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Pentium

What is Pentium?

Pentium is a widely used series of microprocessors developed by Intel Corporation. The first Pentium processor was released in 1993, replacing Intel's 80486 microprocessor. It soon emerged as the microprocessor of choice for personal computers (PCs).

Exploring the Pentium series of microprocessors

Intel Pentium CPU
Intel launched the Pentium line of processors in 1993.

Pentium refers both to the microprocessor chip itself and the computers that use it. The original Pentium model contained two processors on one chip that contains 3.1 million transistors. The first Pentium chip was the successor to Intel's 486 chip and the fifth generation of Intel's x86 architecture. For this reason, it is also known as P5 or Intel 80586.

Compared to the 486 chip, which used a 32-bit data bus, the Pentium chip used a 64-bit data bus. It used a superscalar CISC (complex instruction set computer) architecture with this data bus and a 32-bit address bus. In addition, it had three times as many transistors as the 486, and featured two eight-kilobyte data caches, built-in floating-point units and built-in memory management units. The processor supported base clock speeds of 60 to 200 megahertz (MHz). For these reasons, the Pentium became one of the most popular CPUs for general-purpose computing.

Evolution of the Pentium family

The first Pentium microprocessor was the Pentium 1 (P1). It offered 32-bit processing, a 16 KB to 32 KB L1 cache, and a fast serial bus of up to 66 MHz. It performed faster floating point calculations than the 486 processor. Between 1993 and 1996, the Pentium's architecture evolved to include a 256 KB to 1 MB L2 cache, as well as a 50, 60 or 66 MHz system bus. It also contained between 3.1 million and 3.3 million transistors.

The P1 was superseded by more powerful and faster processors:

Pentium Family Release Year

Pentium Pro

1995-1997

Pentium MMX

1997-1999

Pentium II

1997-1999

Pentium II Xeon

1998-1999

Celeron

1998

Pentium III Xeon

1999-2001

Pentium III

1999-2001

Pentium 4

2000

Pentium 4 Dual Core

2005

After the introduction of the Core family of microprocessors, the earlier Pentium microprocessors were mainly used for inexpensive PCs.

Pentium Pro

The Pentium Pro was one of the earliest microprocessors from the Pentium family. First released in 1995, it was designed for high-end servers and desktops that served multiple users or supported graphics-intensive applications. It was touted as superior to the Pentium for 32-bit applications.

In addition to the microprocessor itself, the Pentium Pro included another microchip containing cache memory that, being closer to the processor than the computer's main memory (RAM), helped speed up computer operations. It also contained 5.5 million to 62 million transistors, used a 60 or 66 MHz system bus, and was housed in a dual cavity PGA package.

Pentium II and MMX technology

Pentium II series of processors were released between 1997 and 1999. Each processor came with Intel's MMX technology that improves the performance of multimedia and communication by extending the basic Intel Architecture (IA). The technology included new instructions and data types, which is why it was capable of running multimedia applications up to 60% faster compared to microprocessors with similar clock speed but without MMX.

MMX also improved the performance of key kernels by 4x on the host processor. In addition, the processor ran other applications about 10% faster. One reason was increased cache. The other was because programs used MMX instructions without having to change to a new mode or a state that was visible to the operating system.

The Pentium II was available in both desktop and mobile models. The desktop model had 7.5 million transistors and the mobile model had 27.4 million transistors. The chip used a 66 or 100 MHz system bus and included a Single Edge Contact Cartridge (SECC) for Slot 1. The mobile chip was housed in either BGA or Mobile Mini-Cartridge (MMC) packages.

A version of the Pentium II, called the Pentium II Xeon, was released in 1998. It featured a 512 KB to 2 MB L2 cache and 100 MHz system bus, and was mostly used in high-end servers, and two-way and four-way servers.

Pentium III and later models

Pentium III was the successor to the Pentium II family. Released in 1999, it upgraded the Pentium II with 70 additional instructions. It also had 9.5 to 28 million transistors and a 100 or 133 MHz system bus, and came in SECC and SECC2 packages. Like the Pentium III, the Pentium III Xeon was released in 1999. It was meant for use in two-way to eight-way servers. This microprocessor used SECC2 and SC330 chip packages and came with L2 cache up to 2 MB.

Earlier, in 1998, Intel introduced the Celeron series of processors. The Celeron was a low-end, less expensive Pentium processor that originally came without the L2 cache. In 1999, a 128KB on-die cache was added to the Celeron.

The Pentium 4 was introduced in 2000 followed by the Pentium Dual Core in 2005. The P4 started with a 400 MHz system bus, 256 KB L2 cache and 42 million transistors. It came in 423-pin and 478-pin PGA packages and supported Rambus memory (RDRAM). In later chipsets, the system bus was increased to 800 MHz, the L2 cache size was increased to 2MB and RDRAM was switched to DDR SDRAM.

The Pentium Dual Core came in two editions: Pentium D and Pentium Processor Extreme. Unlike the Pentium D, the Pentium Processor Extreme included hyper-threading. Both chips included Intel's 64-bit EM64T (Intel 64) technology.

Intel Pentium: Thirty years later

Intel's Pentium line of microprocessors has been around for almost 30 years. Today, these processors power many kinds of devices, including laptops, convertibles, desktops and mini PCs. Pentium-powered devices support a range of operating systems, including Windows, Chrome and Linux.

Between 2017 and 2022, Intel released numerous editions of Intel Pentium Gold processors in a variety of form factors. Computers with Gold processors can perform quick processing, do light photo editing, video editing and multitasking. Most Gold processors have two cores, although processors with five cores, also called multicore processors, are available.

Intel Pentium Silver processors are meant for entry-level PCs, in particular, devices used by students and educators. Systems powered by Pentium Silver chips provide excellent application and graphics performance, video conferencing abilities and faster wireless connectivity. All Silver chips have four cores, 4 MB cache, and Intel UHD Graphics or UHD Graphics 605 capability.

Learn the differences between CPUs versus microprocessors, and see how CPUs, GPUs and DPUs differ from one another.

This was last updated in April 2023

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