VOGONS


First post, by GL1zdA

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This project took me years to complete. It started in 98 when I saw this article:

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I instantly felt the urge to have an Alpha. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints I've ended up with a Pentium III in late 2000. But the strong feeling never left me. I've tried it for the first time in 2006. Unfortunately the board never allowed me to install NT - it failed during the file copy setup phase. Maybe because I've used the onboard IDE (Intel SIO) instead of using a SCSI HDD, maybe because it was damaged, I'll never find out because the board died some time after this - it would only boot the AlphaBIOS image via floppy and even then it failed with bugchecks most of the time.

I've bought a complete AlphaPC in 2008, with a SCSI controller and SCSI drive. I've installed NT and begun to experiment with graphics options. Unfortunately, I've learned the hard way that one should not change hardware on an ATX board without unplugging the power cord and one day it wouldn't start anymore after I've changed something. But what doesn't brake you makes you stronger and in 2009 I've bought 3 164LX boards to make sure I don't run out of them. The PC I present you today uses still the first one 😉

So, what's inside?
-164LX motherboard
-Alpha 21164 533 MHz
-4x256 MB ECC RAM
-Symbios Logic C810 PCI SCSI Adapter
-9 GB Seagate ST39216N
-Plextor PX-40TS SCSI CD-ROM and TEAC (flashed to a Pioneer) IDE DVD
-Creative AWE64 Gold

It happily runs Windows NT but it's hard to find native software. I managed to get a copy of Excel 97 and Word 97 for Alpha, Visual C++ 6.0 for Alpha and even Corel Office for Alpha. There's also some shareware like WinAMP.

But the most important thing is of course Quake II. id released a native Alpha executable (official, but unsupported), probably the only commercial game released for AlphaNT ever. Quake II was the Alpha thing I've devoted most of my time. To be precise, finding the fastest 3D card for this board. I've started with a Permedia 2 which is one of the best options. I works both with NT and Linux. It maxed out at 13.7 FPS which is not great. I've tried a ELSA GLoria XL (3Dlabs Glint MX + Glint Delta), but its performance was worse - 11.6 FPS. Then I've tried a PowerStorm 4D60T (a rebadged Wildcat RealiZm I V25), it run Quake II at something like 14-15 FPS, but the guy wouldn't sell it, just lent me it. I've finally used a PowerStorm 4D51T (rebadged Intense3D PRO 2200) but it still would give me just 13.5 FPS. But I was still looking for more. I found a PowerStorm 300/350 (rebadged E&S REALimage 2100) AlphaNT driver, but the cards were prohibitively expensive. Until last month our friend Vlask received his. After exchanging some PMs I've traded my Wildcat 5000 for his PowerStorm 300. Last week I could finally check it. And the result... whooping 30.9 FPS. It's finally playable. It's gorgeous. I know the PowerStorm 350 exists, but its fill rate is same as PowerStorm 300's, just more RAM (32 MB instead of 16 MB) - it shouldn't matter for Quake II. I finally found peace 😉

Some photos:

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Beige tower
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Back
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AlphaBIOS
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Inside the AlphaPC
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Last edited by GL1zdA on 2017-06-19, 22:25. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 1 of 30, by GL1zdA

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More pics:

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Compaq PowerStorm 300
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Windows desktop (latest versions of Total Commander and IrfanView run with help of the FX!32 emulation layer), look at the PIDs - you won't see such values on a PC:

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AlphaNT desktop
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Reply 2 of 30, by NJRoadfan

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Was AlphaBIOS the one with the onboard x86 emulator solely to run the video card's option ROM? Seemed way overkill when they could have gone with something like OpenFirmware instead.

Reply 3 of 30, by GL1zdA

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NJRoadfan wrote:

Was AlphaBIOS the one with the onboard x86 emulator solely to run the video card's option ROM? Seemed way overkill when they could have gone with something like OpenFirmware instead.

As far as I know it was used for all the hardware ROMs - VGA, SCSI, network. It descended from the ARC standard which predated OpenFirmware by several years.

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Reply 4 of 30, by Tetrium

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Niiice! 😁

Alpha CPUs were always interesting to me. Too bad I never managed to get my older Alpha AT board to even POST and I ended up relegating my time to other projects.

Whats missing in your collections?
My retro rigs (old topic)
Interesting Vogons threads (links to Vogonswiki)
Report spammers here!

Reply 5 of 30, by GL1zdA

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Tetrium wrote:

Niiice! 😁

Alpha CPUs were always interesting to me. Too bad I never managed to get my older Alpha AT board to even POST and I ended up relegating my time to other projects.

I have the AXPpci33 AT Alpha board, but after flashing it to ARC it wouldn't boot 🙁 It looks like this one:

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Reply 6 of 30, by matze79

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i always wanted one 😒 but never was be able to find..

Nice System.
Did you have working compilers ?
so you can even get sdl and many stuff running native.
Gimp 1.2 should work with gtk1 😀
Even dosbox.

https://dosreloaded.de - The German Retro DOS PC Community
https://www.retroianer.de - under constructing since ever

Co2 - for a endless Summer

Reply 7 of 30, by chinny22

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bit jealous, Another that was always curious about Alpha's due to their inclusion on NT CD's NEVER seen one though.
Very cool to mess round with and compare against x86 hardware

Reply 8 of 30, by GL1zdA

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matze79 wrote:
i always wanted one :/ but never was be able to find.. […]
Show full quote

i always wanted one 😒 but never was be able to find..

Nice System.
Did you have working compilers ?
so you can even get sdl and many stuff running native.
Gimp 1.2 should work with gtk1 😀
Even dosbox.

I have Visual C++ 6.0, but never tried anything serious with it. I also have a mirror of ftp.alphant.com with dozens of open source programs. Gimp 1.1 and some versions of gcc among them. Still looking for more software, found CorelDRAW for Alpha recently on eBay.

chinny22 wrote:

bit jealous, Another that was always curious about Alpha's due to their inclusion on NT CD's NEVER seen one though.
Very cool to mess round with and compare against x86 hardware

I've had NT running once on an RS/6000 7024-E30 with a PowerPC CPU. Unfortunately it died when I've changed some parts inside 🙁.

Last edited by GL1zdA on 2017-07-08, 17:56. Edited 1 time in total.

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Reply 11 of 30, by GL1zdA

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F2bnp wrote:

This thread wins.

How does Quake 2 perform in software mode on the Alpha?
I'd love to see some screenshots or even better a video of everything running 😁.

Never really tried software mode but I will do it. I can try to do some screenshots. The PowerStorm 300 works better than the Permedia 2 and Wildcat based PowerStorms - no artifacts are present.

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Reply 12 of 30, by Tetrium

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GL1zdA wrote:
Tetrium wrote:

Niiice! 😁

Alpha CPUs were always interesting to me. Too bad I never managed to get my older Alpha AT board to even POST and I ended up relegating my time to other projects.

I have the AXPpci33 AT Alpha board, but after flashing it to ARC it wouldn't boot 🙁 It looks like this one:

AXPpci33.jpg

That's the board I couldn't get to post 🤣

Whats missing in your collections?
My retro rigs (old topic)
Interesting Vogons threads (links to Vogonswiki)
Report spammers here!

Reply 13 of 30, by amadeus777999

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Great thread - never saw a running Alpha system in "real life".
Only reason why I know the name is an ad from the 90ies where, for a very short time, Alpha Systems were sold as high end alternatives to the, back then, new Pentium - a system went for €10,000+ though.
Second impression was Quake's development, Windows NT and John Carmack... not sure if he really developed on such a machine but the levels were "baked" on one.
Looking forward to more footage/photos.

Reply 14 of 30, by GL1zdA

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amadeus777999 wrote:

Great thread - never saw a running Alpha system in "real life".
Only reason why I know the name is an ad from the 90ies where, for a very short time, Alpha Systems were sold as high end alternatives to the, back then, new Pentium - a system went for €10,000+ though.

In Central Europe Vobis sold them for about 16.000 PLN which in 1999 was about 4000 EUR.

amadeus777999 wrote:

Second impression was Quake's development, Windows NT and John Carmack... not sure if he really developed on such a machine but the levels were "baked" on one.

Carmack developed Quake II mostly on an Intergraph. I think Brian Hook did the Alpha builds (at least judging by his .plan he was the one most involved into it). The maps were processed on something bigger... an SGI Origin 2000 with 16x R10000 200 MHz CPUs, THIS ONE to be precise 😉.

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Reply 15 of 30, by Jo22

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Astronomy Lab NT (aka Astronomy Lab 2) also had a port for the DEC Alpha AXP.
I think that was about the first and last time I heard about this plaftform.

x86
ftp://ftp.mpoli.fi/pub/software/WIN32/UTILS/MISC/ALW202.ZIP

Alpha AXP
http://cd.textfiles.com/cica/cica9710/ALPHA/ALW_AX.ZIP

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

//My video channel//

Reply 17 of 30, by GL1zdA

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lester wrote:

Ahem, does anyone have an Alpha driver for a GLINT 500TX+DELTA card? The driver zip on the 3dlabs site only refers to an alpha/ subdir but doesn't actually contain it.

Any specific model? I have ELSA GLoria L and AccelGraphics AccelPRO TX drivers in my archive,

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Reply 18 of 30, by lester

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GL1zdA wrote:
lester wrote:

Ahem, does anyone have an Alpha driver for a GLINT 500TX+DELTA card? The driver zip on the 3dlabs site only refers to an alpha/ subdir but doesn't actually contain it.

Any specific model? I have ELSA GLoria L and AccelGraphics AccelPRO TX drivers in my archive,

I have the AccelGraphics Falcon board. Although in the end I gave up and installed NT4/x86 instead to at least get it to work... and right there and then the card died. Maybe someday I'll be able to repair it (maybe it's just a short somewhere, as the PSU gives a barely audible whine when online), so I'd still like to have a driver please. Oh btw PM your e-mail address as my account is too new to send private messages or see contact info.

Reply 19 of 30, by stamasd

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Reviving this thread to ask a few questions.

I'm working with a slightly older motherboard (AlphaPC 164, no LX) with 500MHz CPU, 512MB RAM. I use a SCSI drive for the OS through a 53C875 SCSI controller, as IDE is unreliable for anything but a basic CDROM unit.

I have installed W2k RC2 Alpha on it; I tried to install NT4 many times but the installer borks out every time early during the process with an INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE error. I can't figure out what's wrong with it.

In the process of restoring this machine I acquired a Powerstorm 300 video card. The card works in ARC (this machine doesn't have AlphaBIOS) and in the NT/W2k installer as well as in W2k after it's installed but with no drivers.

I tried installing the drivers for NT4 for this card from vogonsdrivers; the driver installs, warming me about the digital signature but otherwise not making much fuss. However after reboot I get no more video at all; blank screen.

Did you try your Powerstorm 300 in W2k with the drivers above, and did it work? I'm trying to figure out if the problem is my card or the drivers.

(edit) to answer one of the questions above, in software mode I get the following results for Quake2:
x86 binary through FX!32 enulation software, 320x240 fullscreen, map demo1.dm2 468.23s, 1.5fps
native alpha binary 320x240 fullscreen same map 31.3s, 22fps
native alpha binary 640x480 fullscreen same map, 48.2s, 14.3fps

Last edited by stamasd on 2018-08-22, 19:32. Edited 1 time in total.

I/O, I/O,
It's off to disk I go,
With a bit and a byte
And a read and a write,
I/O, I/O