Digital aims at 1 GHz Alpha chip

WASHINGTON - As new "fabless" semiconductor manufacturers, Digital Equipment Corp. leaders in Maynard, Mass., are aiming at a next-generation 1 GHz chip in their 64-bit Alpha microprocessor line.

May 1st, 1998

By John Rhea

WASHINGTON - As new "fabless" semiconductor manufacturers, Digital Equipment Corp. leaders in Maynard, Mass., are aiming at a next-generation 1 GHz chip in their 64-bit Alpha microprocessor line.

The EV-6/7 Alpha chip is to be made at Intel Corp. in Santa Clara, Calif., under a licensing agreement that executives of Digital and Intel concluded last October. Systems designers use Alpha microprocessors widely in the aerospace business, particularly for computationally intensive computer-generated imaging.

Digital leaders have an 18-month product road map for extending the company`s current top-of-the-line EV-5 chip, says James White, vice president of Digital`s federal government region based in Greenbelt, Md.

This chip operates at 625 MHz with four instructions per clock cycle. The next step, due for initial deliveries later this year, is the EV-6 chip with eight instructions per cycle at 400 MHz.

Digital scientists later will extend that performance to 600 MHz and then 800 MHz. The EV-6 will be the fourth generation of Digital`s Alpha family, which company engineers designed with a floating point architecture in 1991 and have delivered since 1992. White says he estimates the EV-6 will cost $1,200 to $1,400 in volume when Digital introduces it.

The agreement with Intel involved two parts: selling Digital`s CMOS wafer fab facility at Hudson, Mass., for $700 million to settle a lawsuit between the two companies, and licensing Intel to produce the Alpha chips, initially at the present 0.35-micron feature size and soon to be upgraded to 0.25.

Digital will retain all design rights to the Alpha architecture. Intel officials, meanwhile, are gearing up their own wafer fab to 0.18 micron for their first 64-bit chip, the Merced. Company officials expect to market this device late next year.

Of concern to military customers is the continued availability and support of the 64-bit Alpha family, which is the basis for many advanced weapon systems.

In announcing their agreement last October, Digital leaders made a point of easing customer concerns with a proclamation from their chairman, Robert Palmer: "We intend to maintain a performance and scalability advantage with Alpha for the foreseeable future and are also committed to supporting these systems for as long as our customers need them."

Among the companies packaging the chips in ruggedized and militarized configurations for the military market is Raytheon Electronic Systems in Marlboro, Mass.

Raytheon and Digital have a long relationship when it comes to rugged and mil-spec computers. Raytheon engineers have ruggedized Digital computers for military applications for at least the past 10 years, starting with the so-called "Mil-Vax."

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