Microway “Screamer 533”

The idea of having that much “horsepower” behind the keyboard brought back memories of my 1970 Mustang and the feeling of being pressed into the seat back under acceleration.
Software Description

Do not expect to find the same robust selection of applications and utilities for the Screamer as you would for Intel. The number is small in comparison to Intel-based availability. There are however, approximately 380 Alpha applications and utilities to be found at ftp://ftp.digital.com/pub/linux/redhat/redhat-4.2 and ftp://sunsite.unc.edu/pub/linux/ALPHA/alpha. Even with the relatively low number of available programs, there were several familiar applications installed on this machine, e.g., xfig, Emacs, mc, minicum and xfm. Every Alpha program performed faster than the equivalent Intel program on my machine. The Screamer came with Red Hat 4.2 (Biltmore release) installed. I tried installing a number of the Alpha applications from my InfoMagic Developer's Resource set, circa September 1996. A few failed but the majority of them worked.

All is not lost when it comes to running Intel-based applications on the Alpha platform. Em86 (a non-supported product of DEC) will run numerous Intel-based applications. Em86 can be run standalone, in a script or as part of the kernel. It is best to apply the em86 patch and recompile the kernel, so that it can recognize the need to emulate when an Intel application is launched. Otherwise, you have to enter em86 before every Intel application you wish to run. Furthermore, if the application spawns a child process, it will fail because em86 (standalone) won't spawn a process to perform emulation for the child process. With some planning and work, Intel ports can be used on the Alpha, but not without a performance penalty. Even so, using an emulator will go a long way toward maintaining operations while the Alpha ports are in development.

Installation

From the package truck to the office in 15 minutes—no speed limits were broken in the process. The precious cargo was handled carefully, as the phrase “you break it, you buy it” repeated in my head. The setup was like any other computer installation. I plugged in the keyboard, mouse, monitor and power cords. I flipped the switches and watched as the fun began. The only problem I had was making space for the full-size tower under my desk. The extra monitor on the desktop made for cramped quarters for a few weeks, but I certainly felt it was worth it.

Tech support

Microway offers telephone tech support at (508) 746-7341 and e-mail tech support at tech@microway.com and techsupport@microway.com. The sure-fire way to get answers is to call. I would like Microway to add an auto-responder to send back a response that tells the sender that their message got through and is in the works.

Company Profile

Microway has been producing advanced mathematical and scientific computing software products and hardware since 1982. Today they produce numerous NDP compilers in a variety of languages, i.e., C/C++, Fortran and Pascal, custom software and hardware. Their hardware product line reads like a who's who in industrial computing starting with Intel Pentium Workstations, i860 boards and, of course, the Screamer series of DEC Alpha-based custom-built file servers and workstations. Companies like Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation, Rolls Royce and Fidelity Investments pepper Microway's customer database. Microway machines are installed at hundreds of universities worldwide.

Company Contact Information

Ann Fried was my sales contact. Mike Brown is the National Sales Manager. Nina Nitroy was very helpful by making a copy of ldconfig available on the ftp server. I had accidently overwritten the file with the em86 ldconfig. I couldn't shut down the machine without it. They all can be reached at 508-746-7341.

The Future

Microway will have released a new LX motherboard by the time this reaches the newsstands. It features six PCI slots (2x64bit and 4x32bit), two ISA slots and a 4MB cache. Microway LX motherboards are unique in the fact that they are backward compatible with slower but more affordable processors such as the 500MHz and 433MHz. Mike Brown of Microway pointed out that there is a five percent performance difference between the 500MHz and the 533MHz chips. Also look for their new NDP FORTRAN for Linux released back in October.

Bradley J. Willson currently designs and troubleshoots tooling for the Boeing 777 program and fills the chair of chief cook and bottle washer for Willson Consulting Services. His friends understand and forgive his addiction to computer technology, while others wonder how he can stand the countless hours he spends staring at screens. According to Bradley, the secret is attitude—and maybe a mild case of radiation sickness. He can reached via e-mail at cpu@ifixcomputers.com and http://www.ifixcomputers.com/.

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