Processors

Geek Trivia: Spirit of x86

Why did Intel give up on the X86 naming scheme and adopt the Pentium trademark?

If someone were to force you to sum up the modern world in three or fewer alphanumeric characters, you could make a pretty good case for the optimal response being x86. As in, the x86 instruction set which has informed the design and function of microprocessors since 1978. The x86 architecture has the most successful and ubiquitous microprocessor lineage in the history of computing, and the last 30 years of the personal computing revolution have been dominated by x86-compatible hardware and software.

Not bad for a stopgap measure.

The x86 instruction set was first used in the Intel 8086 microprocessor, which went to market in 1978. The hidden story there is that the 8086 was supposed to be a temporary, headline-grabbing product designed to keep Intel in the processor race while its massively behind-schedule iAPX 432 microprocessor (Intel's first 32-bit CPU, which didn't go retail until 1981) was completed. The 8086 instruction set was crudely backward-compatible with the popular Intel 8085, so long as you didn't mind rebuilding your hardware.

A year after its release, the 8086 gave way to the 8088, which was basically the same chip but with an onboard 8-bit data bus -- making it an economical CPU as it didn't require so many expensive ancillary chips and boards to produce acceptable performance. The Intel 8088 was the CPU found in the first generation of IBM PCs; thus, the x86 architecture became the unspoken standard of all IBM-compatible PCs. With the flood of IBM clones (thanks to the famous Purple Book) combined with the weight of Big Blue pushing out all rival PC architectures, x86 became -- and largely remains -- the most important microprocessor instruction set in the world.

While the x86 origins of the instruction set wouldn't be obvious in many Intel chip designations for a few years, the legacy was eventually reemphasized for such market-leading chips as the 80186, 80286, 80386 (i386), and 80486 (i486) -- CPUs that were considered among the best available right up until the early 1990s. Then, in 1993, Intel dropped the x86 callouts in favor of its still-in-use Pentium brand -- for reasons many folks aren't aware of.

WHY DID INTEL GIVE UP ON THE X86 NAMING SCHEME AND ADOPT THE PENTIUM TRADEMARK?

Get the answer.

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Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

13 comments
jwagg1
jwagg1

Does the name Mostek ring a bell? They were a U.S. maker of memory chips that made a deal with Intel to second-source the x86 line of processors (and others from different manufacturers). When offshore companies began producing cheaper memory, Mostek spun off their CPU division as Cyrix, still with the x86 contract. The only legal way Intel could get out of the contract was to end the x86 designation. As you remember, the Cyrix-branded Pentium-compatible chips weren't as compatible or reliable as Intel and AMD chips. That name change was the beginning of the end for Mostek/Cyrix.

phyza17
phyza17

Well i think so 124 ___________ John Glenn I challenge you to a game of trivia! Click here to battle against me online at ConQUIZtador. Let's see who's the winner... https://conquiztador.com/?a=26041

tjbud
tjbud

as I understood it, the issue of the licensing deal Intel had with AMD to "second source" the x86 chips. As demand increased, Intel licensed the architecture to AMD (which was no threat at the time) to provide an alternate supplier for the much-wanted part. In the early days, Intel was out with the next version not long after AMD was producing the current part. I even remember seeing Intel billboards with the numbers 286 and 386 on them, and the 286 had the red circle with a line through it, and no other words, not even Intel. The point being: you didn't want that old AMD part when you can get the latest Intel part. An ad that catered specifically to techies, because no one else knew what it meant. As time went on, AMD came out with their version sooner and sooner after the Intel part, which of course affected Intel sales. Also Intel did not want to be forced to give the architecture of the Pentium to AMD because of the existing licensing agreement. By not giving AMD the Pentium, AMD would be forced to develop their Pentium-replacement from scratch. It would no longer be an exact copy as previous parts were, but more simply a "plug-compatible" part which would look like a Pentium to the outside world, but internally was not the same. So, by switching the name to Pentium, Intel got a name they could trademark, and an architecture they could protect, and forestall the rise of AMD for at least a little while longer. So, maybe its all urban legend, but that's how I remember it...

bobjorg
bobjorg

When the Pentium came out, the common joke was: "Will the next series be the Sexium?" (686)

rclamarre
rclamarre

I always thought it was because another manufacturer (either AMD or Cyrix, I can't remember) beat them to it and TM'd 586 first.

Justin James
Justin James

Because they could not trademark a number like "586", but they could trademark "Pentium". :) J.Ja

boomchuck1
boomchuck1

I recall that many people said the reason they didn't call it a 586 was that it was really only a 585.8. That, of course, was a reference to the math problem that came with the first Pentium 60. We had a number of these machines and there were certain calculations (can't recall them) that you would put into the Windows calculator and the result would be wrong. Those CPUs were replaced by Intel free of charge. http://www.willamette.edu/~mjaneba/pentprob.html

Brian
Brian

The 80186? I know they exist, but for use in PCs, Intel skipped right to the 80286.

andrew.beals
andrew.beals

The 8085 was backwards-compatible with the 8080...which was predated by the 8008 and 4004 chips. The i432 died because it was slow, expensive, and few people wanted ADA. It was another P-Machine, a processor looking for a solution, but finding none.

DCR-Mo
DCR-Mo

From what I remember the 80186 incorporated a lot of peripheral devices (DMA, Interrupt Controller, etc) on-board the chip that would make it an "all-in-one" device requiring a lot less in terms of external interface components. Unfortunately, I don't think those built-ins had the same programmatic interface that existing PC external components used, so it was not convenient to make a PC out of them.

IBM 1401
IBM 1401

Considering the Pentium?s ubiquity, I think it's time to move on to the next logical naming scheme--the Sexium.

Roscojim
Roscojim

The Tandy 2000 used the 80186 processor. It would fail the "official" IBM-compatible test - running Flight Simulator. Therefore, it didn't sell.

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