DEC Alpha 164SX  ("164SX" )

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General Technical Information

CACHE (2nd, 1st D/I) 1 MB, 8 KB / 16 KB
RAM  1 GB, 4 x 256 MB standard non-ECC PC133 DIMMs (PC100 required, total RAM max. 512 MB according to the manual, it  might, however, support more RAM using larger size PC100 or PC133 DIMMs)
SCSI BUS 1 x SCSI-3 Wide (40 MB/s) SYM53C875 chip
2 x EIDE (16.6 MB/s)
OPTION BUS 32 bit PCI, 64 bit PCI and 16 bit ISA
GRAPHICS Matrox Millennium II MGA-2164W chip, PCI, 8 MB Video RAM, 1600x1200 @70Hz max. resolution for 24-plane
HARD DISK DRIVE 9.1 GB 10K RPM Western Digital U2W SCSI
CD-ROM DRIVE NEC IDE 24x (not in the pic above)
NETWORK 10/100 Mbps TP 3COM 3C905B-TX PCI card
Soundblaster AWE 64 ISA
OS Windows NT 4.0 SP6a for ALPHA
Windows 2000 RC2 for ALPHA
YEAR 1997
250 / 114 W
COMMENTS Both *NIX and Windows run well on this machine. No problems. I also tried to boot OpenVMS, it would fail, and later I was informed that the 164SX mobo is not OpenVMS compatible.

Windows system information

History and other comments

I bought this machine's motherboard on Ebay in 2001. The 21164PC CPU was very hard to find since it is a bit more rare than the ordinary 21164. I finally found a computer store (in Naarden, the Netherlands) that had those in stock. Both these parts were new and unused. The other parts were gathered from different places, I have used mostly second hand PC parts. It was a bit hard to identify which hardware to choose, so the machine would work with Tru64. Later I switched over to Linux on this machine because I got a real AlphaStation 500 to run Tru64 on.

This sytem will support only one firmware ROM image at a time, either SRM or AlphaBIOS. You'll have to flash firmware again if you need to switch consoles. But, in the summer of 2003, I discovered that it is in fact possible to do "live" dual booting;  just set the system on emergency floppy boot (flip one of the dip-switches on the mobo). Then you can have two floppies, one containing SRM and the other AlphaBIOS. Simply copy the ROM image file as fwupdate.exe on the DOS formatted floppy. It's not hassle-free but it seems to work.

In May 2006 I decided to install NT on this computer (again). The 164SX was built to run Alpha-Windows so I think, from a historical perspective, that is the correct usage. It performs like a Pentium II running NT, however there aren't that many native applications available for the Alpha/NT platform. There is a program called FX!32 which makes it possible to run normal (but older) Windows applications on Alpha/NT. The setup is somewhat similar to running Rosetta on Mac OS X for Intel processors. Running an Intel binary on top of FX!32 will of course be quite slow, compared to running it on a normal Wintel box.

In September 2008 I got some Kingston DIMMs, so I decided to try them in the 164SX. These are normal peecee PC133 DIMMs, 4 x 256 MB which as expected sum up as 1 GB for the use with NT. Despite the notes in the 164SX official manual, that only 32 - 512 MB memory configurations are supported, it seems to work normally with the larger size DIMMs. With this amount of RAM NT 4.0 runs very smoothly.

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Last updated:  4-10-2009