People in the Digital community gush over Alpha. The architecture is the centerpiece of the “We Do RISC Too” movement starting in the 1990s. SPARC. Alpha. Even IBM’s POWER. Reduced Instruction Set Computing was revolutionary when first announced in the 80s. Then it was trashed, and finally revived by Hewlett-Packard. Of course, HP had to hire an IBM wizard, Joel Birnbaum, to get PA-RISC into a product line.
Enough of the complicated history. HP turned off its PA-RISC spigot not too long after it ended its HP 3000 operations. Meanwhile, Alpha lived on as a PA-RISC alternative, until the new HP killed Alpha futures, too. Arg! Why do these superior architectures struggle so much? Well, vendors change their minds. Plus, the market always has winners and losers.
In the aftermath of the close-out of Alpha, the architecture’s fans might say, what’s happened to that genius talent that built Alpha? The satisfying answer is those engineers are still building. Out on the website osnews.com, a group of developers is tracking Alpha’s progeny. Spoiler alert: Not dead, with interesting ancestry.
Onward into new architecture
Guest poster Flatland_Spider says, “MIPS Technologies no longer designs MIPS processors. Instead, it’s joined the RISC-V camp, abandoning its eponymous architecture for one that has strong historical and technical ties.”
Then after an interlude of “MIPS lives on, and will not fade to black like the DEC Alpha,” Alpha fan Javier Cerol spoke up.
“Alpha has lived on in a few x86 microarchitectures. The team building Alpha went on to do Opteron and Ryzen at AMD.” Then there was a mention that “Alpha processors, and descendants thereof, are used quite heavily in Chinese military technology.”
But the Alpha fan begs to differ.
“Those processors are not descendants of Alpha. They simply used some parts of the Alpha microarchitecture as inspiration. The AXP21264 was a very clean microarchitecture that inspired a lot of designs after that.”
With so much influence on newer architectures, it’s an easy argument that DEC built one of the premier RISC examples in Alpha.
Another developer said, “So people are running a DEC-descended OS (Windows NT, derived from VMS) on a DEC descended processor, plugging in peripherals using a primarily DEC designed interface (USB) and communicating to the world on a DEC designed interface (Ethernet).
“And people wonder why I’m a DEC fanboy — that damned company invented everything.”