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Pentium, Schmentium: Decoding CPU Names


It is hard to decide whether it was a bunch of marketing people that didn't think through how to categorize future processors properly, or if Intel actually intended the nomenclature to go bananas. Either way, it is clear that with processor numbering schemes becoming increasingly complex, nobody but the most deeply involved enthusiasts, tech journalists and the technical elite of the industry will be able to keep track of processor models, their features and performance capabilities.

End users will get fed product numbers they will not understand unless they spend time reading publications such as ours, or investing even more time in order to decrypt the codes and to look up features and technology descriptions. This situation will inevitably force more and more customers to look for system definition brands such as Centrino or Viiv, just because there is no way people like my father would ever be able to tell the difference between machines running a Pentium D 930 or a Pentium M T1500 for his media center system. Even if the system label showed the technical data, I do not believe that the sales staff of an average computer store will be able to guide consumers to the products they really want.

We do understand Intel's business vision of using platforms in order to sell more silicon products. But guys, this is the wrong way. Consumers simply should not and cannot accept yet another layer of "model number encryption" that is going to be added by the introduction of the Yonah processor power classification scheme in 2006. To us, this looks pretty much like confirmation that Intel intentionally confuses its customers, and that the company is willing to generalize purchase decisions by making direct comparison more difficult.

We like to focus on details in order to give you comprehensive overviews on technology, but this is going to be increasingly difficult. I guess the whole situation can best be assessed by returning to the new car analogy. Imagine your dealer offering you a BMW 3 series model, but only giving you the engine code name for reference, leaving you unsure about the engine size or its horsepower?

Of course, criticism is worthless without making suggestions on how to improve things. So here is our take: Where is the use of throwing 14 different Celeron models at the market? What about reducing the total number of processors, so they can easily be classified by the end user? We would suggest offering a total of three or maybe four different processors in each family. One that targets the low-cost segment, one or two for the mainstream, and a fat wallet premium version for the upper class.

Call them Pro and Extreme and add the model year first; this could be used to tell versions apart, and to allow everybody to look up the specifications easily if interested. And it would help to get an idea of where a processor is positioned: A Pentium D 2005 would be the entry-level dual core for the current year, Pro for the mainstream and Pentium D Extreme the enthusiast derivate. The 2006 version would introduce more features that, again, could be looked up easily.

Seriously, guys: It works with cars and with software, so why shouldn't it be a reasonable approach for processors?

Are You Inside Intel?

When I was reading up on processor information for this article, I stumbled across a page on Intel's website that made me realize there are some trademarks I have never even heard of: Trademarks and Approved Nouns List .

If you know the specifics for at least 45 of them, you can consider yourself an expert on Intel's product history...