Digital Equipment made a stab at the depths of the Intel chip market this week with the launch of a shaved-down Alpha chip designed for corporate PCs.
The systems supplier said that PCs running its new Alpha processors, the 21164PC, will start at under $2,600 and will be comparable in performance to Intel?s Klamath based machines.
Digital has already sold samples of the new chip to PC makers including German PC retailer Vobis Microcomputer - a long standing Alpha OEM - and US-based Enorex Microsystems. But to achieve volume targets it will need to attract widespread adoption and some big names.
According to John Fortune, product manager for Alpha at Digital Semiconductor, the company wants to be selling the chips in the millions by 2000. ?Vobis and Enorex are our first horizontal partners but there are quite a few folks in various vertical markets interested in the chip,? he said.
Anne Powell, senior analyst at Datapro, believes that the Alpha 21164PC microprocessor is ?without a doubt an excellent chip. But its chances for success aren?t that great in the low end PC market. The proportion of people in the industry opting for alternatives to Intel is pretty low,? she said. ?In places where Digital is an established PC vendor or where people are already running Alpha-based Unix or NT boxes the chip ought to do well. Outside that space it will be a harder case to argue.?
Digital claims that roughly 6,000 software programs designed for Pentium-based machines running NT can run native on the new Alpha chip. ?There are 18,000 software applications that run native on Alpha today and with FX!32 binary translation the machines can run any Windows application at the same performance as today?s Pentium Pro,? said Fortune.
He said the 466MHz version of the 21164PC will outperform the 233MHz Klamath in other areas than clock speed, notably in the compute-intensive and graphical functions in which Digital specialises.
?Both are 100 per cent Windows compatible,? Fortune said. ?Both are multimedia compatible, will run NT and Office native and will have 32Mbytes of Ram and 2.4Gbytes of memory. But the Alpha chip will run imaging software twice as fast, Autocad applications eight times faster and DVD playback and H.320 videoconferencing without additional hardware.?
The chip will ship in volume this July and will be available in three clock speeds - 400, 466 and 533MHz. Prices for OEMs range from $295 to $495 dollars respectively when quantities of 1,000 are bought.
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