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Compaq expands Linux line 51

Richard Finney sent us story to Compaq's latest Alpha announcement. They will be rolling out some new Alpha-based models, trying to use the popularity of Linux to boost sales of this chip. Interestingly, Bob Young, of Red Hat is saying that the # of units of the Alpha are too small to make a huge difference.
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Compaq expands Linux line

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  • If Compaq cares about Linux, why are they letting em86 (the program that runs x86 binaries on Alpha) flounder? I notice that they recently removed it from their Alpha Migration Tools page ( []), too. Because of this, em86 has been languishing. It can't run a modern Netscape without crashing quickly, it can't run libc6 programs very well, etc. Whereas their FX!32 program for NT is being kept very well up-to-date (and always was better than em86 anyway).
  • Compaq plans to introduce new servers based on Alpha chips that have been maximized for Linux next week

    Alpha chips that have been maximized for Linux? Actually, I think they mean the servers have been maximized for Linux. Still, why do you need to maximize something so that Linux will run on it? Modify? Maybe. Minimize, certainly. Is there some kind of impression out there in the media that Linux is some sort of "special needs" OS, or that it needs ultra-fast-cool hardware to run?

    Sounds like more FUD to me.

    • As to your comments about pricing:
      • (excerpt) "21164 running at 500mhz ... less than $3000"?
      • I just came by a PC164-500mhz board for cheap. Add a case, 128mb ram, and a 4gb-ide disk for a grand total of less than $900.
      • Brand spanking new LX164-533mhz(2mb-L3cache) can be had for ~$2000, less if you cut out video+cdrom.
      • LX164-600mhz(4mb-L3cache) machines with fast wide scsi-3 and great video can be had for less then $3000.
    • Xfree86
      • I haven't had a problems with TGA, S3 or S3V in a long time.
      • Sure, 3DL is flaky, but I think that applies to the Intel version also.
  • Do you have more information about this? The Math library release was a great start. It made a significant impact on the performance of our Alpha Linux cluster. We really need the Dec Compaq Fortran compiler suite for our development work. I think I could scrape up a couple $K to put a copy of that on the head node in our cluster.
  • my understanding was that gcc performed badly on an alpha. digital, er, compaq's compiler produced far better code. any word on whether compaq was going to help the gcc/egcs team out?

    also, anyone try building an alpha/linux distribution with the compaq compiler? (sorry rms, just think of it as goal setting)
  • You make valid points. We have 20 Alpha Linux systems that we use to crunch numbers 24/7 using our own parallel codes. For this purpose, the Alphas make perfect sense--porting our codes was pretty easy. We bought the first several systems complete with monitors and tried to use them as workstations. But I quickly concluded that it was too much trouble to deal with the little bugs in Alpha Linux applications (especially X), so I pulled the good video cards/monitors and other useful parts and used them to build Celeron front-end systems. The alphas are quite contentedly running headless on the shelf, and we just access them from the Intels. The last batch of alphas I bought doesn't even have video cards.
  • I have an alpha running linux it is rather old a 21164 running at 500 Mhz but it sure runs some applications much faster than any intel machine.

    I payed $7000 for this machine but today it is less than $3000 (with descent amount of memory and disk). The problem is that a 21264 is still about $7000

    Pros: Floating point performance is great (most people do not care but for my MD simulations I NEED it)

    Cons: Xfree86 is unstable.

    What compaq should do is to release their compilers for linux, and preferably release a $5000 21264 machine then I would by 16 of this and stop using the SP2
  • Alphas come in models of up to, AFAIK, 600 MHz, with the 21364 being a > 1 GHz Merced-killer in the NTDF.
  • Yea right, ANDF sucked major do-do's.

    It was broken as designed, and only worked for simple test cases. Most real world apps do more than write "Hello World" to the screen.

  • I built my 164LX @ 533MHz/ 128MB sdram, 4Gb HD for about $1600USD (with tax, etc..)

    I think people overlook that fact that Alpha's are for the most part marketed at the cutting edge performance curve.

    That's why I bought an older model, just like I bought my Pentium after the PII came out. I'm not obsesed(sp?) with speed.. but my (close to 2 year old model) alpha still cracks rc5 keys 10 times faster than my computer at work (PII 350). ;^P

  • First, I'm not sure Bob Young's statements were entirely in context. If you read the actual quotes, it seems to me like all he's really saying is that the Alpha is not a driving factor in their business right now, due to lower market share. Most of the derrogatory spin seems to applied by the reporter.

    But, I must say that I can understand why they might not take Compaq too seriously yet. Purchasing a Compaq branded alpha with any kind of enterprise-level features will cost you tens of thousands of dollars (at least as of a couple months ago), and even then Compaq won't support you. We had a Microway Alpha in here for about a month as a server, and it had tons of problems (configuration out of the box, shipped by Microway). I spoke to a lot of people at the time, and the consensus seemed to be that if you have time to port & clean-up individual applications, then Alpha Linux was great for running those apps, but for general purpose serving, it just wasn't a quality product yet.

