Intel drops "Pentium" brand

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Chicago (IL) - Intel has made a final decision to get rid of one of its oldest and most valuable brands, sources told TG Daily: "Pentium," unveiled in 1993 for its P5 processor generation, will begin to quietly disappear in the current CPU generation such as the single-core 600 series as well as the D 800 and D 900 families.

Sources indicated that Intel will drop the Pentium name without making a major announcement, but simply transition to processor names such as "Intel D 920" or "Intel 672" without introducing a new brand. Apparently, the transition is planned to begin in the immediate future. The company declined to comment on the possibly fading Pentium brand.

The decision to depart from an established brand always is risky, but Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with In-Stat/MDR and editor in chief of the Microprocessor Report, suggests that the Pentium naming tradition was becoming old, confusing and desperately needed a refreshment. "In my opinion, Intel should have introduced a new name after launching Pentium II. It was getting quite confusing already back then," he said. After having squeezed more than a dozen variations of Pentiums under one roof since the brand's introduction in 1993, a shift in Intel's marketing and product strategy may have been the decisive impact to kick out Pentium.

According to Krewell, the processor is becoming less important in Intel's product line-up: "Intel downplays the processor brand. The spotlight is on platforms such as Centrino," he said. He expects that the loss of Pentium will have a financial, impact, but believes that it will not large enough to hurt Intel: "They can throw an amazing amount of cash at branding as soon as a new product is announced."

Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group, told TG Daily that Intel has informed OEM's some time ago that the Pentium brand will be going away. "Those OEM's are very upset about this decision. Pentium kept the product line-up somewhat in order. The complexity of Intel's products creates too many possibilities to put a system together. It's a nightmare," Enderle said.

While companies that command the chain from building and selling a system, such as Dell, may benefit from Intel's decision, traditional system builders are left behind, Enderle believes: "The more choices you have, the more problems arise at the retail level," he explained.

Enderle goes as far as saying that AMD may benefit from the outgoing Pentium brand and attract even more system builder attention. While AMD typically closely watches what OEM's are asking for, Intel on the other side "has a history of not listening to OEM's," he said. "Their approach typically is "it's ok if you disagree, but we are going through with this anyway," according to Enderle.

Still, Enderle found Intel's decision surprising. "Pentium was not a damaged good that would have forced Intel to such a departure. I cannot really remember when GE the last time threw out such a brand. It is like General Motors not selling Chevrolets anymore."


A brief history of the Pentium brand

The Pentium brand was created by Lexicon Branding - a branding firm that is responsible for other tech logos such as Apple's PowerBook, RIM's Blackberry, Palm's Tungsten and Zire, or Adobe's InDesign - in 1992. Intel introduced the brand in March of 1993 with the first Pentium processor, which originally should have been named i586. The fact that numbers are not able to be trademarked, reportedly prompted Intel to switch to a dedicated name for its processors.

The first Pentium CPU debuted as a 60 and 66 MHz chip, integrated 3.1 million transistors and was built in an 800 nm production process. The original Pentium carried a now famous floating point flaw referred to as the "FDIV bug," which ended up costing Intel an estimated $450 million in recall cost and prompting the company to create its "Validation Labs," a 3500-employee organization that tests processors before their release into mass production.

The second generation Pentium was the "Pentium Pro," which was based on the P6 architecture and released in November 1995. The chip was built in 350 nm, carried 5.5 million transistors and initially ran at clock speeds of 150 and 200 MHz. Just about a year later, Intel introduced the Pentium MMX, the first chip to receive significant components from Intel's development team in Haifa, Israel. Also produced in 350 nm, the MMX ran at 166 and 200 MHz.

The Pentium II came in May of 1997 with 7.5 million transistors and initial clock speeds of up to 266 MHz. The successor Pentium III (250 nm to 130 nm) followed 18 months later in February of 1999 with 450 MHz, but eventually took Intel above the 1 GHz mark in 2000. The chip was first to introduce a much criticized serial number and was Intel's processor in the "Gigahertz race" with AMD. Pressured by its competitor, Intel lost the race to launch the first GHz chip by a few days and was not able to ship Pentium III-based GHz chips in large quantities initially. In July of 2000, Intel announced a 1.13 GHz Pentium III chip that was described as "the most unreliable and instable CPU Intel has ever released" in a review of Tom's Hardware Guide, which prompted Intel to recall the processor.

The Pentium 4 introduced the "NetBurst"-architecture in November of 2000. It was the firm's first new design since the P6 generation, and has lead Intel from the 180 nm "Willamette" chip to today's 65 nm Pentium D dual-core CPUs. Willamette debuted with 42 million transistors, 1.4 and 1.5 GHz. Today's 65 nm Pentium D 900 carries 376 million transistors and is expected to reach speeds up to 3.6 GHz, while the single core Pentium 600 series is up to 3.8 GHz.

NetBurst not only took Intel through its greatest phase of clock speed increases, but also to a stage which highlighted excessive power consumption and heat dissipation. More recently Intel announced a shift in design strategy: Instead of accelerating the growth of GHz, Intel said in August of 2005 that it will focus on chip designs that balance power consumption and speed. The first new desktop processor design that will not listen to the Pentium name will be based on the Merom core, which is expected to debut in September of this year.

While it remains to be seen, how Intel will be impacted by the Pentium going away, chairman Craig Barrett may have personal rebranding issues: Barrett reportedly owns a ranch in Darby, Montana, and gave his horses rather unique names: Among these names are Nasdaq, Itanium Ingot - and Pentium Princess.