New Alpha PC Strategy

How much is a desktop workstation worth to you if its raw performance is twice that of anything you had before? Would you expect to pay $100,000? $70,000? How about $50,000? Now, for a limited time only, you can get the latest generation of Alpha workstations for only $10,000! That's right, the fastest CPUs in the world for less than the cost of a new car!

Digital is going after the high-end PC market and eventually the midrange. By dropping CPU and board prices from its previously gargantuan levels, Digital is moving the Alpha platform toward the business computing environment. Formerly relegated to high-end UNIX-class workstations (and recently, very high-end graphics PCs), the Alpha is poised to make serious dents in Intel's graphics and business PC market dominance.

We tested a prototype system, based on the new 433MHz Alpha 21164A (a 500MHz chip hadn't yet been verified) and the new AlphaPC 164 motherboard. Although Digital does not market this combination as an end-user system under the company name, Digital makes this system available to OEMs. The goal is to have high-performance Alpha-based computers priced below $3000 and even higher-end boxes at typical workstation prices.

The test system came with a 466MHz CPU, 128MB of RAM (using a 256-bit data path), 1MB of synchronous Level 3 cache, a 2GB Fast SCSI-2 disk (with an Adaptec 2940W), a 4X CD-ROM drive, a Matrox Millennium graphics adapter with 8MB of WRAM, and a DEC 10 Base T Ethernet controller. This configuration will sell for about $10,000, but OEMs can expect prices of about $3000 or less for an AlphaPC 164 motherboard with a 433MHz CPU (in lots of 1000 or more).

The new boards can run with either a 128-bit or 256-bit data path (just like older systems based on the original 21164 CPU), with up to 512MB of RAM. The new Level 3 cache subsystem uses a 1MB synchronous SRAM module (128-bit path), which Digital says will offer performance equal to or slightly better than the old 2MB asynchronous Level 3 caches, at a significantly lower cost. The board has four PCI slots, all of which can support either 32-bit or 64-bit cards that run at 33MHz. It also has two standard ISA slots. To tie the CPU, memory, cache, and PCI bus together, Digital uses its new 21172 Core Logic Chipset.

The boards do not include integrated controllers such as SCSI, Ethernet, or video, so any systems built on this board will need either Digital or third-party peripheral cards. The advantage is that you can use off-the-shelf components to build a system on a Digital motherboard and tailor the system to your needs. At the same time, you get the Alpha performance that power users expect. Graphs A, B, and C show BAPCO Sysmark results of the 466MHz Alpha against a clone PC with a 100MHz Pentium processor.

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