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Compaq avoids IA-64 question in Alpha push

A tale of two chips

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Analysis The insiders at Digital, some of whom still remain after it was acquired by Compaq, are still asking long and hard questions about the future of Merced in the newly re-structured organisation. Although Jesse Lipcon, VP of Alpha strategy, who is in London today, took time out to remind people that, for example, the microprocessors are at the heart of scientific products worldwide, the strategy vis a vis Intel's up-and-coming Itanium-Merced project still remains unclear. For example, Lipcon said that the Merced-Itanium 64-bit chip still formed a very important part of Compaq's strategy. He emphasised that Compaq was still the big number one seller of Intel servers, and that the Alpha processor would form the basis of its high-end chip strategy. This contrasts strangely with HP. When we met them last week, the executives told us that HP, unlike IBM and Compaq, had a very clear strategy, which was to get rid of every trace of RISC as soon as it could. Now Compaq has, once again, decided to play the Joker in the Pack option. Everyone who reads The Register knows full well that Intel and Samsung are as cosy as two bugs in a rug. After all, it was only last week that Samsung was reported as having doubled its Rambus production, which might finally get to two million semiconductors by February next year. The game is playing far faster than any in the industry thought it might. Intel is still fabricating Alpha parts for Compaq (Digital) under a 10 year agreement that the US government imposed a couple of years ago. Under the terms of that agreement, Intel agreed to pay a large amount to the then Digital Corporation to defray the costs of a law suit which alleged that the former had stolen some elements of its Alpha technology to use in the Pentium Pro. Intel and Digital's deal was brokered by the Federal Trade Commission, although many at the time thought the former had bought the latter. It only seemed a moment afterwards that Eckhard Pfeiffer, then CEO of Compaq, snapped up Digital... So now it's totally logical that Compaq, under the Capellas brand, is trying very hard indeed to push the Alpha processor while slightly distancing itself from Intel. Intel is fabbing Alpha chips and so is Samsung. So too is IBM, and has been for a while. Lipcon is maintaining that Compaq is still strong on the x.86 server brand -- and so it is. And he maintains that will continue. Seems, in some ways, that ex-Digital CEO Robert Palmer, who is now a non-executive director at AMD, was more than halfway right when he said at the launch of the Alpha processor in 1991 that the processor was good for another ten years at least. Now, it seems that investing more bucks in the shape of R&D in Alpha might make a quite a lot of sense. We're sure that the FTC is still watching... And we haven't even started on the operating system front, yet. ®

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