Intel Pentium III

by Anand Lal Shimpi on February 22, 1999 10:20 PM EST
We all remember the platform shoes, and the tacky suits on the bodies of the dancers that dominated the dance floor, bouncing to every bump of bass in the catchy beat of the Beegee's Stayin' Alive. No, we're not talking about your high school dances in the 70's, rather CPU manufacturer, Intel's MMX campaign of 1997.

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Click to Enlarge

Both experiences should bring back memories, good and bad, of disco, truly "unique" fashion, and one of the most empty promises in the history of PC processors, otherwise known as MMX technology. Just as Stayin' Alive is one of the most well remembered songs of the Beegee's dance music reign during the 1970's, Intel's MMX technology still is one of the most well remembered contributions the company has made to the industry. Two years after the introduction of the 57 MMX instructions into the x86 core, Intel's MMX technology has been licensed by competitors and has probably caused more processor sales than the name of AMD's flagship or Cyrix's one-hit-wonder. Upon walking into a computer retail store, the rainbow emanating from Intel's MMX logo seemed to attract the attention of just about every single customer, without even bringing up the question as to whether or not the 57 new instructions actually provided any tangible benefit to users.

Times were good, simplicity was bliss, and Intel's MMX technology was forced into the market just as easily as disco caught on to bold teenagers two decades before. It took little more than a few reviews of Intel's Pentium MMX to prove to the market that the "wonderful" MMX technology was nothing more than a marketing ploy, offering a very tiny performance benefit to the end user. Unfortunately, because of Intel's incredible power over the market, MMX was a marketing requirement, without the "MMX Compatible" logo on their processors companies like AMD and Cyrix/National Semiconductor would have had a difficult time even attracting attention to processors sitting in systems next to Intel MMX based computers. After months of legal disputes, and senseless political protection of the "precious" 57 MMX instructions Intel held so dearly to themselves, the technology was finally licensed out to AMD for use in their upcoming K6 processor, thus began the demise of Intel's perfect marketing strategy. Instead of providing a technology that they would be the sole proprietors of, Intel managed to allow competing companies to leech off of their marketing success with the MMX campaign by licensing out the MMX trademark. It wasn't too long before end users could go out and buy an AMD K6 MMX processor, or a Cyrix 6x86MX processor that offered MMX compatibility at a cost generally lower than Intel's own Pentium MMX. MMX was indeed a failure in the eyes of Intel's marketing team, as well as in the eyes of the industry.

As the old maxim goes, "once bitten, twice shy," the industry was not about to allow for another MMX campaign to be force-fed to itself. It is because of this shyness that competing manufacturer Advanced Micro Devices, AMD, had so much trouble rounding up support for their step towards the direction of additional enhancement instructions to include in the core of their K6-2 processor. AMD's 3DNow! instructions, just weeks before their official unveiling at the 1998 E3 Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, were being torn to pieces before the eyes of the public by comparisons to Intel's MMX instructions that made their debut about a year earlier. It wasn't until AMD displayed the true, tangible benefits of their 3DNow! instructions that the market began to give the struggling company a chance. AMD took the weight of the blow MMX inspired at the introduction of their 3DNow! instructions, and with the initial wave of resurrected hatred towards any MMX-like instructions gone, Intel felt it was their time to step forth with a new instruction set as AMD was quickly gaining performance and popularity as a result of their efforts. Intel promised revolutionary new instructions to be integrated into the next version of their highly publicized Pentium II processor that would offer benefits similar to those brought by AMD's 3DNow! instructions, Intel promised a set of enhancements that would be everything MMX wasn't; and they called them, MMX2.

Luckily, for Intel's marketing sake, the name MMX2 didn't last too long as it was soon replaced by the name KNI, or Katmai New Instructions, named after the processor codename they were to be implemented in. The name KNI was nothing more than an internal codename, and Intel finally settled on a much more descriptive name which, although doesn't roll off your tongue as well as MMX or KNI, does convey Intel's newfound preference of quality over marketing ability in the instructions. The name? Streaming SIMD Extensions, or SSE for short. The processor? Intel's third generation Pentium processor, we've come a long way since the days of the Pentium classic processor and Intel is ready to carry on tradition with their latest concoction, the Pentium III processor.

So without any further ado, let's follow in the words of the Beegee's and try to understand the New York Times' effect on man, or more specifically, Intel. Has the idea of pleasing the customer been crowded by the marketing and publicity Intel has received since the company's original claim to fame was made?

Revolutionary or Revolving?
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