The Case of the Crusty Alpha CPU

Original hardware for Alphaservers isn’t hard to find. Locating a used server, however, does not change its pedigree. All of this iron is old, sometimes in ways that can surprise.

For example, on the OpenVMS newsgroup, a discussion is underway about thermal compounds. These are the adhesives used in creating CPU boards for servers.

“I’ve met more than a few crusty thermal connections on Alphaserver DS10 and DS10L servers,” says Stephen Hoffman of Hoffman Labs. “Some that were particularly prone to overheating were found with mere scraps of badly-degraded thermal tape under the heatsink.”

The remedy for this kind of antique roadshow entry is severe and detailed. “If you have a DS10 or earlier Alpha,” Hoffman adds, “or one prone to running warm, I’d suggest swapping the coin cell while you’re in the box, and re-pasting the Alpha processor.”

Any hardware has a measure of failure. Mean Time Between Failures started in the 1990s — or about the same time as the introduction of such workstations. The MTBF has a propensity to decrease over the time of ownership. The longer a device has been serving, the closer it creeps to failure. When the failure is at the adhesive level, it might be time to move onward.

For a system administrator or a manager who demands Alpha processors, though, there may be only varying levels of reduced MTBF. That’s one place where an emulated Alpha system can step in.

There’s no way to create more Digital-branded Alphaservers. The hardware underneath an emulated system, like those from Stromasys, is refreshed every day. Intel-based servers, as well as those using AMD processors ready for x86, drive emulated systems. Vendors like Dell and HP sell new systems every day. None of them have to power up with crusty thermal connections, either.

Leave a Reply