Confessions of a paranoid DEC Engineer: Robert Supnik talks about the great Dungeon heist!

What an incredible adventure!

Apparently this was all recorded in 2017, and just now released.

It’s very long, but I would still highly recommend watching the full thing.

Bob goes into detail about the rise of the integrated circuit versions of the PDP-11 & VAX processors, the challenges of how Digital was spiraling out of control, and how he was the one that not only championed the Alpha, but had to make the difficult decisions that if the Alpha succeeded that many people were now out of a job, and many directions had to be closed off.

He goes into great detail how the Alpha was basically out maneuvered politically and how the PC business had not only dragged them down by management not embracing the Alpha but how trying to pull a quick one on Intel led to their demise.

Also of interest was his time in research witnessing the untapped possibilities of AltaVista, and how Compaq had bogged it down, and ceded the market to the upstart Google, the inability to launch a portable MP3 player (Although to be fair the iPod wasn’t first to market by a long shot, it was the best user experience by far).

What was also interesting was his last job, working at Unisys and getting them out of the legacy mainframe hardware business and into emulation on x86, along with the lesson that if you can run your engine in primary CPU cache it’s insanely fast (in GCC land -Os is better than -O9).

The most significant part towards the end of course is where he ‘rewinds’ his story to go into his interest in simulations, and of course how he started SIMH when he had some idle time in the early 90’s. SIMH of course has done an incredible amount of work to preserve computing history of many early computers. He also touches on working with the Warren’s TUHS to get Unix v0 up and running on a simulated PDP-7 and what would have been a challenge in the day using an obscure Burroughs disk & controller modified from the PDP-9.

Yes it’s 6 hours long! But really it’s great!

SIMH on the Itanium…

So I figured it’d be as good time as any to see how various compilers (mostly Microsoft) stack up on the Itanium. So I built SIMH, and loaded up 4.2 BSD & the old dhrystone benchmark.

And before we get to the numbers, I’m using a 900Mhz Itanium 2, clearly the bottom of the barrel. I ended up loading Windows 2003 server, as XP for the Itanium can’t even install Internet Explorer 7. If you thought a world of Internet Explorer 6 was fun, it’s hell when it is your only browser.

In addition, Visual C++ 2005 was never released on the Itanium, they made it as far as Beta 2, before discontinuing native support. However I like it’s debugger so I’m using the Beta 2 version.

Microsoft (R) C/C++ Optimizing Compiler Version 13.10.2240.8 for IA-64 (from the Feb 2003 platform SDK)

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 77
This machine benchmarks at 6493 dhrystones/second

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 76
This machine benchmarks at 6578 dhrystones/second

Microsoft (R) C/C++ Optimizing Compiler Version 14.00.50215.44 for Itanium (Visual Studio 2005 beta)

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 64
This machine benchmarks at 7812 dhrystones/second

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 65
This machine benchmarks at 7692 dhrystones/second

Intel(R) C++ IA-64 Compiler for applications running on IA-64, Version 10.1 Build 20080112 Package ID: w_cc_p_10.1.014

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 53
This machine benchmarks at 9433 dhrystones/second

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 53
This machine benchmarks at 9433 dhrystones/second

And for some sense of what the emulation is like…

Microsoft (R) 32-bit C/C++ Optimizing Compiler Version 10.20.6166 for 80×86 (visual C++ 4.2)

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 92
This machine benchmarks at 5434 dhrystones/second

Dhrystone(1.1) time for 500000 passes = 91
This machine benchmarks at 5494 dhrystones/second

Not to bad, the Intel compiler is 2x the speed of an i386 executable, while it’s easily 18% + faster then the Microsoft Compiler. I built everything with /Ox flags (Which the Intel compiler honers!).. Executable sizes varied as much as the performance.

1,672,704 Intel C vax780.exe
986,624 Vax780feb2003.exe
495,616 Vax780visualc4.exe
1,232,896 vax780visualstudio2005b2.exe

And of course the larger the executable the faster it ran. No wonder EPIC was driving people insane!


This isn’t virtual, but rather the real deal. I scored an HP zx2000.

HP Itanium

My HP zx2000

Just got it out of the box, I had to remove the funky sides to get it under my desk… And I’ve just installed Windows XP onto it now. My first observation is that the included DVD drive from HP, the HL-DT-ST GDR8160B has got to be one of the slowest drives I’ve dealt with in a while. And kinda finicky as the first attempt at installing XP failed with all kinds of errors, while a swift kick and a power cycle got the thing running. And let’s see it in action..

This thing likes to tell you over and over that it’s the 64bit version. It may look like XP but it’s not the 32bit version. It is however much like the x86_64 version with no NTVDM, no WOW. But worse, no Virtual PC. It can run i386 win32 exe’s but at a performance penalty. I saw mention that the Itanium C compiler can be found in the November 2001 Platform SDK, so I downloaded that, and installed it.

It’s slow.

It’s annoyingly slow.

All that talk of EPIC, and moving the complexity to the compiler isn’t a joke. Did I mention, it is *SLOW*? I thought it was running an i386 version of the compiler but the taskman didn’t show any stars next to the processes so I’m assuming not, but I’m not sure. I also am assuming that the November 2001 SDK is timed with the “Windows 2000 Advanced Server Limited Edition” for the Itanium. So I figured for a quick test, I’d build some dungeon… Except the f2c interpreter broke in some strange manner. I’d first think it’s something to do with integer sizes, but it worked on x86_64.. So I cheated, used the i386 version of f2c, and built the library and dungeon. Also I found out about this flag, /As32 which builds exe’s in the 32bit address space. f2c will run once it’s built like that. And although compiling f2c takes forever, once built it is FAST.

It worked. The exe is over 900kb! Without at doubt when they called it EPIC they meant the compiler speed, and exe size. For the crazy, you too can play zork on your Itanium here.

And yes my attempt at building SDL bombed too. But I’ll have to spend more time with the box.