Building a capable PC for less than $500 is challenging, especially as memory prices soar. Fortunately, a competitive CPU market means it's possible to get lots of processing power without breaking the bank.
Fast, affordable Ryzen models from AMD forced Intel to improve its dual-core Pentium chips with Hyper-Threading Technology and larger L3 caches. As a result, today's Pentiums look a lot like yesterday's Core i3s. That makes them a big win for budget-oriented builders, particularly when they're paired up with Intel's H370, H310, and B360 chipsets.
Intel's victory isn't assured, though. AMD has a fearsome competitor in its overclockable Raven Ridge-based Ryzen 3 2200G, which sells for $100 and sports four execution cores plus the impressive Radeon Vega integrated graphics engine. It's quick enough for low-resolution gaming, potentially saving lots of money on a discrete GPU.
The UHD Graphics 630 solution built-into Intel's Pentium Gold G5600 can't even come close to AMD's Radeon Vega, and the G5400's UHD Graphics 610 is even slower. So, we matched the host processors up to an add-in graphics card for a more direct comparison in our benchmark suite. In the end, we found that Ryzen 3 2200G tells a better value story than the Pentium Gold G5600, while the Pentium Gold G5400 is simply unmatched at its $64 price point.
Pentium Gold G5600 and G5400
Last year, Intel announced it was rebranding the Pentium family. Pentium Gold comprised the higher-performance socketed models based on the Kaby Lake architecture (and now Coffee Lake), while Pentium Silver CPUs were power-optimized and BGA-attached, leveraging Intel's Goldmont Plus design.
|Pentium Gold G5600||Pentium Gold G5400|
|Socket||LGA 1151||LGA 1151|
|Architecture||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake|
|Cores / Threads||2 / 4||2 / 4|
|Frequency Base / Boost||3.9 / -||3.7 / -|
|Integrated Graphics||UHD Graphics 630||UHD Graphics 610|
Intel also added Hyper-Threading Technology to its Kaby Lake-based Pentiums in an effort to stave off the then-impending Ryzen onslaught. That practice continues with today's Coffee Lake-based models, allowing the dual-core Pentium Gold G5600 and G5400 CPUs to operate on four threads concurrently.
Of course, Coffee Lake is manufactured using an optimized 14nm++ process. That, plus a 3W-higher thermal design power, is responsible for the 200 MHz speed-up available across the Pentium Gold family. Intel also bumped L3 cache capacity up to 4MB, a 33% increase compared to Kaby Lake-based Pentiums. The dual-channel DDR4 memory controller is still limited to 2400 MT/s, so peak bandwidth does not change. And whereas AMD's Ryzen 3 2200G only gives you eight lanes of PCIe 3.0 for discrete graphics upgrades, both Pentium chips offer a full 16-lane link.
Pentium Gold CPUs don't get all of Intel's special sauce, though. Similar to the Core i3 models, Pentiums lack Turbo Boost functionality altogether. Under load, you get one static frequency, regardless of how many cores are active. Intel also locks its ratio multipliers, preventing overclockers from coaxing extra performance from the chips. Pentium processors don't support the AVX/AVX2 instructions that accelerate certain productivity workloads, either. As a result, AMD's AVX-enabled Ryzen 3 2200G enjoys a performance advantage in several optimized applications, as you'll see in our benchmarks. Finally, Optane memory isn't an option in Pentium-based PCs.
|Pentium Gold G5600||Pentium Gold G5400||Pentium G4620||Pentium G4560||Ryzen 3 1300X||Ryzen 3 2200G||Core i3-8100|
|Architecture||Coffee Lake||Coffee Lake||Kaby Lake||Kaby Lake||Zen||Zen||Coffee Lake|
|Cores / Threads||2 / 4||2 / 4||2 / 4||2 / 4||4 /4||4 / 4||4 / 4|
|Frequency Base / Boost||3.9 / -||3.7 / -||3.7 / -||3.5 / -||3.5 / 3.7||3.5 / 3.7||3.6 / -|
|Integrated Graphics||UHD Graphics 630||UHD Graphics 610||HD Graphics 630||HD Graphics 610||No||Radeon Vega 8||UHD Graphics 630|
Intel's Pentium Gold G5600 includes on-die UHD Graphics 630, while the G5400 utilizes UHD Graphics 610. The former is composed of 24 execution units in what is referred to as a GT2 configuration, while the latter consists of 12 EUs in a GT1 setup. A 350 MHz base graphics frequency boosts up to 1.1 GHz on the Pentium Gold G5600 and 1.05 GHz on the G5400.
UHD Graphics 630/610 supports a wide range of codecs and provides hardware acceleration for most media consumption tasks. It's also equipped with plenty of connectivity options, including native support for DisplayPort 1.2a and HDMI 1.4. But the UHD Graphics engine isn't really suitable for gaming, even at low resolutions and relaxed quality settings. Plan on adding a discrete graphics card if you plan to build a gaming PC around Intel's Pentium Gold.
Fortunately, you should have some room left in your budget for an upgrade. The G5400 model sells for a mere $64, placing it well under AMD's low-end Ryzen options. We don't expect it to face any real competition at that price point. Meanwhile, the Pentium Gold G5600 should be available at $86. But as we saw with Intel's previous-gen G4620, street pricing is much higher. You'll currently find it around $95, placing it close to AMD's Ryzen 3 2200G. Consequently, the Pentium grapples with an overclockable competitor armed with four physical cores and impressive Radeon Vega integrated graphics.
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