Looking Forward to 2002

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Alpha Goes Out With a Bang not a Whimper

Although Compaq announced the wind down of Alpha development in June and transferred nearly the entire EV8 development team to Intel over the summer there is still one more surprise in store for the computer industry. The EV7, the final major design revision in store for Alpha, has been the subject of intense testing, verification, and system integration exercises since late spring. This design has been in the pipeline for a long time. It was first announced more than three years ago and finally taped out in early 2001. Because the complexity of this device (basically a complex CPU and large scale server chipset all on one die) and the incredible degree of shakedown server class MPUs and systems undergo, the EV7 will not go into volume production until the second half of 2002. To bridge the gap between current products and EV7 based systems Compaq will shortly release a 1.25 GHz version of the workhorse EV68.

Although general details of the EV7 design have been in the public domain for more than three years, and specific facts about the performance of this MPU’s router and memory controllers were disclosed in February, I think the performance it will achieve when officially rolled out in 2H02 will surprise and dismay many in the industry (possibly including senior Compaq management). At the Microprocessor Forum in October Compaq’s Peter Bannon unveiled some preliminary performance numbers for the EV7, namely 804 SPECint2k, 1253 SPECfp2k, and roughly 5 GB/s STREAM performance.

Although these numbers are quite good in absolute terms, comparable to the fastest speed grade POWER4 running in a contrived and unrealistic hardware configuration, the numbers failed to live up to my estimates given in a previous article. However, former members of the Alpha design team have privately confirmed my suspicions that Mr. Bannon was clearly sandbagging the EV7 numbers, keeping a not insignificant amount of performance off the table. For a product still more than six months from release that is a not unexpected tactic. I still hold the opinion that when it is all said and done the EV7 has a good chance of being the highest performance general purpose microprocessor ever fabricated in 0.18 um technology, a fitting ending to a remarkable and tragic technological saga (EV79, an EV7 shrink to 0.13 um SOI is on the roadmap for 1H04 but the continued turmoil at Compaq suggests a healthy amount of scepticism is in order).

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