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Samsung starts up 600-MHz Alpha

The third-generation Alpha chip, the 21264, has twice the data processing speed of its predecessor, Samsung says.

Samsung Electronics in Korea is ready to mass produce the third generation of Alpha processors, which compete with Intel chips, and will begin supplying Compaq beginning in December.

Samsung Electronics, part of the Korean electronics giant Samsung, has been manufacturing the second-generation 64-bit Alpha for use in Compaq computers, and Samsung now supplies Compaq with more than half its Alpha chips, Samsung said.

Compaq offers a high-end line of server computers based on Alpha chips which compete with systems based on Intel's Xeon Pentium II processors.

The third-generation Alpha, the 21264, has twice the data processing speed of its predecessor, the 21164, Samsung said. Speeds are expected to ultimately reach well beyond 600 MHz. Samsung said previously that chips it brings out in 1999 will run as fast as 1 GHz (1000 MHz).

Digital Equipment Corporation originally designed the 21264, and Compaq bought Digital earlier this year. Counter to some analysts' expectations, Compaq has showed much enthusiasm for the Alpha chip and is selling it in high-performance servers and workstations.

Compaq introduced two high-end servers in October that use versions of the 21264 running at a speed of 575 MHz, but Compaq's road map for Alpha shows 600MHz chips by the end of the year.

One reason Samsung began manufacturing the Alpha chip is to diversify its chip products out of the memory business--an industry that's been hit hard by an oversupply and low chip prices. Making Alpha chips is the main part of Samsung's non-memory chip business.

Samsung expects to sell more than $3 million worth of Alpha chips in December, the company said. In addition, it plans to sell $100 million worth in 1999 and $1.5 billion worth in the next five years.

Intel began manufacturing Alpha chips as part of a $700 million settlement that resulted from a patent infringement lawsuit Digital brought against Intel. But when the Federal Trade Commission approved the settlement--including the sale of Digital's Alpha chip plant in Hudson, Massachusetts, to Intel--it required that Digital license its Alpha technology to Samsung, Advanced Micro Devices, and other companies.

The Alpha line of 64-bit chips competes directly with Intel's upcoming 64-bit chip family, called IA-64. Intel's first IA-64 chip, code-named Merced, is scheduled to appear in 2000. One of the reasons Compaq is keen on the Alpha chip is because it is already 64-bit, a goal Intel will not reach until 2000.

The Alpha chip is also distinguished by the fact that it can run the Microsoft Windows NT operating system natively--the only chip besides those based on Intel's x86 series that can.

Microsoft is using Alpha chips to develop the 64-bit version of the next version of Windows NT.

Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network, publisher of News.com.