The fastest Alpha NT workstation I've tested

As workstations go, the Scream'n Demon 600MHz Powerhouse is enormous. The motherboard is identical to motherboards in other Alpha Windows NT workstations I've tested, but the tower measures nearly 2' tall and 2' deep.

Most Alpha NT workstations come with the low-cost 21164PC processor, but the Powerhouse comes with the 600MHz 21164a Alpha processor that Digital Equipment uses in its servers. The Powerhouse's 21164a has a 4MB Level 3 off-chip Static RAM (SRAM) cache. The system I tested holds 128MB of Synchronous DRAM (SDRAM). Components include a Dynamic Pictures Oxygen 402 3-D graphics accelerator card, an Ultra Wide SCSI-3 PCI controller, a 10/100 megabits per second (Mbps) PCI Ethernet card, four DIMM slots, a 4.5GB Ultra Wide SCSI 7200rpm hard disk, a 12X SCSI CD-ROM drive, and a 400-watt power supply.

The Powerhouse has eight external bays, two 32-bit PCI slots, two 64-bit PCI slots, and two ISA slots. (It does not come with Universal Serial Bus--USB--ports.) The cavernous case makes switching cards easy. Removing a side cover gives you plenty of room to maneuver components into and out of the system.

Performance Benchmarks
microway screamdemon I used AIM Technology's Workstation Benchmark for Windows NT to test the Powerhouse's performance. (For more information about AIM benchmarking and performance data, see http://www.aim.com.) I replaced the Oxygen 402 video card with a Matrox Millennium II 4MB 2-D video card to prevent the Oxygen 402 from skewing the system's performance ratings. I installed Pragma Systems' InterAccess TelnetD 4.0 for Windows NT on the Powerhouse so that AIM engineers could access the system.

All the Alpha NT workstations I have tested hit performance ceilings near 500 application jobs per minute on the AIM WNT Peak Performance metric. The Powerhouse scored 643.7 application jobs per minute on the test. Similarly, the Powerhouse scored higher on the AIM WNT Sustained Performance metric--219.4 application jobs per minute--than any other Alpha NT system I've tested. The Powerhouse also beats all but the very latest Pentium II systems on the AIM tests.

Examining AIM's WNT floating-point metrics, I found that the Powerhouse's motherboard design propagates the floating-point bottleneck I've found in other Alpha NT workstations. This bottleneck is likely the reason why 400MHz Pentium II systems outperform the 600MHz Alpha system in AIM's tests. (For more information about this bottleneck, see "Alpha Floating Point Sinks," June 1998 at www.winntmag.com/webexclusives.)

Graphics Benchmarks
To test the system's graphics performance, I reinstalled the Oxygen 402 graphics accelerator, a video card that uses four Oxygen chipsets in a parallel configuration to provide Gouraud shading, z buffering, texture mapping, anti-aliasing, image scaling, stereo imaging, transparencies, and alpha-buffering capabilities. I ran three viewsets from the Viewperf benchmark: Parametric Technology's CDRS, IBM's Visualization Data Explorer (DX), and Lightscape Technologies' Lightscape Visualization System. (For more information about the Viewperf benchmark, see http://www.specbench.org.)

I set the resolution of the Powerhouse's 21" Liyama VisionMaster Pro 500 monitor to 1024 * 768 * 16-bit for the CDRS and DX viewsets. The Powerhouse reached 42.986 frames per second in the CDRS viewset and 5.553 frames per second in the DX viewset. I set the monitor's resolution to 1280 * 1024 * True Color for the Lightscape viewset, and the Powerhouse displayed 0.581 frames per second. Considering the video card's $2299 price, these Viewperf scores are respectable.

Despite its floating-point bottleneck, this system is a serious performer. And like other Alpha processors, the Powerhouse's 64-bit CPU will probably prove to be an even better performer when NT 5.x transitions to a 64-bit operating system.

Scream'n Demon 600MHz Powerhouse
Contact: Microway * 508-746-7341
Web: http://www.microway.com
Price: $6995
System Configuration: 600MHz Alpha 21164a processor, 4MB Level 3 off-chip SRAM cache, 128MB of SDRAM, Dynamic Pictures Oxygen 402 3-D graphics accelerator card, 10/100Mbps PCI Ethernet card, Ultra Wide SCSI-3 PCI controller, 4.5GB Ultra Wide SCSI 7200rpm hard disk, OpenGL 3-D graphics card