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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | The Processor | Processor Families | Fifth Generation Processors ]

Intel Pentium ("P5" / "P54C")

Intel's new fifth-generation chip was expected to be called the 586, following their earlier naming conventions. However, with the rise of AMD and Cyrix, Intel wanted to be able to register as a trademark the name of their new CPU, and numbers can't be trademarked. Thus, the Pentium was born. It is now one of the most recognized trademarks in the computer world, one reason why Intel doesn't seem to ever want to make another processor whose name doesn't have "Pentium" in it somewhere. :^)

The Pentium is the defining processor of the fifth generation. It has in fact had several generations itself; the first Pentiums are different in many ways from the latest ones. It has been the target for compatibility for AMD's K5 and Cyrix's 6x86 chips, as well as generations that have followed. The chip itself is instruction set compatible with earlier x86 CPUs, although it does include a few new (rarely used) instructions.

The Pentium provides greatly increased performance over the 486 chips that precede it, due to several architectural changes. Roughly speaking, a Pentium chip is double the speed of a 486 chip of the same clock speed. In addition, the Pentium goes to much higher clock speeds than the 486 ever did. The following are the key architectural enhancements made in the Pentium over the 486-class chips (note that some of these are present in Cyrix's 5x86 processor, but that chip was developed after the Pentium):

  • Superscalar Architecture: The Pentium is the first superscalar processor; it uses two parallel execution units. Some people have likened the Pentium to being a pair of 486s in the same chip for this reason, though this really isn't totally accurate. It is really only partially superscalar because the second execution unit doesn't have all the capabilities of the first; some instructions won't run in the second pipeline. In order to take advantage of the dual pipelines, code must be optimized to arrange the instructions in a way that will let both pipelines run at the same time. This is why you sometimes see reference to "Pentium optimization". Regardless, the performance is much higher than the single pipeline of the 486.
  • Wider Data Bus: The Pentium's data bus is doubled to 64 bits, providing double the bandwidth for transfers to and from memory.
  • Much Faster Memory Bus: Most Pentiums run on 60 or 66 MHz system buses; most 486s run on 33 MHz system buses. This greatly improves performance. Pentium motherboards also incorporate other performance-enhancing features, such as pipelined burst cache. The Pentium processor was also the first specifically designed to work with the (then new) PCI bus.
  • Branch Prediction: The Pentium uses branch prediction to prevent pipeline stalls when branches are encountered.
  • Integrated Power Management: All Pentiums have built in SMM power management (optional on most of the 486s).
  • Split Level 1 Cache: The Pentium uses a split level 1 cache, 8 KB each for data and instructions. The cache was split so that the data and instruction caches could be individually tuned for their specific use.
  • Improved Floating Point Unit: The floating point unit of the Pentium is significantly faster than that of the 486.

The Pentium is available in a wide variety of speeds, and in regular and OverDrive versions. It is also available in several packaging styles, although the pin grid array (PGA) is still the most prevalent. The original Pentiums, the 60 and 66 MHz versions, were very different than the later versions that are used in most PCs; they used older, 5 volt technology and significant problems with heat. Intel solved this with later (75-200 MHz) versions by going to a smaller circuit size and 3.3 volt power.

Pentiums use three different sockets. The original Pentium 60 and 66 use Socket 4. Pentiums from 75 to 133 will fit in either socket 5 or socket 7; Pentium 150s, 166s and 200s require Socket 7. Intel makes Pentium OverDrives that allow the use of faster Pentiums in older Pentium sockets (in addition to OverDrives that go in 486 motherboards).

The Pentium processor achieved a certain level of "fame" as a result of the bug that was discovered in its floating point unit not long after it was released. This is commonly known as the "FDIV" bug after the instruction (floating point divide) that it most commonly turns up in. While bugs in processors are relatively common, they usually are minor and don't have a direct impact on computation results. This one did, and achieved great notoriety in part because Intel didn't own up to the problem and offer to correct it immediately. Intel does offer a replacement on affected processors, which were only found in early versions (60 to 100) sold in 1994 and earlier.

If you suspect your Pentium of having the FDIV bug, try this computation test using a spreadsheet or calculator program: take the number 4,195,835 and divide it by 3,145,727. Then take the result and multiply it by the same number again (3,145,727). You should of course get the same 4,195,835 back that you started with. On a PC with the FDIV bug you will get 4,195,579 (an error of 256), but beware that some operating systems and applications have been patched to compensate for this bug, so a simple math test isn't necessarily conclusive. Try looking at this page on Intel's web site for replacement information, if you suspect that you have an FDIV bug on your older Pentium chip.

