SUNNYVALE, Calif. -- The $1.5 billion Alpha processor joint-development project unveiled earlier this week by Compaq Computer Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. involves yet another bedfellow: MPU rival Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and its Athlon microprocessor.
Under the five-year deal, Samsung will become a major supplier of the Alpha chips for Houston-based Compaq, which uses the devices in its high-end servers. Samsung initially will invest $200 million to incorporate copper-interconnect and silicon-on-insulator processing modules into its Alpha production lines (see Dec. 13 story).
Samsung, based in Korea, said the new processes will allow it to compete with IBM Microelectronics, which will serve Compaq as a second source of the Alpha chips, perhaps as early as next year.
In addition to the processor program, Samsung's subsidiary, Alpha Processors Inc. (API), is working with AMD to develop an Alpha core-logic chip set called Caspian. Slated for production in the third quarter of 2000, Caspian will support both the Alpha and Athlon processors using the Alpha EV6 bus architecture common to both devices. The cooperative effort ultimately will benefit the processors and their makers alike, said Daeje Chin, Samsung Electronics' executive vice president and chief technical officer, and chairman and chief executive of API.
The relationship is not entirely new. AMD already supplies its Irongate chip set for use in Alpha-based servers built by Network Appliance Inc. And while Compaq uses a proprietary chipset line in its Alpha servers, the company is considering using the Irongate in private-label servers it may build on a contract basis, according to officials at API, based in Concord, Mass.
Ironically, the Athlon/Alpha chipset development deal is getting under way just as Compaq is asking the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to overturn an earlier consent decree forcing it to license the Alpha technology to AMD and Samsung. Compaq inherited the decree as part of its 1998 purchase of Digital Equipment Corp. Now, however, Compaq says that while it will continue to work with Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD and Samsung, it doesn't want to operate under a government-imposed mandate.
In related news, Samsung's Chin said API is developing a chip set, called Tasman, to support four- to six-processor servers using either the Alpha or Athlon chips. Additionally, the Samsung/Compaq alliance will work with AMD to adapt Athlon's Lightning Data Transfer I/O interface to function in Alpha processors with data speeds of 1 to 3.2 gigabytes per second, noted Jeff Borkowski, API's vice president of sales and marketing.
He said working with a market rival on chip set and motherboard R&D "simply makes sense. Both use the same EV6 bus, so joint development can save time and money. A common chipset for dual-processor versions of both processors also will have production economies of scale to allow low pricing."
Caspian will support PC100 and PC133 SDRAM, and, in the second half of 2000, double-data-rate SDRAM. There are no plans to interface to Direct Rambus DRAM.