Intel Pentium Processor Turns 18

Let's chart the ups and downs of Intel's best-loved processor as it celebrates its 18th birthday this year.

The Background

Eighteen years ago, Intel's Pentium microprocessor architecture burst onto the scene. The processor has enjoyed a childhood filled with attention, a few difficult pre-teen years, and a quiet but studious adolescence. Now that the Pentium has come of age, let's take a quick look back at its past.

The First Pentium

The first Pentium processor hit the market on March 22, 1993. Its big difference from the i486 architecture that preceded it was two data pipelines, allowing it to effectively complete two instructions per clock cycle - multitasking in a way earlier processors couldn't. In 1996, the Pentium MMX was introduced, allowing the processor to more efficiently handle certain tasks like multimedia decoding and encoding.

Pentium Pro

The Pentium Pro, using a newer P6 architecture, came out almost alongside the Pentium MMX. It differentiated itself with the onboard inclusion of a L2 memory cache, allowing certain repetitive operations to be executed much faster - a boon for server operation, for example.

The Pentium II

The Pentium II, using the same architecture as the Pro but with a different cache arrangement that was cheaper, appeared on store shelves and in systems from the middle of 1997. The processor was slot-based rather than socketed - confusing the hell out of this particular writer. The Pentium II was the first processor where easily changeable cache sizes meant processors could be tailored to different market segments and price-points.

The Pentium III

The Pentium III was similar to the Pentium II, but included SSE instruction sets. Over the course of its life it was available as both a slotted and socketed processor, and was the first Pentium to break through the 1GHz core frequency barrier. A slight controversy erupted when it was revealed each processor's serial number was readable by software - privacy concerns meant that this feature was abandoned in later models.

The Pentium 4

The Pentium 4 architecture was a radical departure from the efficient Pentium III. The new NetBurst core meant an extremely pipeline allowed massively high frequency speeds - the fastest Pentium 4 was 3.8GHz, - but performance per clock cycle was no better than older models. Pentium 4s were also very thermally demanding, with some processors producing up to 115W in heat. The P4 was also the first Pentium line to feature an Extreme Edition model, and the first foray into 64-bit processing.

NetBurst and Pentium M

NetBurst was abandoned in favour of the older P6 architecture for the Pentium M, which was a mobile processor released concurrently with the Pentium 4. It was extremely power-efficient, and efficient per clock cycle - a huge advantage over desktop-based processors when it came to mobile computing.

Pentium D

The Pentium D was another NetBurst processor, and the first Intel Pentium dual-core model. Dual-core processing meant native support for the new multi-threaded applications that were just becoming mainstream around the processor's 2005 debut.

Pentium Dual-Core

After a short hiatus, the Pentium name returned to the limelight in 2006 with the Pentium Dual-Core. For the first time in its life the Pentium wasn't top dog in Intel's consumer processor line-up - it now represented a value alternative to the Core 2 architecture.

Pentium Now

The Dual-Core moniker was dropped in 2009 - Intel's processor brand returned to its original roots with a range of single- and dual-core processors simply called Pentium. Core 2 architecture was still the most powerful option available to consumers, though - the Pentium processor found a home in low-powered and low-budget desktop PCs and laptops. The Pentium still lives on today - it's not as ground-breaking as it was in 1993, but we still love it.

Today's Best Tech Deals

Picked by PCWorld's Editors