The Birth of Pentium

Computer hardware engineers design, develop, test, and assist in the manufacture of computer components, products, and systems, such as chips and device controllers. Computer hardware engineers often work together with software engineers, since both are often connected to the development of certain products. For example, developing a mobile phone requires both hardware and software engineering skills.

They plan the systems concepts and the hardware needs for a particular computer product by analyzing the market requirement and prepare a forecast which defines specification, the technology to be used, and the method by which the product could be made economical and market-friendly. They fabricate and test theoretical models of computer products and build working prototypes of the computer equipment.

The Indian brain behind the Pentium Processor

Vinod Dham is known as ‘Father of the Pentium Chip’ for his contribution to the development of Intel’s Pentium micro-processor.

Vinod Dham

After his bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the Delhi College of Engineering in 1971, Dham wanted to go abroad and study microelectronics. However, his parents wanted him to be with them in Delhi.

At that time he was not career-minded so he took up a job in Delhi. Yet, he was lucky to be 10 minutes away from a forward-looking entrepreneur, Gurpreet Singh of Continental Devices, who wanted to run a world-class semiconductor company in the outskirts of Delhi. It was he who introduced Dham to conductors.

Dham was fascinated and wanted to know what went on inside the devices. He decided to go abroad and learn more. And so, after a lot of convincing, his parents agreed and he went to Cincinnati in 1975 to do an MSEE in Solid-State Sciences.

He was working in EPROMs (Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory). He was asked by his college to present his work at an IEEE conference in Monterrey, California. The Intel people were also there presenting their work and they asked him to join them.

He had read about Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce, the co-founder of Intel but it wasn’t easy at the interview as they were asking questions like “how Ph. Ds would run a business”. Of course, they absorbed him as a lowly engineer.

He worked on EPROMS for seven years. However, Dham wanted more action and started looking around for more projects. He soon found one to beat the 486 processor.

His task was not simple as he had thought it would be. His team was frustrated as it was consuming a lot of time and errors kept on occurring.

As the deadline was nearing, Dham decided to set things right. He and his team worked day and night trying to figure out ways and means to beat the predecessor. They experimented and tried several permutations and combinations. Finally, they decided to use a new type of memory system and it worked wonderfully. He built a new type of processor and when it came to be named they couldn’t use 586, as numbers couldn’t be patented on technology products. So, they called it Pentium.