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Intel Inside -- But What Are Buyers Really Getting?

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New chip names befuddle buyers.

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A rose by any other name would smell as sweet -- but new names for Intel's (INTC) chips are creating a stink among some prospective buyers.

Once upon a time, chip names told you what you were getting. Well, sort of. At least you knew that the bigger the number: 286, 386, or 486, the faster the processor. Then some marketing whiz came up with the 386 DX. That mysterious name sent tekkies and non-tekkies alike to the spec sheets.

Pentium is a great marketing name, but what does it mean? At least "2 eggs, sunny side up" is descriptive.

Chip names got worse. Now prospective buyers have to decide between Core 2 Duo and Core 2 Quad. I get the difference between 2 and 4 – but then what?

Then there are the CULV chips. That dingbat acronym stands for "Consumer Ultra-Low Voltage" -- just the thing for netbooks. But why not make it CLUV: Consumers Love Ultimate Voltage? It's dumb, but no dumber than the original; plus buyers would say, "Hey, gimme one of those LUV chips!"

Intel plans to use simplified terms in the future -- the Core i3, i5, and i7 are intended, one hopes, to alert prospective purchasers to the costs and benefits of various new chips' features. With luck, this means the chips -- code-named Lynnfield (desktop) and Clarksfield (mobile) -- will be marketed as the latest version of the Core with a number indicating features and capability.

Descriptive names would help simplify the sequence of new chip lines to the semi-conscious, but will it be of any real help to buyers who just bang keys? Apple (AAPL) leans toward clarity with its Xeon 5500 processor.

At least non-geeks could wrap their minds around a chip's clock speed and conclude that faster is better, more expensive, and worth the extra bucks in most cases.

Dell's
(DELL) website offers an array of chip choices for various desktops and laptops with this non-technical guide for prospective owners: Celeron, smart; Pentium, smarter; Core2, genius.

Thankfully, the performance of the genius-level chip is explained in terms even an English major could understand: "Advanced dual-core design allows you to run multiple demanding programs at the same time, so you can accomplish more with less time waiting."

Whew! That wasn't so hard.

Intel has chips named Celeron, Pentium, and Core. Great names, if you're marketing an energy drink. Of course, Intel may be betting that many computer buyers will hedge their ignorance by overbuying.

That's a good bet, and it'd sure plump the bottom line.

Hey, pass that new 186,000-tummy-rubs-per-second chip over here.
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No positions in stocks mentioned.
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