Intel wasn't always about cores and incomprehensible numbers. Once upon a time, processors had brand names.
While AMD continues to fight for a two-processor market in mainstream computing, there's little doubt that the processor market largely belongs to Intel and its bevy of Atoms, ULVs, Core i7s and any other number of consumer-confusing processor offerings.
There was a time when Intel gathered all its processor lines under a single branding identity, at least at the top level. That was the age of the Intel Pentium processor.
Why Pentium, and what does it mean anyway?
Technically speaking, Intel didn't have to adopt the Pentium brand for its fifth generation x86 processor lines. It chose to do so for purely marketing reasons. Previous Intel processors (and competing models from AMD, Cyrix and others) adopted a straight numeric progression, following up all the way back from the 8086 architecture originally launched in 1978 through the 80286, 80386 and 80486 processor groups.
There's a problem with numbers though. You can't build a brand around a number, because there's nothing stopping your competition using exactly the same numbers. The latest improvements in the 486 architecture were seen at Intel as comprising a distinct generation of processors, being the fifth iteration. Bodge a little greek (penta=five) to your own custom and therefore trademark-ready ending, and Pentium is born.
|The Pentium marked a shift from the numerical progression of Intel processors since the 8086 architecture in 1978.
What was the first Pentium?
The first Pentium branded chip ran at 60MHz, ate up 5V of power and was brought to market in 1993. To give some perspective on that, a current generation Corei7 processor runs four cores (depending on application) at anywhere between 2500 and 3500MHz (allowing for Turbo Boost capability, this can be even more varied). At a pure MHz level taking into account multiple cores it could be up to 200 times faster than the original Pentium.
What was the last Pentium?
Surprisingly, we haven't seen the last Pentium yet. Despite semi-retiring the "brand" a few times in favour of processor numbers and other branding efforts, Pentium's hung in there, sort of. Intel hasn't put a lot of marketing into Pentium since the heady days of the Pentium 4, but it's still possible to pick up a Pentium branded system, largely in the budget space.
Why was it relevant?
The shift to a marketing name from a number might not seem that tech relevant, but Pentium marked a significant shift towards mainstream PC acceptance. The average mum and dad consumer wouldn't have had a hope of picking the difference between an i486DX-S and an i486SX2. Heck, they'd have a hard time remembering just the numbers!
But tell them via incessant advertising and a very memorable end jingle (it just went through your head, didn't it?) that what they want is a Pentium, and they'll buy in droves.
What's it worth?
Not a lot at all. If you want a classic example of a bad retro investment, processors would have to be it. Vigorous eBay searching revealed one sale flogging off nine Pentium 4 2.6GHz processors as a bulk lot for the awe-inspiring sum (at the time of checking) of $26...