Computer Business Review

DEC REVEALS MORE ON ALPHA, CHALLENGES HEWLETT-PACKARD's PRECISION ARCHITECTURE RISC

by CBR Staff Writer| 24 February 1992

As soon as Hewlett-Packard put out its RISC chip announcement (CI No 1,864), Digital Equipment Corp went on the offensive. In the wake of the unveiling the Alpha at the International Solid State Circuit Conference last week, it has scheduled a press event for this week where it is promising to reveal such little niceties as Alpha's price, actual as opposed to peak performance, availability and licensing partners, expected to include Kubota Co (CI No 1,866). Ideally it needs another semiconductor fabricator to make the part, otherwise other box-shifters are less likely to sign on. Microsoft Corp is expected to be there, probably to confirm that Windows 32 New Technology is being implemented on the Alpha chip, and we've heard the chip has been uninspiringly renamed the 21064, while the overall strategy has been generically dubbed ARA, Advanced RISC Architecture. Intercepted electronic mail claimed the chip would be available in volume in six months time. For those that were interested, DEC last week was willing to read off a comparison chart pitting the purely little endian Alpha against Hewlett-Packard's new PA 7100. DEC joshed Hewlett-Packard for being only 32-bit and getting to only 100MHz on the clock; for using 0.8 micron rather than 0.75 micron design rules, for putting integer and floating point on the single chip and not load and store and branch as well, for integrating only 850,000 devices rather than 1.68m and for neglecting to design in on-board cache, a situation it claims will limit Hewlett-Packard's ability to improve performance and speed significantly past what it's got. Before it starts throwing stones, however, DEC may be best to look to its own house. There are already whispers in the industry that none of the many Alpha prototypes DEC has running are using a fully functional chip, and that volume systems delivery is a year or more off, a schedule that Hewlett-Packard is promising to beat. People also want to see how good DEC's compiler technology is and how effectively Alpha will run software.

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