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The Pentium Chronicles: The People, Passion, and Politics Behind Intel's Landmark Chips [Paperback]

Robert P. Colwell
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

December 23, 2005 0471736171 978-0471736172 1
The Pentium Chronicles describes the architecture and key decisions that shaped the P6, Intel's most successful chip to date.  As author  Robert Colwell recognizes, success is about learning from others, and Chronicles is filled with stories of ordinary, exceptional people as well as frank assessments of "oops" moments, leaving you with a better understanding of what it takes to create and grow a winning product.

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Editorial Reviews


" reads like a novel...The story is chronicled by insider Colwell in a style that commands reader attention...highly recommended." (CHOICE, May 2006)

"…an anecdotal account of its development from someone who was in on it from the start…there is something there for everyone about life in a large organization." (Cool Tech Reviews, March 6, 2006)

"Such a perfect miscellany of…experiences finely blended with humor and reality is a sumptuous feast for engineers and project managers…marvelous piece of computer history." (TechBulletin, February 10, 2006)

"This particular book on the genesis of Intel's groundbreaking P6 programme of the early us some worthwhile pointers...a worthy book, and worth a recommendation..." (TechWorld, February 7, 2006)

"This insightful book promises to become a classic, and the reader is warned that it is hard to put down." (Computing, February 23, 2005)

"…the book will particularly appeal to engineers working in the computing industry." (Physics World, February 2006)

From the Back Cover

A landmark chip like the P6 or Pentium 4 doesn't just happen. It takes a confluence of brilliant minds, dedication for beyond the ordinary, and management that nurtures the vision while keeping a firm hand on the project tiller.

As chief architect of the P6, Robert Colwell offers a unique perspective as he unfolds the saga of a project that ballooned from a few architects to hundreds of engineers, many just out of school. For more than a treatise on project management, The Pentium Chronicles gives the rationale, the personal triumphs, and the humor that characterized the P6 project, an undertaking that broke all technical boundaries by being the first to try an out-of order, speculative super-scalar architecture in a microprocessor.

In refreshingly down-to-earth language, organized around a framework "we wish we had known about then," Chronicles describes the architecture and key decisions that shaped the P6, Intel's most successful chip to date. Colwell's inimitable style will have readers laughing out loud at the project team's creative solutions to well-known problems. From architectural planning in a storage room jimmied open with a credit card, to a marketing presentation using shopping carts, he takes readers through events from the projects beginning through its production. As Colwell himself recognizes, success is all about learning from others, and Chronicles is filled with stories of ordinary and exceptional people and frank assessments of "oops" moments, like the infamous FDIV bug.

As its subtitle implies, the book looks beyond RTL models and transistors to the Intel culture, often poking fun at corporate policies, like team-building exercises in which engineers ruthlessly shoot down each other's plans. Whatever your level of computing expertise, Chronicles will delight and inform you, leaving you with a better understanding of what it takes to create and grow a winning product.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley-IEEE Computer Society Pr; 1 edition (December 23, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471736171
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471736172
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #52,434 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good read for project managers January 1, 2006
I rated this book as three stars because the title promised
more than it delivered. Nevertheless, it is a very good book,
especially for people who have to manage huge projects in
complex technical areas. Colwell clearly is skilled in
technology, and has tremendous insight and experience to convey.

My expectations were different. Tracy Kidder's Soul of a New
Machine created excitement and tension into the development of
computers, at least as of the early 1980s. The machine was
successful for Data General to some extent, but faded as a blip
in history that few remember. Intel's P6, Colwell's baby, is
totally the opposite, selling hundreds of millions of copies in
multiple forms since its inception. Kidder spins magic about
the development process. Colwell tells how to make it happen
-- no magic, just cleverness and grunt work.

What I found most valuable were Colwell's methods for taking
on this huge project. Quantify your goals, quantify the merits
of each idea, and quantify your progress toward the goal.
Without these measurements, you have no idea when you will finish
and whether you will succeed when you get there. In
a field where technology moves very quickly, the difference
between success and failure is not so much if you complete
the job, but when you complete the job.

Colwell pulls some punches because of corporate and personal
sensitivities. He does not tell us very much about the
P6 processor, but what is revealed is done skillfully in
layman terms so that the nontechnical reader can follow the development.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for IC professionals January 7, 2006
If you are involved in the world of integrated circuits, or considering becoming involved, then you'd be crazy to pass up this book. It's no less than a first-hand account of how the golden age of Intel came to be, as well as how it came to a close.

