US Report: Cool technology fuels Alpha

Digitalis using a cool technology - literally - to push Alpha workstation performance to new heights.

In June, Digital plans to release 600MHz 21164 Alpha workstations that, through cooling technology from a small company called KryoTech in the US, actually run at 767MHz. The companies, which have been working together since 1996, made the announcement yesterday at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas.

KryoTechcan increase the performance of most CMOS-based processors by 30 percent by cooling them to minus 40 degrees Celsius, officials from the company said. The technology, which KryoTech calls Cool Computing, is based on conventional phase-change refrigeration. It uses a compressor to liquefy the Freon-like cooling material. An expansion chamber, which replaces the heat sink, is mounted on the processor.

Digital first demonstrated a prototype of the chilled 600MHz 21164 Alpha at Comdex/Fall 1996.

Artificially cooled processors run faster than those kept cool with traditional fans or heat sinks, but companies have yet to successfully implement cooling technologies on a volume basis. "Other [manufacturers] use refrigeration built out of the lab. It's hand-built, really expensive and not reliable,'' said Rob DiGiacomo, executive vice president of marketing at KryoTech. "We are the first ones to apply standard vapour phase refrigeration that is low-cost and reliable."

Despite those low-cost claims, Digital customers will pay a hefty premium of about $6,000 (£3,570) for a cooled, Windows NT-based workstation over similarly configured 600MHz Alpha workstations already available.

The KryoTech/Digital 767 Personal Supercomputer, as it's called, will be priced from $21,997 (£13,093) for an NT model with 4MB of Level 3 cache, 256MB of ECC (error-correcting code) SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a 4.3GB Ultra SCSI hard drive, Digital PowerStorm graphics and 10/100M-bps Ethernet.

For $33,564 (£19,980), users can buy a Digital Unix "premium" edition that includes 768MB of ECC SDRAM, an 8.6GB Ultra SCSI hard drive and a 21-inch monitor.

By the time these units hit the market, Digital will also be shipping workstations based on its next-generation Alpha, the 21264. Digital executives, however, expect little overlap because the 21264 will be higher-performance, without cooling.

Ron Locklin, the company's vice president of workstations and graphics marketing, said Digital has no plans to cool the 21264, and added that the KryoTech/Digital 767 Personal Supercomputer is a "point product," meaning Digital has no plans for a successor. Locklin also said the AlphaServer division is evaluating the cooling technology for possible implementation.

KryoTech might find other allies in Inteland IBM Microelectronics, since it has designed a cooling system for the Pentium II and PowerPC microprocessors.

At the CeBIT trade show in Hannover, last month, Intel showed a prototype of a KryoTech-cooled 702MHz Pentium II, more than twice as fast as any Intel chip available today. It's unclear whether Intel or its OEMs will come to market with products based on KryoTech technology.

Two-year-old KryoTech was formed by former employees of NCR Corp.