Compaq Sacrifices Alpha

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The Executioner’s Song

On Monday, June 25, 2001 the Compaq Computer Corporation shocked the high tech industry and many of its customers and employees by announcing that future development of its Alpha processor family would be terminated after the EV7 [1]. In addition, the Alpha MPU and compiler design teams would be transferred to Intel, as well as rights to all Alpha related intellectual property (IP). The licensing of Alpha IP to Intel was apparently structured in a non-exclusive manner in a bid to evade potential anti-trust exposure or violation of the FTC consent decree that permitted Intel to acquire DEC’s StrongARM division and wafer fab four years ago.

This regrettable decision will have profound effects for Compaq and the entire 64-bit processor and system marketplace. The flip side of consigning Alpha to its omega is that the large and troubled computer vendor has effectively pledged its wholesale fealty to Intel. Compaq will rely on Intel’s complete product line, from the ARM processor that powers its iPaq handheld computer, the Pentiums that fill the majority of its x86 needs, to the IA64 devices that will eventually and exclusively power its 64-bit technical workstations, departmental servers, and enterprise class servers. How Compaq will differentiate its future products from those of much leaner and agile competitors like Dell, which will also market IA64 based systems, remains to be seen. It would be ironic if this event marks the beginning of a spiraling process of self-cannibalization by Compaq, similar to the final years of DEC.

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