There’s not been a lot of competition for AMD in the budget market, at least overseas, because thanks to the unlocked Athlon X4 processors there’s really no need to consider a dual-core Celeron or Pentium chip at all. With the X4 you get four cores and an unlocked multiplier, allowing it to leapfrog dual-core solutions in the benchmarks. But now it’s time for Intel to turn that around with the Pentium G2358, otherwise known as the Pentium Processor Anniversary Edition.
There are a couple of things that make this chip special for budget buyers. For starters, this isn’t part of the Devil’s Canyon family – there are no changes to the hardware, no extra transistors for better power delivery. It’s simply a Pentium G3420 with an unlocked multiplier and a fancy box. The implications of that are interesting – without BIOS updates, the G3258 can be used in any motherboard with the 8-series chipsets.
Even better, some Intel motherboard partners like MSI, ASUS and ASRock have left the option to unlock this chip open on certain boards, which means that you don’t necessarily need to hop into the Z87 or Z97 pool to push it to the max. Of course, non-Z board support will not be guaranteed forever, so there’s that.
Additonally, it doesn’t require a lot of cooling, nor does it need very expensive hardware to run at maximum speed. Pop on a tower cooler with a 120mm fan and you should be good to push it up to 4.0GHz or even 4.5GHz for both cores. There’s no need for water-cooling here, but a cheap all-in-one unit would allow you to do the same.
A Dual-Core chip for gaming in 2014, seriously?
One of the factors that may have a serious effect on the Pentium’s adoption is the number of games coming out this year and in 2015 that will prefer quad-core processors and punish their dual-core brethren. Although I’ve recommended Pentium chips from the Haswell family in my recent System Builders guides, those recommendations come with the caveat that the games you play won’t be running at uber-high settings to give the lower-end hardware some breathing space.
A unlocked, dual-core Haswell processor will probably see some use into 2015 for games that don’t stress the multi-threaded requirement too much. A great deal of MMOs, MMORPGs and RTS games prefer single-threaded performance from higher-clocked processors, so this chip would fit in well if you play games like Starcraft II or Wildstar. It’ll still hit decently high fps for many other games, but frame latency will be affected because it’s only a dual-core chip.
The more sensible approach would be to mate a Haswell Core i3 processor with a decent LGA1150 H81 motherboard, as that gives you four threads, a higher stock clock speed, support for many extensions that are chopped out of the Pentium brand and much better and faster integrated graphics. However, if you’re planning on getting a Broadwell K-series processor later this year, picking up a Z97 board along with the Pentium G3258 would allow you to clock it up and still see decent frame rates.
What do the benchmarks say?
Let’s get the boring parts out of the way first – in GPU-limited games or in scenarios that are entirely GPU-limited, the Pentium G3258 will have no visible effect on gaming compared to higher-clocked, more expensive processors. Tom’s Hardware tested Battlefield 4 and Tomb Raider, two games known for their reliance on the GPU when it comes to the single-player portions of the game. Battlefield 4′s multiplayer might tell a very different story but I expect the chip to perform close to the Core i3-4330 when you get into the thick of things.
Where things start to differ is in games that do more interesting things with the CPU and are not GPU-limited. This ships up very prominently in Metro: Last Light, where the Pentium G3258 comes from a last-place finish and is overclocked to place above the AMD Athlon X4 750K. That’s not a bad finish by any means and also shows up an interesting aspect of the 4A Engine used in Last Light – if your chip has no L3 cache and is clocked low, don’t expect very high performance. Four real cores with gobs of L3 cache are the best bet here.
Moving to Thief, it’s the best representation of what things will be like with console ports from the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. The Pentium G3258 pulls in a strong start because of the better single-threaded performance, whereas the Athlon X4 750K can’t surpass it even when overclocked. There are noticeable dips in the frame variance with just having two cores, though, while the Athlon and other Intel chips deliver much smoother playthroughs. I expect other modern ports to be similar, like Watch Dogs or Call of Duty: Ghosts.