    The Alpha port requires a lot of work for a small number of users, and since these users are probably even more technical than the Intel base it probably is one of the lowest income platforms they support. I can understand why RedHat doesn't see it as a compelling platform right now.
  • I actually think other distributions are a good thing. Just having redhat on alpha sux. I'm not saying redhat sux. Just having debian, or slackware, or suse, or anything on alpha is bad. Choice is good.

    (I need sleep)
  • Sounds to me like you're drawing an awful lot of conclusions with very little actual information. Your comments amount to anti-Compaq FUD.

    "Optimizing for Linux" could be as simple as choosing hardware that has really good Linux drivers, or that won't require special configuration steps under Linux.

    It could also include little things like picking a video adapter that had good XFree86 support, and even bundling a three-button mouse instead of the usual 2-button Logitech Firstmouse. (BTW, Logitech makes a three-button OEM version of that mouse. Hewlett Packard bundles them, they're not bad. I'm looking for a consumer version.)

    Optimizing for Linux could also involve staying away from any chipsets that had known problems with Linux.

    In short, optimizing for Linux is a very good thing.
  • I wonder how much of the Alpha's popularity problem stems from the fact that Compaq/Digital sells it primarily in premium servers and workstations. Sure, it means that the people who get the chip get really nice machines, but it also means that the pricing that most people see is, well, a bit on the high-end.

    Just once, I'd like to see an announcement on the Alpha that says, 'This chip is shipping for $??? in quantities of 1000.' They do sell them that way to third-party distributors, after all.

    Maybe once Alpha Processor, Inc., finally gets going...

  • Right... I think I see where you're coming from.

    However, RedHat still does sell 5.2 for Alpha - and Sparc, too.

    I can't find the boxed set, but I suspect that this is simply because of sound business reasons.

    Equally, I also suspect that Compaq are barking up the wrong tree... An OS like Linux doesn't make a CPU. They simply have to lower the price, or at least produce boxes that match up to what the UltraSparc hardware can do - which probably means a departure from PC style hardware.

    But really, there's no need to get paranoid. Just keep pushing your favourite CPU make and model if you beleive in it.

    (Currently running NT of all things... :-/ )
  • Hey,

    I think that it will be nice to see this happening. Hopefully, they can reduce the price somewhat on them though; all I'd need would be a single CPU 21264 system. Unfortunately, a lot of people are right - just buy 5 Intel based systems and with distributed processing, you have the same horsepower or more. Of course, you also have the added overhead of maintaining a distributed system, and the added space and electricity usage of each additional system...

    Oh yeah - and to the 466MHz, Intel has finally caught up poster... Please keep in mind that MHz is mostly an irrelevant number when comparing chips from two different families. As an example - say I could overclock a 286 to 2000MHz - do you think it would run things faster than a Pentium II at 300MHz? I didn't think so. When dealing with chips of vastly different architectures, comparing MHz to MHz is mostly an excersize in futility.

    I say this, because a 466MHz 21264 will beat a P-II at that speed any day of the week, even on Sundays. Heck - even looking at the PPC 750 - at similar clock speeds they beat the P-II. Essentially both the Alpha and PPC chips make much better use of their clock cycles than just about any x86 chip on the market.

    Oh - and I don't think Bob Young is being terribly negative in his comments about the Alpha. But, the article did make one major faux pas - indicating that software would be hard to get compiled for the Alpha platform... Uh - OpenSource, and lots of Linux Distros come with lots of it - there are more than enough OpenSource utilities and apps on most distros that if one cannot compile up a good set of them on a Linux box running on an Alpha - I'd be suprised.

    - Porter Woodward
  • True, and I heard that Apple invented to atom bomb and started the holocaust. You know the ignorant folks spell Mac in all caps like it's an acronym. MAC, heh.
    It's far easier to forgive your enemy after you get even with him.
  • I agree that alphas rock everything else on the planet, well maybe not, but i love them. Tho I do have a problem with the rc5 claim, my alpha didn't do anything all that impressive with the rc5-64 cracking, I read that it was due to some instructions present in the x86 processors but that need 2 or 3 instructions to do the same thing on the alpha. I could be very wrong....but thats how i remember it.
  • I have been a fan of the alpha for a while, I have spent maybe the past 40 minutes looking for a place that would actually list a price for a motherboard with a chip so I could get an idea of what it would cost to build a new system. It is things like this that, in my humble opinion, prevent some people from going to an alpha. I always build my own systems, it may just be a stange fetish of mine, but I like my systems only the way I can build them, and not being able to find a place that will let me get a quick idea of how much the chip and m/b are going to run is very annoying. When talking about the spread of linux to the alpha and all that this is probably more relevant than it first looks. It would be interesting to see how many people build thier own systems, and how many people are turned off by not having that same ease and flexibility on the alpha platform

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm not going to disagree that Digital really messed this up from the beginning. The Alpha processor is simply way ahead of its time in performance and speed. But, we come back to two problems. First, in the Unix world, it was tied to the $2000/license DEC Unix in the beginning which is fine and dandy for researchers with lots of cash (considering the machines debuted at $20K, I guess an additional $2K isn't much). These days, I think most will agree that for day-to-day operations, OS's are pretty much commodity items, with Linux, *BSD, Windows, MacOS, and BeOS all available for less than $100. Now that the Alpha processors have dropped in price (check out, where you can get a good machine for under $3000), you can't justify the $2000 price tag for the operating system. And I think Compaq is making a good move with embracing linux. What they really need to do (ask any researcher) is port the DEC compilers to linux so we can run all our simulations and do our development with solid compilers but without the DEC Unix license overhead.

