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Running Linux on Digital Alpha Systems

Christopher Browne

$Id: alpha.sgml,v 1.22 2005-12-28 14:06:08 cbbrowne Exp $

Table of Contents
1. Digital Alpha Systems
2. Alpha UDB/Multia System Configuration
3. Inadequacies of this Configuration
4. Home Pages of Some People Running UDBs
5. Credits

1. Digital Alpha Systems

The DEC Alpha 64 bit architecture designed by Digital was the second one supported by Linux.

It provides high performance floating point, much faster than the Intel IA-32 architecture, and probably better than any competing architecture. (Except that, since 2007, nobody's selling Alphas anymore, as Intel bought the technology from Compaq back in 2001.)

The availability of a 64 bit address space can also provide performance benefits for applications that can benefit from having a lot of memory.

The port of Linux to this 64 bit architecture began the portability process that has since led to Linux being available on a whole host of architectures.

Other notable operating systems that have run on Alpha include:

1.1. Linux Alpha Resources

Linux on Alpha Hypermail Archive


An i86 emulator for Alpha Linux

This is definitely the coolest emulation system that I have ever seen. It uses Digital's optimized "FX!86" emulator to allow Alpha Linux boxes to run Linux i86/ELF binaries. Upcoming enhancements will automagically translate references to i86 libraries to Alpha equivalents, which will allow better performance than is available now. The most notable i86 applications known to run under em86 are Netscape, ApplixWare, NExS, and Acrobat. (This of course does not mean that nothing else runs; it's merely that these are the ones that have been of particular interest, as the vendors do not sell Alpha-compatible versions...) I saw all but Acrobat up and running on demo systems at the April '97 Linux conference at the Raleigh Biotech Center.

Digital released sources for the em86 portion (not sources to FX!86) so that folks can better integrate em86 into things.

Fast Floating Point Math libs for Linux Alpha

Recent efforts have resulted in a library of transcendental functions that run on the order of four times as fast as those in the regular LIBM.

CNET - Compaq sees Linux as selling Alpha chips

Compiler Writers' Guide for Digital Alpha

NetBSD FAQ about Digital Multia

Providing quite a lot of information on Multia hardware and troubleshooting

DEC Multia / UDB (Universal Desktop Box)

Docs on Multia

Digital Alpha System Documentation

For such models as: as1000, as1000a, as2000, as2100, as2100a, as300, as400, as4100, as800, as8200, as8400, as8x00, ...

Miata Install HOWTO

I've got a Miata...

1.3. Status and Error Codes on AlphaStations

Table 4. Status and Error Codes

Status CodeMeaning
DFPower on, SROM program entered, beginning to initialize EV5 CPU
DE Initializing cpu/system interface, Sizing MemorySizing, configuring third level cache and MMB data path
DD Sizing CPU speed
DC Sizing and initializing the scache
DB Initializing and testing the PCI bus, testing PCI bus data path
DA Sizing the bcache
D9 Sizing memory
D8 Configuring memory
D7 Initializing memory test
D6 Testing bcache bits
D5 Testing memory bits
D4 Testing bcache addresses
D3 Testing bcache addresses
D2 Testing bcache cells
D1 Testing memory cells
D0 Initializing all memory
CF Loading flash ROM code
CE Reinitializing cpu/system interface
CD Code execution complete
Nonfatal Error Code Meaning
EE No bcache size bits detected
EB Failed to detect CPU speed
E9 Failed to detect real-time clock; system defaults to 300 Mhz, providing the most relaxed operating parameters
E4 Memory datapath error. If there is no more memory to reconfigure after the offending bank has been mapped out, error code FA will be displayed (See FATAL errors).
E3 Memory address line error; system maps out the offending bank and reconfigures without it. If there is no more memory to reconfigure after the offending bank has been mapped out, error code FA will be displayed (See FATAL errors).
E2 Bcache cell error
E1 Memory cell error
E0 ROM checksum error
Fatal Error Code Meaning
FF No scache bits set in sc_ctl register
FD Floppy drive error
FC No MMBs, or MMB mismatch *
FB Reserved
FA NO usable memory detected, or all detected memory fails the memory tests
F9 Sys init failure - read/write miscompare in one of the control/status registers
F8 PCI data path error
F7 pceb init failure
F6 System finds a bad CIA memory csr
F5 Bcache data path error
F4 Bcache address line error
F3 Bcache cell error
F2 Reserved
F1 ROM data path read error
F0 Reserved

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