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  1. Technology
December 2, 1991


By CBR Staff Writer

DEC’s Cray 1-like Alpha RISC Chip has the lead over Viking Sparc and IBM’s Power

Digital Equipment Corp Alpha RISC co-architect Dick Sties, seconded to the project in the autumn of 1988, describes Alpha as most closely resembling a Cray 1 processor, comparing Alpha’s 150 instructions to Cray’s 128. It uses a full 64-bit architecture, he said, with a flat non-segmented 64-bit address and 64-bit registers, integers and floating points. It was built to handle multiple computer languages and multiple operating systems. It was built also to be either a single processor or a massively parallel system of 400 or 500 processors. Apparently DEC has the thing up and running at 200MHz with a 5nS clock cycle, a specification which DEC president Ken Olsen quoted at the recent shareholders meeting. Not wanting to steal the boss’s thunder, that’s as much as the DEC engineers would say last week, leaving the distinct impression, however, that this was a minimal statistic. Sties claims that performance can scale by a factor of a thousand times, a modest boast, he says – it could be 10,000 times. So far the company has produced some 50 Alpha machines and is currently using production-quantity chips, its first proprietary RISC design based on superscalar CMOS technology. Alpha is a single chip implementation and DEC’s apparent success in fabricating it seems to give it a heady lead over challengers such as the finicky Sun Microsystems Inc Viking and non-existent IBM Corp PowerPC. The Alpha VMS implementation is going better than the company expected. Originally forecast to be a year behind the hardware, it’s now pretty much current with it. Some 90% of the code is already over and running on production hardware, according to development manager Kathy Morse. With its eye on the installed VAX base, DEC hotly underscores the fact that Alpha’s VMS is VMS, not rewritten in C or redesigned, just VMS v.5.4 on an Alpha system. Although VMS-on-Alpha somehow started being called portable VMS, it apparently isn’t: DEC says the microcode is not in a higher level language and therefore lacks the flexibility to slip easily to another environment. Resources outside the company such as an Israeli firm staffed with Russian scientists and universities have been brought in for regression testing. As previously reported, VMS-on-Alpha is for DEC’s higher-end machines. Lower end high-performance Alphas will run a 64-bit version of OSF/1 which consolidates Ultrix, System V and Open Software Foundation streams. DEC’s cost-conscious OSF/1-on-MIPS machines, just announced, will be its entry level. DEC claims to have filed some 20 hardware and software patents on the Alpha design.

No plans to push VMS and the Alpha RISC into Advanced Computing Environment

In other areas, Digital Equipment Corp people said again last week that the company isn’t going to try to elbow into the Advanced Computing Environment initiative to push Alpha and portable VMS as yet another ACE alternative; they are, though, apparently using the ACE members roster as a hit list of likely Alpha hardware-software licensees under a programme that DEC, hungry for multiple Alpha vendors, will institute next year. It appears that the company is already talking to some. And DEC wants to put Santa Cruz Operation’s Open Desktop for ACE on its Alpha boxes, though it doesn’t know yet whether it would be a layered product or part of the actual operating system. Nor does the company know yet exactly what Open Desktop for ACE will be: the desktop manager issue, for instance, is still unresolved as the powers that be try to sort out a winner. Still no definitive word that NT will be ported to Alpha; only the conclusion of Alpha’s newly-appointed business manager Peter Graham suggests that such a move would be logical. It has recently become apparent why the Advanced Computing Environment initiative is so important to DEC: the company hopes that the initiative will attract a considerable independent software vendor following. It will then move that software over to Alpha both in its OSF/1 and VMS spec

ies. He who has the most software wins. Last year, as a feasibility study, DEC implemented a 64-bit version of Berkeley Unix on Alpha, learning in the process, it said, that Unix migration wasn’t that complex: that paved the way for the 64-bit version of OSF/1 to which the company is currently moving. Earlier this month it got as far as a user login on a real Alpha system.

Fivefold graphics boost for DECstations

Other products at Digital Equipment Corp’s event last week include HX, PXG+ and PXG Turbo+ graphics options for the full range of DECstations for two-dimensional and three-dimensional 24-plane colour and multimedia. The products use DEC’s Turbochannel input-output interconnect, operate at 72Hz on Sony Corp Trinitron monitors and offer a 500% performance improvement over previous DEC graphics, according to the company. New Network Application Support software improves connectivity for Macintosh and client-server users. Lotus Development Corp’s Realtime option for 1-2-3, used in financial dealing rooms, is now available. A Turbochannel extender enables double or triple-width graphics cards to be used. The RZ58 SCSI 5.25 1.38Gb drive is available with the new hardware, costing $6,300, as is the RX26 3.5 floppy drive for 720Kb, 144Mb and 2.88Mb disks costing $600. And, emphasising its willingness to work in multi-vendor installations, DEC said it would now support products from Sun Microsystems Inc, Hewlett-Packard Apollo, MIPS Computer Systems Inc and Wang Laboratories Inc.

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DEC has Tuxedo-based transaction system

Digital Equipment Corp is understood to be preparing to unveil a transaction processing system for Unix, based on an Ultrix version of its ACMS transaction environment which currently runs on VMS. The Unix transaction package will also include Unix System Laboratories’ Tuxedo transaction monitor, for which DEC has a licence, though it hasn’t gone public with that yet, and Ultrix/SQL, a data manager based on the Ingres database. Although Open Software Foundation stalwart DEC is talking with Transarc Corp about its Encina transaction processing monitor which has been adopted by the Foundation – Tuxedo is out there now, and has been endorsed by most of the Unix players, including DEC’s Foundation bedfellow, Hewlett-Packard Co.

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