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Alpha Lives! But Who Will Market It? 269

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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  • Re:What's the point? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Twirlip of the Mists ( 615030 ) <> on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:24PM (#5070027)
    Spoken like a true guy who doesn't know what the hell he's talking about.

    Companies are buying servers from Sun, IBM (their non-Intel ones), SGI, even Apple in about the same numbers that they ever were, adjusted for the total market decline. (In other words, if 1 out of 10 servers sold in 1997 was Sun, then about 1 out of 10 sold today would still be a Sun.)

    There's plenty of market out there for non-Dell, non-Intel, non-Microsoft servers.
  • Hmm (Score:2, Interesting)

    by buulu ( 580868 ) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:28PM (#5070041)
    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.
  • 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
  • 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.


  • by vondo ( 303621 ) on Sunday January 12, 2003 @11:58PM (#5070144)
    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.
  • by Merlynnus ( 209292 ) on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:38AM (#5070269)
    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...
  • by cballowe ( 318307 ) on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:40AM (#5070278) Homepage
    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 [] and try to keep yourself from drooling.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • by inode_buddha ( 576844 ) on Monday January 13, 2003 @01:54AM (#5070555) Journal
    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.
  • Quite wrong (Score:3, Interesting)

    by JohnZed ( 20191 ) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:07AM (#5070733)
    You're utterly misinformed on all counts. The best (1ghz, 3MB cache) Itanium2 lists for under $8,000 (see 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 ( 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.
  • Geek Museum (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:31AM (#5070783) 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 :-)
  • by Eric Smith ( 4379 ) on Monday January 13, 2003 @03:57AM (#5070879) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, too bad they're not doing it.

    Before Samsung, Mitsubishi had an Alpha license. That went nowhere also.

  • Re:Quite wrong^2 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Paul Komarek ( 794 ) <> 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
  • The FTC Sucks (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 13, 2003 @08:19AM (#5071398)
    Man, just how useless is the FTC? They allow merger after merger and what does it accomplish? Less competition, less jobs, and higher prices.

    My cable bill reflects this, as I am now paying more because AT&T bought Media One. I'm sure that I will see another hike now that Comcast has purchased AT&T's cable unit. I'm tired of funding the mergers of these asshole corporations.

    We're going to hell in a hand basket.
  • by Paul Komarek ( 794 ) <> on Monday January 13, 2003 @12:06PM (#5072954) Homepage
    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

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson