Windows IT Pro [February 1996]

MIPS/NT: Allied from Birth

Anne Fischer Lent
News Analysis
InstantDoc #3167

Innovation Pays Off for MIPS Computer

    For serious computing, many manufacturers are teaming the MIPS microprocessor chip with Windows NT. With the advantages of Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) technology, combined with 64-bit performance, the MIPS chip has the computing power that NT users demand on both the server and the desktop.

    MIPS Computer, a subsidiary of Silicon Graphics, was an innovator back in the 1980s with the world's first RISC Very Large-Scale Integration (VLSI) chip. Not only was the RISC technology attractive to users, but the lower cost appealed to designers. The simpler instructions of the RISC technology enabled designers to make the processor run faster with fewer transistors.

    In 1989 MIPS was again an innovator, but this time on the fabrication and marketing side. While MIPS invests in the design of new chips, the company no longer handles the fabrication process. Instead, MIPS licenses the processing of the chips to a series of semiconductor partners.

    The partnership enables MIPS to always be looking ahead toward the design of the next-generation chips, while the semiconductor manufacturers are investing in the fabrication and engineering of the current state-
of-the-art chip. This approach, according to Ed Burger, Vice President of Marketing at MIPS, is beneficial to systems developers. With several semiconductor manufacturers bringing the same microprocessors to market, costs are kept down because of competition among the multiple vendors who supply them.

    Innovation has paid off for MIPS. In just eight years, shipments of the R3 and R4 families of MIPS processors has soared from 21,000 units in 1988 to 3.5 million in 1995.

Enter Windows NT

    NT saw the light of day on MIPS-based PCs at Microsoft. Since that time, MIPS and NT have been closely allied. The performance advantages of MIPS chips over Intel and Alpha chips are clear to Roy Graham, Director and General Manager of Tandem's Windows NT Business Unit.

    Graham sees Tandem's customers looking increasingly at Windows NT for enterprise solutions. He also commented that Tandem has "found that MIPS is the only architecture that pushes the bounds of performance." A downside to using the new P6 chips from Cyrix, Intel, NexGen, and others, for example, is that the pinouts and bus structures vary from one manufacturer to the next. The MIPS chips, however, are all the same, regardless of the manufacturer.

The Newest MIPS Family Member

    MIPS unveiled its new R10000 chip at fall Comdex, 1995, showing design, performance, and price advantages for Windows NT systems developers. Designed to be used in commercial database servers, the R10000 chip is expected to lead all competing chips in terms of price/performance.

    Ed Frank, Vice President of Engineering with NeTpower, believes that the R10000 will double system performance, "while keeping cost increases to a dull roar." MIPS sees the R10000 floating-point performance as one of its greatest assets, making it a prime choice among developers for 3D graphics capabilities. (See "R10000 Design Innovations" on page 22 for a list of its features.)

    Systems manufacturers will soon be using the R10000 in Windows NT systems rather than the R4400 which is in use today. Both the R4400 and the R10000 MIPS chips are designed for symmetric multiprocessing (SMP), but the R10000 goes a step further. It has a direct-connect multiprocessing feature, which Windows NT systems manufacturers can use to connect up to four R10000 processors on a single cluster bus.

    Tandem's Graham stated that with the introduction of the R10000, "early performance shows that MIPS will maintain its leading edge."

The MIPS/NT Consortium

    In a move to promote development among its NT partners, MIPS formed the MIPS/NT Consortium. Its goals are to leverage each others' strengths and maintain a unified voice in working with Microsoft on NT development. The MIPS/NT Consortium partners include Tandem, NEC, NeTpower, and Siemens Nixdorf, among others.

    One result of this partnership was announced in July, 1995, when Tandem Computers and NeTpower agreed that Tandem would market and support NeTpower's MIPS-based Windows NT Servers and Workstations. This alliance combined Tandem's experience in building mission-critical systems with NeTpower's background on the Windows NT side.

    Expect to hear more very soon from the MIPS/NT Consortium. Important announcements will be covered here in Windows NT Magazine as MIPS partners take Windows NT into the future.

MIPS/NT Systems Vendors

Carrera Computers * 714-707-5051
DeskStation * 800-793-3375; 913-599-1900
NEC * 800-632-4636; 408-433-1250
NeTpower * 800-801-0900; 408-522-9999
ShaBLAMM! * 800-648-7685; 408-730-9696
Shuttle Computer * 800-474-7272; 408-945-1480
Siemens Nixdorf (Germany) * +49 5251 8 11430
Siemens Nixdorf (US) * 800-225-1484; 617-273-0480
Tandem * 415-285-6000
UniMicro Systems * 510-659-9010