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The Devil’s Canyon Core i7 and i5 Haswell updates may not have been the super-exciting enthusiast overclocking processors that we may be expected and definitely wanted but, as Obi Wan was wont to say, there is another.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Pentium brand, Intel has opened up the dual-core Haswell silicon, finally giving us access to the lower-end CPU’s multipliers. Yup, this could be the exciting overclocking processor we’ve been hankering for.
The G3258 is the CPU name for this Pentium Anniversary Edition chip, and it’s a bonafide Haswell processor with a pair of those 22nm 4th Gen cores working away inside of that processor package. Like the K-Series chips alongside it, the G3258 comes with an unlocked multiplier, finally allowing us access to the overclocking goodness that we know resides inside Intel’s silicon architecture. We’ve been praying for Intel to relax its iron grip on the lower end of its processor lineup ever since it decided to lock down the overclocking performance of the cheaper chips, restricting it to higher-end processors with a price premium.
The marketing reasons for Intel cutting out low-end overclocking are pretty straightforward. As a company, you’d rather people buy your expensive processors than opt for cheaper CPUs and push their performance up themselves, even if the capability is there. So the K-Series was born and that performance was jealously guarded by the Core i5 and Core i7 processors, keeping it away from the lowly dual-core Core i3s.
It’s a shame though that this brief turnaround is unlikely to represent a return to the good old days of brilliant Intel budget overclockers, and that it’s taken the Pentium anniversary to prompt it to remind people what it used to be like.
Because this is what overclocking used to be about. It wasn’t really about getting a $1,000 processor to perform a tiny bit quicker in some synthetic benchmark with a liberal application of liquid nitrogen. It was about taking a CPU you could actually afford and tweaking the BIOS to get extra performance out of it, which would then translate into tangible gains in-game.
We want to say then the G3258 represents a great return to form for Intel, but because we’ve known this potential has been hanging around its lower-end processors for years, it’s almost like it’s a chip on day-release from marketing prison for a special occasion. For the moment though we can forget all the marketing and technology politics because the Pentium anniversary party is in full swing and the G3258 is the guest of honour.
Out of the box, the 3.2GHz clock speed is pretty weak, especially seeing as there’s no HyperThreading enabled on this chip or Turbo mode to smooth things out. The single-threaded performance then is understandably poor and, with only a pair of cores to play with, moving on to multi-threaded benchmarks the numbers don’t really make for any happier reading. In gaming terms that weak clock speed means in most of our gaming tests the G3258 offers some 15-20 per cent lower average frame rates than the non-K-Series i5 4570, and in the more multi-core optimised Battlefield 4, the Pentium Anniversary chip posts frame rates that are over 40 per cent slower.
The G3258 is around a third of the price of that quad-core Core i5 though, so you’d expect it to be a good bit weaker in terms of gaming performance. Still, with those numbers you’re into a situation where the cheaper chip is looking like a false economy given how much GPU performance you’re sacrificing opting for the lower-end CPU. And in previous locked-down generations that would be that. Job done, story over. The budget chip would be too budget to really consider it a viable silicon alternative to a decent quad-core i5.
But that’s not the whole story – this is Pentium anniversary party-time, and when you take advantage of the latent performance inside that unassuming CPU, die the picture changes dramatically. Admittedly we did have a water-cooler strapped to the G3258 to see how far we could push it given ideal conditions, but it wasn’t the temperature limits that stopped us pushing the clocks further.
Like pretty much every top-end Haswell CPU we’ve tried recently, the G3258 peaked at an impressive –and impressively cool – 4.6GHz. That’s a huge amount of extra CPU power that’s available with some very minor multiplier tweaking, and puts the single-threaded performance ahead of a stock-clocked i7-4770K. Because we’re talking about two cores and two processing threads though, the multi-core performance still isn’t stellar; you’re looking at around half the performance of a quadcore 4670K with a similar overclock. If it was just about synthetic CPU benchmarks then the Pentium Anniversary still wouldn’t be able to convince us of its merits, but this is a budget gaming CPU and then some.
With the rock-solid 4.6GHz clock speed, the G3258 is suddenly able to post gaming performance pretty much on par with what the far more expensive Core i5 processors are capable of, and not far off what the supreme K-Series i7s can offer. In the vast majority of games you simply wont notice any difference in performance between a GPU being fed by the Pentium Anniversary and any of the higher-end Core processors.
DIC E’s Frostbite 3 engine is here to raise a cautionary finger, though. It’s indicative of a (finally) growing trend in game engines to actually take advantage of all the threads available in a gaming PC’s processor. That means that, even with such a hefty overclock, the G3258 is still a long way behind the four and eight threads of the Core i5 and i7 CPUs in our Battlefield 4 benchmarks. In the future, the dual-core Pentium Anniversary will be found wanting in titles optimized for multi-threading, and with the low-level APIs like Mantle and DirectX 12 promising even better multi-core support, that might happen sooner rather than later.
But right now, and with the hefty back catalogue of games that the PC can call its own, the G3258 is a fantastic budget gaming CPU. It’s able to hold its own in the vast majority of titles, and deliver gaming performance that’s barely distinguishable from that of far more expensive CPUs. AMD has had the budget end of the gaming market pretty well sewn up, but the Pentium Anniversary chip is going to form the basis of some outstanding bargain gaming PCs.