    Alpha FP blows the stuffing out of the Atlon, 3-5x faster
    Athlon had out of 7 tests on integer, was faster on 2.
    Overall: Alpha 21164 is 1.5x faster than an equivelent Athlon in MHz.

    The 21264s are MUCH faster (2-5x or so) and would blow about any Athlon out of the water. A 500MHz or faster will blow all Athlons out of the water, of course, Athlons are MUCH cheaper, unless you can pick up a used Alpha.
    There are some problems, not all video cards work, but they use regular PCI/ISA cards, boot differently(milo,srm), and can use much more ram. They are/were way ahead of their time. A 133 or so was out when 486s were and could (MB limit) handle 128MB of RAM. Those still beat the crap out of most Pentium (MMXs) that were from the time when alphas were getting much faster. They were the first at 500MHz, and the problem with finding 1GHz Alphas is that they need faster (DDR) ram. Acording to something I saw, if they had faster ram most 21264s could be clocked up to 1GHz or faster, but the ram can't handle it.
    Note that all Nx is estimated from data, and averaged. This was not a real scientific study.
  • Wow, thanks for the tip. For some strange reason, I hadn't thought of Ebay.
  • uh huh.

    i know this is a stupid troll, but, for everyone else's information, the fastest Alpha system Compaq sells is currently 733 MHz.

    so suck it.

    * CmdrTaco is an idiot.

  • The really nice thing Compaq does is offer compatibility libs to tru64 for linux.
    This works well for everything I have tried.
    Now I wonder if fx86! or whatever its called (a really good emulator of x86 will work under the compat-libs). Anyone know? (Yes, I know about em86)
  • For a long time digital (and now compaq) have claimed that their optimizing compiler for the alpha was dramatically better than gcc. Does anyone know if this is still the case?

    I know of several large alpha cluster installations (including the cplant at sandia national labs with over 1300 alpha processors!--http://www.cs.sandia.gov/cplant/), but it's never been clear that alphas really hit the price/performance curve for *integer* performance. Outside of scientific computing, floating point performance just doesn't matter that much. What matters is integer throughput and my recollection is that when considering SpecINT/$, Intel and related boxes are just cheaper.

    Finally, there's the issue of datedness and market timeliness. Alpha has been around for forever and has just not really taken off in any big way, as far as I can tell. With W2K and NT dropping alpha support and no intel-killing performance on the horizon (unless wildfire is everything they crack it up to be), it seems unlikely that it will storm the market. alpha is the past. transmeta is the future ( I *know* they're aimed at completely different markets and have different design goals, but buzz is buzz and there's only so much of it to go around for processors. i don't think alpha will get any more.

  • About a year ago I got a 21164 533MHz for personal use. It has been the best machine I have ever had! The only time it is ever rebooted is when my wife wants to get into NT(ugh, still working on getting her to use Linux) and it hasn't been power cycled since I first installed it(especially thanks to a UPS:) Granted, it can be harder to find apps for Alphalinux, but I've been able to find everything I need for it and it all runs really quick! What I really like about it is, that I can run pretty much any hardware that works on a normal PC. I have a zip, jaz and cd-rw in it with 256MB of standard RAM(I know some older Alphas require special memory).

    The only problem I've come across is getting em86 running on it, but so far I haven't really needed it.

    And someday, when I have the time(and courage) I'm going to try to install True64 on it.

  • They should try switching to Beta release as soon as the product stabilize a little... :)
    Aaaa, wait a minute....
  • by Mark F. Komarinski ( 97174 ) on Wednesday October 11, 2000 @05:50AM (#715348) Homepage
    Yea, I'm pretty sure that's true. I remember seeing back in ...1994 or 1995 an Alpha playing Linux Quake at 1024x768 full screen. The PC at the time was stuck at 320X200 for Quake IIRC.

    The big push for getting Linux on the Alpha was MadDog (now at VA Linux) who was, at the time, in marketing for DEC. He spent much of his time going around and being a Linux prophet, getting companies and customers familiar with Linux. The end result being that DEC would sell more Alpha systems and make money.
  • I've got an AlphaServer waiting to be used as our RAS machine. The big problem seems to be it will only take two Acceleport RAS/8 Digi boards and no more. Digi says yeah we know, that's the way it is. I wanted to put *nix on it, but haven't had time to play.
  • It is a sweet Unix to work with, and comes
    with a CD full of Free Software sources and precompiled binaries (Hooray for bash!).

    To be fair, every commercial unix nowadays comes with a CD of free software. (At least AIX, IRIX, and Solaris do anyway.)

    - A.P.

    * CmdrTaco is an idiot.

  • It's possibly the least funny thing I've ever read.

    On the other hand, you could be joking - then maybe your message should "be posted in the humour section" (whatever that means).
  • What part of my post didn't you like, fuckhead?
    • The fact that I've owned my very own alpha 600MHz for the past two years?
    • The fact that booo booo I haven't had time to upgrade from 2.0.38 yet? (remember that stable patato has only been released recently)
    • The fact that ohhh goshhhhhh I need Tru64 to check 64bit code compatibility with my workplace... oh gossshhhhh does it mean I'll have to delete linux? not if I can help it, dual boot with milo is no problem at all.
    Kids these days... makes you wonder if Linux will ever make it seriously in the workplace when 99.9% of the user base are kids on crack.


