Will Your Desktop PC Contain 'Alpha Inside'
-- by Joseph C. Panettieri
Just as the Pentium Pro is stepping up to the workstation arena, Digital Equipment's Alpha processor is jumping down to the desktop. Alpha, which has already carved a small but distinctive niche in the NT workstation and server markets, will soon find its way into the sub-$3,000 PC category.
Bang for the buck
The cornerstone in Digital's Alpha PC strategy is the company's forthcoming 21164PC microprocessor, slated to ship this summer. For somewhere between $2,500 and $4,000, you'll get a system with at least 32MB of RAM, a 2GB hard drive, an 8X CD-ROM, NT Workstation 4.0, MS Office and an Alpha running at 400MHz to 533MHz. "We're not abandoning leading-edge technology or the workstation market," said product manager Philippa Jollie. "We're simply driving the cost of Alpha technology down."
These PCs will use a chip codesigned by Digital and Mitsubishi that is cheaper to build than other Alphas. The chip lacks level 2 cache, which can go on the motherboard instead. It also includes multimedia instructions that, like Intel's MMX, boost video and audio.
Observers agree that Alpha shows technical promise, and it provides a welcome alternative to the Pentium Pro. Still, Alpha PCs won't be as ubiquitous as their Intel counterparts any time soon. Despite some great reviews, Alpha holds barely 5 percent of the NT market; Intel rules the rest.
However, Microsoft says it is "unequivocally committed" to NT on Alpha. By shipping Alpha PCs, Digital may finally be showing the same commitment to its own product.