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Pentium. Even a quarter-century after the processor first made its debut, the brand name still carries connotations of speed and innovation. Intel’s famous product processor line was introduced March 22, 1993, and despite some notable issues, Pentium was above all a marketing success.

As the successor to the 486 processor, the first Pentium should have been called the i586. (Pentium wasn’t as powerful as it could have been because Intel chose to make the processor backwards-compatible with legacy x86 code). The name “Pentium” was the brainchild of Lexicon Branding, a powerhouse marketing agency that’s named a few other brands you might recognize — Sonos, InDesign, Blackberry, and the Mac PowerBook, to name a few. “Pent-“ came from the fact that this was Intel’s fifth generation of processor; “-ium” tied the processor to “something elemental and strong such as sodium, magnesium, or titanium.”

Pentium’s early struggles

The first Pentium processor ran into some challenges in the form of the FDIV bug, also known as the integer or floating point bug. In October 1994, Virginia-based math professor Thomas Nicely realized calculations made using the processor — no matter what software was involved — were likely to be inaccurate past the eighth decimal point. The issue was a faulty floating point unit or math coprocessor. Intel resolved the issue with a few production changes in the next version of the processor, but not before Nicely had spread the word and caused some expensive PR damage.

Intel didn’t stay down for long. Behind the scenes, execs were working out co-branding deals with Microsoft, and the launch of Windows 95 practically turned “Pentium” into a synonym for “PC.”

Photo: Militarist / Shutterstock

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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