Pentium delivers a high five to your computer

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 May, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 May, 1996, 12:00am

Pentium is a word that means different things to many people.

It is a trademark for the microprocessor designed and made by Intel, known in other circles as the fifth-generation, or 586 chip, that runs personal computers.

It comes from the Greek word pente, which means five, and was chosen because Pentium was easier to register as a trademark than a number.

However, many people are confused about the usage of the word Pentium.

I often hear phrases like 'Pentium platform', 'I want to buy a Pentium Macintosh' or 'I have a computer made by Pentium'.

At the same time as the launch of its Pentium class PCs, Intel launched an Intel Inside awareness campaign, whereby the Intel name and the Pentium microprocessor was etched into the minds of the computer-buying public and even the non-buying public.

It also inflicted a terribly annoying xylophonic three to five-note soundbite that accompanies a husky American voiceover with the words 'this computer model contains an Intel Pentium Processor'.

It has resulted in an excellent recognition for the Intel and Pentium names, although not everybody can actually put a finger on what Pentium actually is.

This advertising and promotion campaign was not limited to television and print. A large percentage of rear wheel bicycle mudguards in Shanghai have an Intel Inside sticker affixed, much as taxis would mount advertisements in Hong Kong.

Essentially, the Pentium name has replaced a number like the 586, which is a natural progression from the name of the previous-generation 486, which in turn replaced the 386. The first in the line was the 8088 chip from Intel, which was incorporated into the very first IBM Personal Computer way back in the 1980s.

It was the chip that gave the personal computing revolution a giant kick start because IBM wanted to compete with the Apple Computer and had to cobble together a few parts in a hurry and decided not to trademark the design.

Intel and Microsoft did not hesitate in supplying the same components and software to clone makers and thus the IBM-compatible PC industry developed.

Intel designed a more powerful 32-bit microprocessor and called it the 80286, which was a longer number and in the industry it was shortened to 286 because it was easier to say. Then followed the 386 and 486 and the Pentium.

Each of these chips was more powerful and enabled the software industry and PC makers to offer more sophisticated computing and applications.

So when you hear or read about x86 software applications, or x86-compatible products, it refers to the software written to run on computers built with the Intel chips - whether it be 286, 386 or 486.

Journalists often write about x86-compatible software knowing full well that a reader, or worse a sub-editor, will look at it and think that it is a typographical error - a mistake where the writer didn't know the number, slapped in an algebraical x and was too lazy to fill in the blank. In the case of a sub-editor, sometimes the x in the x86 is changed to a nominally appropriate figure - an act of lunacy that renders the sentence totally useless and more confusing.

Pentium is just a word for a generation of processor.

The one that follows the Pentium is the Pentium Pro, the sixth generation of microprocessor from Intel.

The one that will follow the Pentium Pro is being designed by Intel with Hewlett-Packard. It does not have a name like P7 or 786 but the project has a codename of Merced, which is a river in California.

In fact, HP has a novel way of treating its joint promotion of 'Intel Inside' campaigns. It labels some of its products as Intel Inside - HP Outside.

HP does not make bicycles in Shanghai, where it already assembles printers and PCs.

Shanghainese cyclists in the market for a computer may be very confused to see that PCs have the same Intel Inside stickers as their bicycles.



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