In the early 90's, the common wisdom in the CPU industry was that a buzzword-complete (out-of-order, superscalar, superpipelined, speculative execution) x86 was simply impossible to sucessfully execute, hence the smorgasboard of then-new competing RISC architectures. The book's author led the architecture development of the project that proved otherwise.

What's truly astonishing about a project of this scale is the vast array of things that have to go right in order to prevent a catastrophe (or, as a colleague says, it's not the rocket science, it's the rock science). Even more amazing is how many things the P6 team fundamentally got right (at least according to my own 15 years of IC experience). I was also delighted to find simple and yet brilliant ideas that were new to me, such as assigning cubicles by overlaying the building floorplan with the chip floorplan.

The parts of the book that I found most entertaining (from the outside looking in, that is) were descriptions of the naive attempts to replicate and exceed the success of the P6 project, largely by deprecating the very mechanisms that led to that success.

A word of warning: If you don't already have a lot of experience with large projects, you'll probably have to resist the urge to disbelieve many of the anecdotes. Obstructing Pentium 4 engineers from knowing their own plan seems ridiculous, but I can assure you that in my years in the IC business, I've seen worse.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, practical perspective March 4, 2006
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As may be likely with many readers, I first heard of Mr. Colwell from his IEEE Computer columns, of which I was big fan. Several times I was tempted to send him comments about the insights and occasional humor, but I never did. The same kind of writing and attitude is clearly on display in "Chronicles".

Because other reviewers mentioned "Soul of a New Machine," I agree that it is hard to escape, even though the two books are much different. When I was a young engineer in the early 80s, "Soul" was (and is) a great book. I did not have the experience to grasp some lessons to be learned from the story, and a 1980s version of "Chronicles" would not have hit home, either.

However, Mr. Colwell is completely believable in his anecdotes and in the presentation of the big picture, the project, and countless details both technical and personal. Experienced engineers will no doubt see themselves, their colleagues, and their projects in one form or another. I don't mean just the "Dilbert" moments and inevitable personal clashes, but also the serious business and technical challenges that any complex project must face. I found myself nodding in agreement again and again with his conclusions and advice.

Two reasons I liked Mr. Colwell's columns are that he is not just a techno-geek and that an interesting feisty personality showed through. You see that feistiness at times in the book with stories of taking on the powers that be, for better or worse, without feeling like you are listening to someone covering his tracks to make himself look good. The true engineer comes through, with enough polish to be around executives and to be allowed with customers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly enjoyed
This book provides a rare glimpse into one of the most successful design teams in the history of computer architecture. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Wordimont
2.0 out of 5 stars The book was a bit boring
I didn't really like the book. The book is about how the Pentium Pro was created at Intel, but the writing was bland and otherwise uninteresting. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Sudocloud
2.0 out of 5 stars Not what it says on the tin.
It promised to be an insiders' view of the making of a silicon masterpiece. Instead it was little more than a self-congratulatory diatribe on how wonderful the author's management... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Julian Perry
5.0 out of 5 stars A treat for practioners of computer engineering
It's really a treat. It should be in the bookshelf of a grad student or practioner in the fields of computer and electronics engineering. Read more
Published on February 28, 2010 by HUO Zhigang
1.0 out of 5 stars Empty Promises, Over-hyped
This "book", more like an extended magazine article, is hardly "Soul of a New Machine" - that's just a laughable comparison. Read more
Published on June 27, 2009 by C. Kasper
4.0 out of 5 stars Good advice and inside view...
I thought of this book as a tome of helpful advice for any project manage that has to work on a project that veers far into the unknown. Read more
Published on July 16, 2007 by J.F.
2.0 out of 5 stars thin
I was looking forward to a history of the depth of, say "Into the Black" about JPL by Peter Westwick, a professional historian. The Pentium Chronicles is thin. Read more
Published on April 9, 2007 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Project Management Education
This is an excellent case study about Intel's P6 project -- that became the Pentium Pro and part of the lineage for a number of other processors. Read more
Published on March 6, 2007 by Teddy Dover
5.0 out of 5 stars How a big project comes together.
On the first page of this book Dr. Colwell gets his marching orders from his boss: 'Your job is to beat the P5 chip by a factor of two on the same process technology. Read more
Published on March 20, 2006 by John Matlock
5.0 out of 5 stars The Soul of a New Computer Chip
If you enjoyed "The Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder, you don't want to miss this one. It will establish a new benchmark, I think, for much quoted books in the decade... Read more
Published on February 28, 2006 by Parker W. Snapp
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