World of Warcraft represents the kind of experience that you’d find on a good deal of MMOs, with the exception of titles like Guild Wars 2, which are very taxing on the CPU. Not only does the Pentium G3258 do well at stock settings, bumping it up to 4.5GHz yielded higher average frame rates and reduced frame variance. WoW clearly likes chips with L3 cache, even putting the Athlon X4 750K at the bottom despite a modest overclock to 4.3GHz.
The thing to take away from here is that not only is it a very capable processor in the right conditions, it’ll perform far better in games that pay special attention to the PC platform. We’re not moving away from dual-cores just yet, so it still has life left in it for a good while.
So that’s the good news – it’s a good performer. Now it’s time for the bad news.
It won’t completely destroy AMD’s low-cost gaming advantage
Comparing Hardware – AMD to Intel
|Processor||Intel Pentium G3240||Intel Core i3-4150||AMD A6-6400K||AMD A8-6600K||AMD FX-4300|
|Motherboard||ASRock Z97 Pro4||ASRock B85 Pro4||MSI A78M-E35 FM2+||MSI A88X-G43 FM2+||MSI 970A-G46|
Let’s assume for the moment that the benefit of being able to overclock the Pentium G3258 isn’t a guaranteed thing with most H97, H87, B85 or H81 boards. In the table above, I’ve listed the Pentium G3240 as a placeholder, but the G3258 will retail for less than R1000 when it lands here.
Instead of going with a Z87-series motherboard you figure that you’d rather be ready for Broadwell, thus opting for ASRock’s Z97 Pro4 motherboard. That puts you at R2416. Although you’re more ready for the future, the board eats up most of your budget and you’re at a deficit in terms of core count, although you can overclock the chip fairly high.
At the same time, the Core i3 and B85 combo guarantees you playability in all games without requiring tweaking. That’s a much better setup if you’re upgrading today and don’t want to wait for Broadwell – Skylake and DDR4 is what you’re after. Pop in a decent GPU with 8GB of RAM and don’t worry about clock speeds or voltages until you upgrade.
AMD’s offerings don’t have as much flexibility due to the lack of the Athlon X4 APUs in the local market. The closest we can get is the A8-6600K, which offers four unlocked cores and integrated graphics. The combo with the A88X-G43 is more expensive, but you get more SATA ports and the ability to pop in a Kaveri or Carrizo APU in the future. The A6-6400K is the cheapest, unlocked processor on the market today and offers guaranteed overclocking ability in any FM2+ board it gets shoved into, while the FX-4300 combo isn’t much more expensive and offers overclocking and allows for SLI or Crossfire setups.
However, if the pentium G3258 retains overclocking ability on all the cheaper motherboards, well… my future System Builders guides will only ever have two AMD builds in them. AMD can breathe somewhat because the A6-6400K still deserves a place in my buyer’s guide. The integrated graphics is still worlds away from Intel’s HD graphics and as a low-cost build for general purpose use, it is a very capable solution.
So who should buy one?
If the overclocking on cheaper boards remains, pretty much anyone with a budget of around R6000 or less for their rig. You can get a decent board with the chip, stick to stock cooling and overclock to 4.2GHz to see a completely acceptable 1.0GHz overclock without voltage changes (or at least very minor ones). Anything higher than that will require a better board and better cooling. Put the extra money into a better GPU and Bob’s your uncle for gaming at 1080p.
Anything above that, though, requires more beef. I’d hazard that the Core i3-4130 is a much better bet for higher budgets and well worth the extra spend considering the bumps in specification that you get back. If you’re planning to get this chip as a placeholder for Broadwell, then that’s also a good idea so long as you accept the reality that a dual-core chip isn’t going to be a very good performer when you move into anything higher than 1080p.
All in all, the Pentium G3258 is a welcome addition and a very interesting piece of kit. I just hope that it doesn’t take Intel another seven years to launch something that finally takes the place of the legendary Pentium E2180.