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Re: Advice on system purchase

On 11/2/2012 7:27 AM, Martin Steigerwald wrote:

> But granted I find it a pity that soo much variety of CPU platforms has 
> gone already.

Yes, a shame.  A short list of some CPU archs that have been pushed out
of the market or severely marginalized by x86,

Motorola 680x0, DEC Alpha, SGI MIPS, HP PA-RISC, Motorola/IBM PowerPC,
Sun SPARC, Cray Vector, Intel Itanium (irony here).

Of these the one that bothered me the most was Cray being forced to
discontinue their vector processor technology.  This was due to x86
floating point performance increasing at a rate their custom vector CPU
team could not match due to a lack of capital and manpower.  With
AMD/Intel x86, R&D cost is spread over hundreds of millions of units.
Cray vector R&D was spread over less than 100,000 units, and their CPU
R&D budget was about 1,000th that of Intel.

Economics folks, is one key reason why x86 has taken over the world, and
why it will have a strangle hold over it for many years, if not decades,
to come.  x86 has always been inferior to other architectures for a host
of technical reasons.  But once Intel, primarily, reached "critical
mass" over a decade ago, they were able to increase the performance of
an inferior architecture much faster than competitors could do with
superior architectures, due to the size of their wallet and owning their
own fabs, allowing for substantial tuning of the production process.

Alpha and MIPS in particular had vastly superior performance per
transistor, die area, and in the case of MIPS per watt, but not per
dollar.  In 1996 the Alpha 21164A had 2x the integer and 3x the FP
performance of the Pentium Pro, and ran at ~2.25x its clock speed--but
cost $3000 to the $1000 of the PPRO.  The MIPS R10000 ran 10MHz slower
than the PPRO, but had slightly higher integer and over 2x the FP
performance of the PPRO.  Its cost was higher than the PPRO but nothing
approaching the $3K of the Alpha.

The other key reason x86 rules the world is backward compatibility.
Just about every x86 system today can boot MS-DOS 2.11.  While this
isn't necessary today it has provided a pretty seamless desktop software
upgrade path since 1985.  Anyone recall launching 16 bit DOS games such
as Doom, Duke Nukem, and Shadow Warrior from within Windows 95, a mixed
32/16 bit OS?  None of the RISC chips could offer such a transition, and
MS Windows had already taken hold in the marketplace.

Debian no longer supports Alpha or PA-RISC.  It does still support MIPS,
the last and most powerful system being the SGI Tezro with 4x 700MHz
R16000 CPUs--a dual core Atom system with integrated graphics would give
this box a run for its money, costs ~$200.  The quad Tezro was over
$20,000 USD.


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