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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):
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.
Next: Intel Pentium OverDrive