Computer history

Book Review: The Pentium Chronicles

The Pentium Chronicles
The People, Passion, and Politics behind Intel's Landmark Chips
by Robert P. Colwell
John Wiley & Sons, 2006.

Bob Colwell was the lead architect of the Intel P6 project, which was eventually released as the Pentium Pro processor. The marketing name suggests only a small evolutionary improvement over the original Pentium, but the engineering reality is far different. The original Pentium (P5) was designed at Intel’s original facilities in California, by many of the same engineers that had worked on the 80486 and 80386. The P6, by contrast, was designed by a brand new team in Oregon, charged with the weighty task of securing Intel’s dominance of the microprocessor world by bringing the full range of RISC techniques to the x86 platform. The first engineer to join that project was Bob Colwell.

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He also relishes several “I told you so” moments over Intel’s recent stumbles. For example, he was called a “Chicken Little” for pointing out that Intel owed a great deal of its success to missteps by competitors. They shouldn’t pat themselves on the back too much, for at some point, continued speed would no longer be enough to keep Intel on top. He saw the end of the megahertz race in 1998, about five years before Intel slammed into the thermal wall. He also saw Itanium as a hopelessly complicated combination of unprecedented architectural changes, and thought that it should instead have been a proof-of-concept research project.

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