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5 Conclusions

The Alpha architecture is designed for performance and its implementations do indeed make for very fast systems. Since its chips run at very high clock frequencies, the Alpha usually benefits the most from simple techniques that improve the memory system behavior of a given program or algorithm. A few of these techniques have been demonstrated in this paper and shown to achieve performance improvements anywhere in the range from 10% to 1700%. Fortunately, the same techniques also seem to benefit the other CPU architectures. This is good news since it means that usually one optimized implementation will perform well across a broad range of CPUs.

The biggest hurdle to developing high-performance applications under Linux is the current lack of sophisticated performance analysis tools. Section 3 demonstrated two simple tools and alluded to what hardware capabilities might be exploited in the future. The relative lack of such tools is not surprising: while most commercial Unix vendors have tools for their own architecture, few, if any, are multi-platform. To some degree this is inherent to the problem, but there is no question that it would not be very difficult to create better yet portable performance analysis tools.

Linux is what makes low-cost Alpha-based Unix workstations a reality. While Digital Unix currently comes with better compilers, runtime-libraries and more tools for the Alpha, the price difference is such that one can easily make up for the performance difference by spending a little more money on a faster machine. Also, development of gcc and better libraries doesn't stand still. However, since most work is done on a voluntary basis, it does take some time. Even so, Linux is already a highly competitive platform for integer intensive applications. For floating-point intensive and especially FORTRAN applications things are not as mature yet. Fortunately, if one cannot afford to wait for a better compiler, there is always the option of purchasing one of the commercial FORTRAN compilers available for Linux/Alpha.

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