  • I admit to knowing little about the Alpha compiler, but it wouldn't be too hard to imagine a better compiler than gcc. It's reliable and free but it's hardly the most modern / efficient optimising compiler.
  • FYI, I've repackaged the Netscape RPMs offered by Compaq as debs for Debian and have resubmitted them to Compaq and alphalinux.org. Compaq has yet to post the debs, but a.l.o should have them (it's really one deb, fyi, dunno why I said "debs" plural). The Tru64 Netscape runs very nicely on all of my Alphas running Debian.
  • EV6 is the system bus that the Alpha and Athlon use. So yes, it does.
  • I still need to upgrade my box to patato and check-out ccc, but all in all, it looks like the box will never run Tru64, then :-/

    Note you can run some Tru64 apps on Linux anyway, with the tru64-compat package shipped with Red Hat.

    I wasn't impressed by the speed of say... povray compiled with gcc, but with an alpha compiler released by compaq, I should still see some improvement in my calculations...

    Quite possibly. Isn't povray floating-point? GCC isn't very impressive on FP yet...

    You ever tried to solve a 4000x4000 double float system? it's... slow. All I'm waiting for is a decent 4 to 8 SMP athlon box with 2Gb of memory.

    Maybe. It helps when working with such code to understand your cache architecture and virtual memory. Tuning the algorithm to improve locality (and avoid processor stalls) can reap huge benefits. Chances are your working set is too large to fit in cache. Page coloring could help (if Linux supported it, that is).

    If you want to try something interesting, profile your code with iprobe [alphalinux.org]. That can tell you a lot about your code. Besides it's something your Intel-using friends can't do...

    SMP may or may not be the answer. If your code chokes on main memory throughput, SMP will aggravate the problem.

  • Well, it worked on my 164LX board quite well.

    You got lucky. But the LX is out of production, and flashing MILO doesn't work on current production Alpha mobo's.

  • ...profile your code with iprobe
    I've just checked the page, it looks nice that compaq has gpled it... yet another reason not to just bash alphalinux for its lack of performance: 64 bit, and black magic profiling capabilities ;-)

    About page coloring, this is something I heard freebsd does and not linux. myth or reality? I don't know.

    So far, to reduce bottlenecks all I've done was to try and use sparse solvers, as I can get quite a few 0s in my system (up to a ridiculous 97%) But yep, you still need some profiling to get your code just right, especially if you have several \emph{blocks} working together in your code.

    if you're interested, the libraries I'm using for sparse solvers are meschach [kachinatech.com] (great but sparse documentation) and since yesterday sparse QR [unm.edu] (I can't tell yet if it's any better than some of the solvers in meschach, but it looks nice nonetheless...).


  • You can get the C compiler ccc for free from Compaq. I tested this on several tiny programs that simulated our usage of FP and arrays and it was MUCH faster, like 15 times faster in a few cases! Be sure to use the "-fast" switch when compiling, it removes some IEEE compliance and turns on all the optimizations.

    Unfortunately they charge $400 for the C++ compiler, and it does not seem to take the "-fast" switch, and the man pages are miswritten so that you cannot read the names of any switches. When I compiled our "real" application (about 100K lines of C++) the result was about equal in speed to the -O3 gcc version, which was a real disappointment. I don't know if the failure was due to the C++, the lack of the correct switch, or because my tiny test programs did not accurately simulate what we really did.

    Still, $400 is not much. Anybody know if they have compiled the kernel with this?

  • I'm getting more and more interested in the idea of switching from x86 Linux to Alpha Linux in the home. It seems that from a software perspective, AlphaLinux is just as viable as x86-Linux. And Compaq/DEC actually supports Linux users unlike Apple. But I have a question for the AlphaLinux people here: how much does it cost to build/buy a "low-end" Alpha system? A lot of people seem to be arguing that Alpha's are just as cost effective as PC's. Is it true? I've looked around for system prices, and everything I've seen as been in order of $6,000 or $11,000 .

    But is it really that more expensive? I thought the only things that needed to be different for an Alpha system are the motherboard and processor? And it seems the new motherboards are using AMD's 750 Athlon chipset now. So shouldn't the mobos be cheap, like under $300? Is the processor very expensive?

    Is it possible to get a 21264 system with SCSI for under $3000?

    Thanks in advance.
  • About page coloring, this is something I heard freebsd does and not linux. myth or reality? I don't know.

    I heard the same. However I tried running lmbench [bitmover.com] on a XP1000 running Linux and FreeBSD; if page coloring is there the difference wasn't really noticeable. I'm still investigating though.

  • Since the AMD Athlon is using EV6 too, someone should port it to x86 ASM =)
  • What I really like about the Alpha is that you can compile a bootloader from any linux kernel source (well, almost) and flash it in the flashrom. ARC console doesn't recognize your new SCSI-card and you can't boot using it? No problem. Just compile a bootloader using a recent kernel source with the right driver, flash it into the rom and there you go. As an added bonus, your machine will now boot faster, too.
  • Practical for the masses, no

    Kickass for the hackers? yes.
    Very simply, the Alpha system has created these boundaries that prevent end users wanting to just consume the software (which drives most markets)

  • Tru64 is pretty easy to install (Well, Digital Unix 4.0d was easy to install -- I haven't touched an alpha in a while, more's the pitty).
    I guess if you have some strange hardware it might get cross (doing the autodetect so it can relink a custom kernel).
    I don't understand why Tru64 has such a tiny market share. It is a sweet Unix to work with, and comes with a CD full of Free Software sources and precompiled binaries (Hooray for bash!).

Each honest calling, each walk of life, has its own elite, its own aristocracy based on excellence of performance. -- James Bryant Conant