Pentium, Schmentium: Decoding CPU Names

Know The Processor Inside Your Computer Case?

"Could you tell me which processors you offer for this notebook," I recently asked a direct sales rep for one of the large PC manufacturers in this country. A simple question for a simple answer, one would think. Not so in this case: "It's a Centrino," the rep told me. After clearing up that Centrino is not a processor, the rep insisted that there is only one version of the Pentium M processor offered by Intel. Being told that there are in fact 75 (!) different packages of Pentium M processors available at this time left the rep speechless.

An isolated case of misinformation or confusion? Unlikely. Reading through Intel's processor line-up today is as easy as navigating through a corn maze. The product portfolio gets more confusing and less transparent year after year, with yet another Intel marketing masterpiece due next January.

Let's look back a year or two to see where we come from. The race for higher and higher clock speeds resulted in shorter and shorter product cycle times - sometimes just a few months. However, these bizarre turnover times came to an end a little over a year ago, because clock speeds could no longer be increased at the pace Intel was running.

AMD quit the Gigahertz race in a half-baked manner back in 2001, and Intel more recently decided that processors should no longer be classified by a GHz designation, but also by new features that provide value to the customer. New features such as the execute disable (XD) bit, EM64T extensions or Enhanced SpeedStep were added - the Athlon 64 already had all of them - and a sequence numbering scheme was introduced. This allowed Intel to tack on a premium price tag to same-clock-speed chips, while tripling the size of its processor portfolio (counting both the older products and the newer model-numbered ones.)