[TUHS] Early Unix function calls: expensive?

Larry McVoy lm at mcvoy.com
Tue Jan 5 03:29:40 AEST 2016

On Mon, Jan 04, 2016 at 08:52:51AM +0000, Tim Bradshaw wrote:
> On 4 Jan 2016, at 04:40, Armando Stettner <aps at ieee.org> wrote:
> > I guess I experienced things a little differently: computer science basis notwithstanding, the VAX was hugely successful for DEC.
> I think it was, too.  What I meant, though, was that, although x86
> demonstrates that it's possible to make almost anything fast by the
> application of sufficient money, the VAX was something which was expensive
> to keep performance-competitive, especially in the era when RISC could
> make really easy wins, and the cost of doing that hurt DEC pretty badly,
> I would expect (and made VAXes increasingly expensive compared to the
> competition, which I remember them being in the late 80s).  And I guess
> Alpha was too late.

Yeah, the 750 was OK [*], the 780 was nice, the 8600 (which UW-Madison
named "speedy.rsch.wisc.edu", such a bad name) was expensive.  They threw
a lot of hardware at the perf problem and it seems, to me at least, they
made a pretty good case for the RISC tradeoffs.  But those tradeoffs made
sense when transistors were expensive; these days x86 has shown you can
get some sweet perf out of that CISCy design (though I believe it's sort
of a RISC under the covers).

And as for Alpha, I never warmed up to it.  It was never fast for the 
workloads I cared about (build, test, file serving, integer stuff).
To me, it was over hyped and it under delivered.  Too bad, I liked 
DEC as a company.

[*] the 750 at the UW CS department was where they kept the BSD sources,
it was called slovax.  It was slow but I had so much fun reading that
code that I've always had a machine named slovax ever since, the current
one is mcvoy.com.

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