DEC DOUBLE SPEED ALPHA RISC CHIP FUTURE UNCERTAIN

by CBR Staff Writer| 02 February 1998

In spite of growing doubt about the future of Digital Equipment Corp's Alpha chip following the company's acquisition by Compaq Computer Corp, DEC claims its third generation Alpha 21264 RISC will outperform any other microprocessor architecture by at least two times when it is introduced in upgrades for existing systems this summer. However, market research company International Data Corp, quoted in Investors Business Daily yesterday, said it expects Compaq eventually to dump both Alpha and DEC's Digital Unix operating system in favor of an NT-on-Intel server strategy going forward. For now, DEC says its 450-odd Alpha engineers are working on at least two further generations of the 64-bit design, EV7 and the EV8 due in 2004, but until Compaq can answer questions about its long term plans for Alpha, a large question marks hangs over the chip's future. A key factor will be the number of third parties DEC can win for Alpha. Mitsubishi Electric Corp, one of two companies which manufacture their own chips according to Alpha designs - the other is Samsung Semiconductor Co - says it will wait until it hears Compaq's plans before deciding whether to proceed any further with Alpha. Mitsubishi co-designed a 21164PC low-power variant of the current EV5 Alpha, as yet there are no plans for co-operation on 21264 designs. Further complicating the picture is the proposed sale of DEC's Hudson, Massachusetts-based chip manufacturing operations to Intel Corp, which is currently under scrutiny by the US trade regulators. Intel has guaranteed to manufacture DEC's Alpha designs for at least the next seven years. As part of the deal Intel also gets DEC's StrongARM implementation of Advanced RISC Machines Ltd's embedded RISC design. DEC said it was very excited about StrongARM's promise but that it was not core to its future plans. DEC says 21264 will perform 40 SPECint95 and 60 SPECfp95 at an initial clock speed of 600MHz. It claims a 1000MHz (1GHz) iteration due in 2000 will deliver 100 SPECint95 and 150 SPECfp95. The part, built with six layers of metal, has 15.3 million transistors and dissipates a very toasty 60 Watts. Manufacturing will begin at 0.35 microns and move to 0.25 as soon as Intel upgrades DEC's fab, and eventually reach 0.18 microns. DEC says Alpha will outperform Intel's own 64-bit chip by two times when Merced ships late next year. DEC's FX32 emulation software, which enables 32-bit Microsoft applications to be executed on its 64-bit RISC systems running NT, is being bundled with NT 5.0 due later this year.

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