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Sandy Bridge Breaks the Mold for Chip Codenames

Politics Can Change the Course of Microprocessor Codename History

Politics makes strange bedfellows, as the saying goes. But when it comes to naming microprocessors, politics can sometimes change the course of codename history.

When Intel’s 2nd Generation Core microprocessors are launched at the International Consumer Electronics Show, the codename “Sandy Bridge” will officially be retired. Ever since the early 1990s Intel has used existing geographical, non-trademarked places in the United States or Canada that can be located on a map for codenames. This is thanks, in part, to Frank Zappa, or at least, his estate. More on that in a minute.

Sandy Bridge sounds like a place found on a map that can’t be trademarked and hence satisfies Intel’s trademark and brand lawyers who have final say on such matters. Despite sharing its name with a bridge in Singapore and a historic town in west Tennessee, Sandy Bridge isn’t named for an actual place. Instead, it’s a result of a switch, and a suggestion from upper management following a meeting with analysts.

The original internal logo for "Sandy Bridge," formerly codenamed "Gesher."
The original internal logo for “Sandy Bridge,” formerly codenamed “Gesher.”
Originally the project was called “Gesher,” which in Hebrew means “bridge,” explained project manager Shlomit Weiss from Intel’s Israel Development Center in Haifa where the new chip architecture was designed. “During a meeting with analysts, Sean Maloney was asked, ‘How come you have a project named Gesher? Do you want it to be unsuccessful like the former Gesher [political] party in Israel?'”

Shortly after the meeting, Maloney, Intel executive vice president, asked the legal department to change the project name, wanting nothing to do with a failed breakaway political party that eventually dissolved. And so was born, in short order, the codename “Sandy Bridge.”

“Bridge” being part of the name makes sense with the translation of “gesher,” but where does the “sandy” part derive from? That silicon comes from common beach sand perhaps? Well, not according to Intel legend.

“The reason I heard is the ‘bridge’ signifies that we’re bridging the chasm to the next big thing,” said Nathan Smith, a CPU strategic planning manager based in Hillsboro, Ore. “That’s a bit of a reach, but that’s the story.”

Inherent with their jobs, Smith and his report, Russ Hampsten, are regular players of the product name game.

“It’s the most thankless job you ever do,” Hampsten said. “You’ll never make everyone happy. People always crap over the name.”

Generations After Sandy Bridge

Take “Haswell” for example. The road to naming the next processor microarchitecture after Sandy Bridge felt more like a trek for Smith and Hampsten.

“Russ has poured his heart and soul into Haswell for the past several years,” Smith said, adding that over 100 names were submitted for the project before Trademarks & Brands gave the thumbs up.”

Ironically, one name among the long list actually got the green light from the legal department, but Hampsten reconsidered, nixing it based on personal criteria.

“When it comes to codenames, I want something simple to pronounce and spell,” Hampsten said. “So when I saw we got ‘Molalla,’ a town in Oregon, I started looking for a better name. I wasn’t going to go there.”

His boss agreed. “When you’re picking out a name, you’re thinking, ‘Will the team be able to stomach saying that 100 times a day for the next several years?'”

Intel 2nd Generation Core microprocessor codenamed Sandy Bridge.
Intel 2nd Generation Core microprocessor codenamed Sandy Bridge.
Declaring his team a “Molalla-free zone,” Hampsten looked up names by ZIP code starting with the Western states. His quest yielded a list he submitted to Intel’s nomenclature gods and Haswell, a town claiming the country’s smallest jail, got the nod.

“I had to go all the way to Eastern Colorado and a town of under 100 in population to get a tolerable name not taken or trademarked,” Hampsten said.

“By the time the project ramps up more people will be working on Haswell than living in Haswell,” Smith laughed. “But one thing is certain, Haswell is a lot easier to say than that unpronounceable town in Oregon.”

Poor Molalla is still up for grabs, as are many other names — obviously of varying degrees of acceptance — that meet Trademarks & Brand’s first proviso: codenames must be names of existing geographical, non-trademarked places in the United States or Canada that can be located on a map.

Exceptions exist, mostly because they were named before this top-line condition was enforced or, in the case of Sandy Bridge, there’s heat from above. Before Trademarks & Brands became the naming sheriff in the early 1990s, engineers picked handles that encouraged fun and team-building. One group worked on projects named “Bart” and “Lisa” to pay homage to TV’s “The Simpsons,” while another team was busy on a “Dead Rock Star” series of motherboards. You had “The Joplin” and “The Morrison,” but it was the success of an Intel Advanced/ZP motherboard codenamed “The Zappa” that contributed to the policy change to geographic names. The internal naming party ended soon after the very external Frank Zappa estate got wind of an “Intel Zappa” that was written about by media covering the now-defunct Comdex tradeshow. The estate, according to reports, wasn’t too pleased, prompting Intel’s legal department to step in.

So gone is the day when Intel platforms were named after Disney movies (“Aladdin”), solid state drives after biblical figures (“Ephraim”) and chassis after explorers (“Magellan,” “Balboa”). And, of course, there was “The Picard” because what decent company with a geeky workforce would be without at least one project named for a “Star Trek” character?

“There’ve been all sorts of names,” Hampsten said. “We used planets, moons, cartoon characters — we even had a dinosaur series of codenames around the time ‘Jurassic Park’ came out. My all-time favorite was probably ‘The Raptor.’ It was interesting, fun and it sounded mean.”

This content was originally published on the Intel Free Press website.

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