    Two, in the case of NT, you've got the ever-present chicken and egg problem. Well, no one wants to port until the base is popular, but the base never grows until applications are ported. I'm suprised that Microsoft hasn't jumped on this yet. Ever since Intel signed agreements with HP to port Linux to Merced, I'm suprised that Microsoft hasn't gotten pissed off enough to find a competing chip - Alpha - to really build its 64-bit strategy around. Now I know everyone in the audience will boo and hiss, but face it - Microsoft made the PC market for Intel, and they could do the same for Alpha. So, reluctantly, I have to cheer on Microsoft in this area.

    The pricing on Alphas has dropped significantly. For our research group, our first 266-MHz 21164 Alpha was over $10K, but the latest 633 MHz 21164 Alpha was about $7K. Now we're drooling over the 21264's, waiting patiently for Microway to offer one in the sub-$8K range. And you really can't beat these machines for computationally intensive work.
  • on linux an alpha is like a cheetah on speed. Now that more and more distros are coming out with ports for the alpha hopefully we can move away from redhat too (please, that wasn't meant to start a flame war, I just prefer other distributions)
  • So, where is MILO for the 21264? How about porting glibc2 to DEC Unix? Then we can use those statically linked binaries compiled with DEC's fast compilers on our Linux boxes without violating the copyright on their C library.

    The people who have built Linux/Alpha clusters have been asking for a few simple things for two years now. The message from above has always been "We're thinking about it." I'll take Compaq's commitment to Linux seriously when I see a continuous contribution to Linux software technology. The release of the math library was a giant step in the right direction. Let's see more statements like that, not stuff that was cooked up in the marketing department.

  • Does anyone know how much these Alpha boxes will cost? I would certainly be interested in buying one, but really don't want to pay more than I would for a good PC... IMO that money would be better invested in a small Beowulf-ish system -- figure you can build a PC using generic parts (Celeron 300A, two 128 MB DIMMs, 100bt NIC, etc.) for under $800, then $4000 means a 5-node micro-cluster with a switch in the middle. For tasks that can be distributed, you're probably getting more CPU for your dollar.

    The counter argument is that an Alpha workstation would have less latency. I was playing around with an Alpha 21164 at 600MHz running NT the other day... find *.dll took about 1.5 seconds to return 750 items... and the stupid Windows cursor was actually changing for each widget it went across in the explorer window (if you pay attention, it normally doesn't on an Intel, but on an Alpha you really see just how noisy the Windows UI is -- it was actually visually distracting). I can only imagine what Linux would be like on one of these....

    So I guess my decision comes down to: do I need a fast workstation or something that is fast for batch jobs? And my answer is: I don't have enough money anyways, so never mind. *sigh*

    Morning. Need coffee.

  • | Mac in all caps like it's an acronym

    But *Macintosh* is an acronym ...

    "Machine Always Crashes If Not The Operating System Hangs"
  • One big hurdle to performance was the math libraries. Compaq recently released those -- they're available on their web page for download. The general compiler issue is one that hasn't escaped Compaq's notice. Things are being examined right now. Don't mistake silence for inactivity in this area.
  • Oh blood and ASHES! I hit preview and all my text is deleted. Argh..

    Short story is Intel is funding companies and efforts to subtly "lave out" alternative CPU's. EXPECT this FUD effort to carry over into the Linux world, such as Rob Young's unflattering remarks about Linux on Alpha.

    Gee, didn't Red Hat used to sell an Alpha Linux?
    Didn't VA Research used to sell Alpha workstations?
    Didn't BeOS used to support PowerPC?
    Didn't MetaCreations promise a Mac port of the MC/Intel "MetaStream" web 3D project?
    Isn't Intel deliberately withholding the specs to Indeo instead of producing a Mac version (Indeo is for wanna-be's, but still I've talked to people who can't consider it because it's not x-platform).

    We're just about to get independence from Microsoft and people don't see we'll end up right in the grip of Intel. Watch for future "Linux efforts" by Intel designed to keep non-Intel Linux users off the cutting edge. No one can "own" Linux, true, but anyone can make a version so technically appealing that the masses won't give a rat's ass about "politically correct" licensing (look at all the people who didn't care about the *OLD* QT/KDE licensing...)
  • I'd buy an Alpha in an instant if they were cheaper. That's the whole story.

Experience varies directly with equipment ruined.