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The Strange Rationale of Intel Codenames

Posted on November 21, 2023

While official Intel processor names are humdrum and boring (i7, i9, etc.), the unofficial codenames used by the company are rather unique. From lakes to cities, landmarks to rivers, Intel has taken inspiration from many places.

Let’s take a look at how these codenames have evolved over the years.

What is an Intel Codename?

Official names of tech products tend to have serialized names following a very specific formula. Intel processors, for example, carry names like “11th Gen i5 processor”.

The advantage of such names is that they quickly convey the product’s placement in the company’s lineup, which is essential to let customers navigate a market filled with competing products with incremental features. But what about the names of products that are still under development, and may or may not be released officially?

For that, we have codenames. Codenames are basically unofficial names to be used internally in a company since you cannot keep referring to a WIP project as that project indefinitely.

These names are usually phased out after the official release of the product, but occasionally some names are incorporated right into the marketing as well, as Intel has occasionally done before.

Does Every CPU Get an Intel Codename?

Of course, not every single chip of a series gets a separate codename. As all these processors are usually just variations of the same base architecture, it is only these fundamental technologies that merit a codename.

We say technologies because Intel does not make processor architectures alone. It also develops chipsets, motherboards, and platforms (a combination of a chipset with a CPU).

Occasionally it also develops experimental processors not meant for public release. Each of these projects is christened with a unique codename while under development, drumming up interest both outside and inside the company.

How Intel Comes Up With Codenames

At first glance, Intel’s codenames can appear to be random, but they are not entirely so. There is some logic behind the naming scheme, even if it is not as rigid as official processor names.

Simply put, Intel codenames are derived from the names of geographical landmarks found around the country. These can be lakes, rivers, cities, or even mountains.

This gives us names like Shelton (after a city in Mason County, Washington), Potomac (a river that flows through West Virginia), and of course, the infamous lakes like Coffee, Eagle, or Kaby, which come from actual lakes found in North America.

A rare few names come from Israel as well, christened by the Intel dev team based there. This includes processors like Dimona (named after a city in the Negev desert) and Merom (a lake in Hula Valley), as well as architecture names like Gesher (Hebrew for bridge) and Yonah (dove in Hebrew).

A Shift in the Naming Paradigm

Originally the Intel codenames – like any codenames in the tech industry – were meant to be just internal names used by the engineers. But over time the codenames came to be used throughout the lifetime of the product, from demos to even the final marketing.

As a result, instead of just going for any random name without rhyme or reason, Intel had to nail down some basic structure. CPU architecture names, for example, exclusively use “Lake” names now.

Similarly, every class of components borrows its name from a fixed geographical feature, be it mountains, cities, or rivers. The exact specifics are still kept under wraps, however, since Intel wants to preserve a level of secrecy with its codenames.

Keeping Secrets

Apart from making it easier for engineers to communicate about a project under development, codenames are also designated to keep their capabilities a secret. This is because while an incremental official name gives away its exact position in the lineup, a codename reveals nothing.

But why the need for secrecy?

The semiconductor business is very competitive, fought on very technical parameters like speed and processing power. As such, any company coming out with an obviously better architecture gains a significant advantage, as long as it is not replicated by their competitors.

This is why Intel tries very hard to keep the details of its processors a secret until they are already hitting the shelves. A codename keeps their opponents guessing, while also driving up interest in the public for what the new technology might have in store.

So Are We Still Going to See Intel Codenames?

While Intel has moved toward adopting many of its codenames as a part of the final branding (Coffee Lake, Rocket Lake, etc.), codenames themselves are here to stay.

Apart from safeguarding company secrets and giving developers a name to reference the project by, these codenames have also caught up in the public imagination. Unsurprisingly, the media is quicker to pick up a catchy name like Comet Lake than a numerical designation that doesn’t mean anything.