Saturday, August 9, 2008

Intel's Awful Code Names

Apple's relationship with Intel (NSDQ: INTC) has done wonderful things for both companies. When Apple's engineers were managing the complicated transition from PowerPC chips to Intel silicon, Intel engineers were there to help. No doubt computer buyers are better off for this intermingling of talent.

If only Intel's marketing department engaged with Apple's sales personnel in the same way.

Apple has a pretty good track record in terms of coming up with engaging product code names. Jaguar, Tiger, and Leopard may not be brilliant wordplay, but they're pretty good. The words are evocative and not particularly open to ridicule, as might be the case if Apple chose a code name like Shrew or Vole. Likewise, even for code names intended for internal use, like Dulcimer, the iPod's working title, Apple does well.

Intel, on the other hand, has some of the worst product code names ever, based on place names. Consider Harpertown, Penryn, Conroe, or Merom. It's like Intel's marketing people are just throwing darts at a map.

Back in the early '90s, Intel's 486 and Pentium chips had formidable-sounding code names: Triton, Mercury, Aries, and Saturn. Compare those to more recent ones that don't so much evoke anything as make you scratch your head: Whitney, Tehama, Colusa, and Canterwood. These aren't the sort of names that generate excitement. Sure, if you live in Colusa, it may be nice to get the nod from Intel. But in the wider world, the name isn't fraught with meaning.

Intel archrival AMD has done a bit better, having moved from the excessively whimsical names of dinosaurs in The Land Before Time (Sharptooth and Chomper) and the blandness of its K-series chips to code names like Mustang, Corvette, Sledgehammer, and Spitfire.

Granted, Intel has had a lot of chips to name -- Wikipedia has a rather lengthy list. But surely Intel can put a bit more effort into giving its chips distinct identities. The company is calling its new "many-core" architecture "Larrabee."

It's a great name ... for a mule, or maybe for a necktie designed to double as a bib.

# # #

"What's that?"

"It's a 'Larrabee.' "

(Puzzlement.) "It's sorta wide for a tie."

"It's not just a tie. It's also a bib." (Silence.) "You know, for eating lobster and such. They advertise them on TV."

# # #

Next time, Intel, how about a code name that aims to convey something that might actually make you want to buy the product?

(I know your legal team is telling you to stay away from trademark territory, where all the interesting words live, but you've got to take some risks. And what better publicity could you get than a lawsuit?)

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