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Compaq readies Alpha-based workstation

The computer maker hopes for a favorable impression with its "Monet" workstation, the first Compaq product to use the Alpha chip.

Compaq will debut its first Alpha-based workstation on February 1, completing another step in the merging of Digital into Compaq.

The workstation, code-named Monet and officially called the Professional Workstation XP1000, will be the first Alpha product to emerge from the technical heritage of both Compaq Computer and Digital Equipment, the company that developed the Alpha chip.

Compaq has released Alpha servers under its own name already, but these machines were largely inherited from the Digital product line. Monet is the first Alpha system with a significant degree of Compaq input. The workstation was expected in 1998, but it was delayed to resolve design problems, the company said earlier.

The XP1000 will come with a 500-MHz Alpha 21264 chip, 128MB to 1GB of memory, a SCSI hard disk, and either Digital Unix or Microsoft Windows NT, information on the workstations said. The machines will be able to dual-boot, using either Windows or Unix.

Graphics muscle for the NT versions of the machines will be provided by video cards from Elsa or Compaq's own PowerStorm.

The Monet debut follows quickly on the official news that Silicon Graphics has begun to ship its new Visual Workstations in volume. SGI is a major new player in the Windows/Intel workstation arena. Like SGI, Compaq sells workstations using either Intel or Reduced Instruction Computing Set (RISC) chips.

The RISC workstation market offers higher profits and better performance than the higher-volume Intel/NT workstation market, but most of the growth is in Intel/NT workstations, analysts say.

While Sun still leads the pack in workstation revenue with its RISC/Unix systems, Wintel systems out-ship Unix systems, International Data Corporation says.

Compaq first began using the Alpha 21264 in its GS60 and GS140 enterprise servers, the first Compaq-branded servers with the Alpha chip.

More than half of Compaq's current Alpha chips are made by Samsung Electronics, and Samsung announced in November it was ready to mass-produce the 21264.

The Alpha 21264 currently is manufactured with a 0.35-micron process, but Compaq plans to shrink the features to 0.28-micron process and, by the end of 1999, a 0.18 micron process. The 0.18-micron chips are expected to run at speeds as fast as 1GHz.

Compaq also will sell 21264 motherboards--the board that holds a computer system's core components. Those motherboards are capable of supporting two Alpha processors and 4GB of RAM, and are capable of transferring data from the processor to main memory at speeds as high as 2.6GBps. The motherboards, including two processors, cost $7,999 apiece in quantities of 1,000.