For many years, the Pentium processor was the mainstream processor of choice, but finally the Pentium with MMX has driven it to the economy market. With the regular Pentium maxing out at 200 MHz and the Pentium with MMX 166 dropping well below $200, the "Pentium Classic" doesn't make nearly as much sense as it used to for new PCs. The 60 and 66 are obsolete due to their slow speed and older technology, and the 75 to 150 are obsolete because their performance is much lower than the 166 and 200, for almost the same amount of money.

The entire classic Pentium line is now technically obsolete, due to the availability of inexpensive, faster Pentium with MMX chips (as well as comparable offerings from AMD and Cyrix). The non-MMX Pentium is no longer generally used in new systems. However, since the Pentium with MMX requires split rail voltage, the classic Pentium 200 remains a great chip for those who have socket 7 motherboards and want to upgrade, but who do not have split rail voltage support.

Look here for an explanation of the categories in the processor summary table below, including links to more detailed explanations.

General Information

Manufacturer

Intel

Family Name

Pentium

Code name

"P5"

"P54C"

Processor Generation

Fifth

Motherboard Generation

Fifth

Version

P60

P66

P75

P90

P100

P120

P133

P150

P166

P200

Introduced

March 1993

Oct. 1994

March 1994

March 1995

June 1995

Jan. 1996

Jan. 1996

June 1996

Variants and Licensed Equivalents

--

Speed Specifications

Memory Bus Speed (MHz)

60

66

50

60

66

60

66

60

66

66

Processor Clock Multiplier

1.0

1.5

2.0

2.5

3.0

Processor Speed (MHz)

60

66

75

90

100

120

133

150

166

200

"P" Rating

60

66

75

90

100

120

133

150

166

200

Benchmarks

iCOMP Rating

510

567

610

735

815

1000

1110

1176

1308

~1575

iCOMP 2.0 Rating

51

57

67

81

90

100

111

114

127

142

Norton SI

190

211

237

285

317

380

421

476

529

637

Norton SI32

~16

~18

23

27

30

32

36

35

40

44

CPUmark32

~120

~140

181

219

243

270

300

308

343

382

Physical Characteristics

Process Technology

Bipolar CMOS

Circuit Size (microns)

0.8

0.6

0.6 / 0.35

0.35

Die Size (mm^2)

295

147

147 / 90

90

Transistors (millions)

3.1

3.2

3.3

Voltage, Power and Cooling

External or I/O Voltage (V)

5

3.3 (STD) / 3.52 (VRE)

Internal or Core Voltage (V)

5

3.3 (STD) / 3.52 (VRE)

Power Management

SMM

Cooling Requirements

Passive or active heat sink

Packaging

Packaging Style

273-Pin PGA

296-Pin SPGA

Motherboard Interface

Socket 4

Socket 5, Socket 7

Socket 7

External Architecture

Data Bus Width (bits)

64

Maximum Data Bus Bandwidth (Mbytes/sec)

457.8

508.6

381.5

457.8

508.6

457.8

508.6

457.8

508.6

508.6

Address Bus Width (bits)

32

Maximum Addressable Memory

4 GB

Level 2 Cache Type

Motherboard

Level 2 Cache Size

Usually 256 KB - 512 KB

Level 2 Cache Bus Speed

Same as Memory Bus

Multiprocessing

Dual (SMP) with Compatible Motherboard

Internal Architecture

Instruction Set

x86 plus Pentium Extensions

MMX Support

No

Processor Modes

Real, Protected, Virtual Real

x86 Execution Method

Native

Internal Components

Register Size (bits)

32

Pipeline Depth (stages)

5

Level 1 Cache Size

8 KB Data, 8 KB Instruction

Level 1 Cache Mapping

2-Way Set Associative

Level 1 Cache Write Policy

Write-Through (Data and Instruction), Write-Back (Data Only)

Integer Units

2

Floating Point Unit / Math Coprocessor

Integrated

Instruction Decoders

1

Branch Prediction Buffer Size / Accuracy

256 entries / 80%

Write Buffers

2

Performance Enhancing Features

--

Next: Intel Pentium OverDrive


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