On this day in 1993, Intel released the first Pentium CPU. It ran at 60 MHz — 60 million cycles per second. Think about that: the little clock inside that chip was going from 0 to 5 volts and back to 0 volts: 60 million times every second! That still boggles my mind. Meanwhile, the computer I’m writing this on has a clock speed of 3.1 GHz — 3,100 million cycles per second — fifty times faster. I think the more you know about computers, the more amazing they are. To most people they are just a given. It shocks me that this all works.
Anyway, I remember at the time that the Pentium was released, most people I knew scoffed at the name. There had been the 8086. And then there was the 80286 — confusingly called the “eighty-two eighty-six.” Soon everyone just called it the 286. The 386 was the first 32-bit version of the chip. And the 486 was just the 386 with a math co-processor, so no big deal. The 586 was a big deal. But it was the 586, not the Pentium. Did Intel really think their marketing campaign could get us all to use the silly new name?!
Well, I don’t know what Intel thought it could or could not do. But I do know that very soon everyone called it the Pentium. And after a few years, most people just gave you blank stares if you mentioned the 586 (much less the 80586). It’s like when I used to confuse people by calling Windows 2000 what it actually was: Windows 5.0. XP was Windows 5.1. I don’t mean to be difficult, but it’s actually a lot easier than things like “Windows Vista” (Windows 6.0).
The Pentium Name Means Nothing
It’s the power of marketing. And the amazing thing is that the name — Pentium — didn’t mean anything. The original Pentium had P5 microarchitecture. Within three years, Intel was selling the Pentium II, which had a P6 microarchitecture — more or less the 80686, although they didn’t call it that. The Pentium IV which had NetBurst microarchitecture, which would have been called the 80786 in a sane world.
We have the same thing today. Do you have an i3 in your computer? Or maybe an i5 or an i7? These names are meaningless because the chips keep changing. It’s all about branding. And I hate it! It isn’t because I’m a snob. I just want things to be clear. When you bought an 80286, you knew what you were getting. Now, you need to know a whole lot more than what chip you are talking about and what its clock speed is. In fact, my i5 might be more powerful than your i7 — or less powerful than your i3. I don’t know. I don’t care. I let Will make my computer decisions for me. And thank God for that! Otherwise, I’d be nuttier than I already am.