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November 28, 1991

SEQUENT COMPUTER ESCHEWS RISC PROCESSORS AFTER RACING INTEL P5 – 80586 – AGAINST MIPS

By CBR Staff Writer

Champion of the Intel Corp complex instruction iAPX-86 family, Sequent Computer Systems Inc, Beaverton, Oregon, has been taking a determined look at its future technology base, with a research and development project, funded to the tune of $500,000, in which its engineers created prototype multi-processor machines built around next-generation Intel 80586 P5 technology and MIPS Computer Systems Inc’s latest RISCs. Sequent has been a long-time supporter of complex instruction techniques over RISC – it has never seen the need for RISC. The machines were developed in the labs and run off against each other to see whether it would be in Sequent’s interest to adopt a RISC strategy that could lever significant price-performance benefits. In the event, a US insider revealed, using systems emulating a handful of processors, the MIPS-based system extracted an 8% performance advantage over the 80586 box. However, the measly single-figure gain in performance wasn’t enough to sway Sequent management, which has decided firmly against rearchitecting the company’s line of computers to include RISC offerings and has terminated the MIPS project. Having built the prototype Intel machine, Sequent is now thought to be working closely with the chip maker on a full-blown product-level implementation of the 80586, which uses some superscalar RISC technology. Intel claims the 80586, due to sample by the middle of next year, with systems slated for the end of 1992, will do around 100 MIPS. That, it claims, is faster than MIPS’ latest R4000 RISC, which is SPECmarked at 62, and Motorola Inc’s new 88110, which comes in – unofficially so far at 64 SPECmarks. Sequent Computer badly needs a boost in its fortunes to return to profitability. It withdrew from OEM sales back in July, and reported a third quarter net loss of $23m last month on sales that slumped 19.2%, bringing the nine-month net loss to $49.7m. The company said it would cut its 1,700-strong workforce by some 20% to reduce its quarterly expenses by $6m.

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