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Intel Pentium G3258 CPU Review: Haswell, Unlocked, For $75

An Enthusiast-Oriented Pentium CPU?

Up until now, every debate we’ve moderated between enthusiasts looking for CPUs on a budget involved an overclockable AMD processor and one of Intel’s multiplier-locked (but more efficient) models. Typically, they’re Core i3s, though if it's important to duck in under $100, you're looking at a Pentium, tops.

Intel’s stiff upper lip benefits AMD greatly. Despite higher power consumption and lower performance in a number of workloads, continued support of the enthusiast community earns AMD plenty of cachet. Meanwhile, if you want to overclock an Intel processor, your cheapest option is the $230 Core i5-3570K.

For years now, I’ve told the powers that be inside Intel they need an unlocked CPU for the folks who grew up tuning Pentiums and Celeron 300As. Surely, such an offering would make our value comparisons much more interesting.

I was more than just a little excited, then, when I learned that Intel did, in fact, plan to introduce a low-cost, multiplier-unlocked processor for enthusiasts to tool around with. And I have to imagine AMD was mortified.

The Pentium G3258: An Enthusiast Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing

Claiming to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its Pentium brand (which was technically last year), Intel is rolling out a Pentium G3258 based on its Haswell architecture. Operating at a fixed 3.2 GHz, the G3258 falls right into the middle of Intel’s current desktop Pentium family that ranges from 3.0 to 3.4 GHz. None of the Pentiums support Turbo Boost technology, none of them offer Hyper-Threading support, and all of them, including the G3258, sport two physical execution cores.

Of course, each core is complemented by 256 KB of L2 cache. There’s also a 3 MB shared L3 cache between them. Intel integrates its HD Graphics block with 10 execution units, specifying the engine to run between 350 and 1100 MHz—same as the other Pentium models. And like the rest of the family, officially, Pentium G3258 has a 53 W TDP.

If you didn’t know any better, the 20th anniversary Pentium blends right in with its stable mates. But it boasts that unlocked multiplier, which means unencumbered overclocking using the only practical knob available for tuning Intel processors. We just saw the Core i7-4790K hit 4.7 GHz in single-threaded workloads (Core i7-4790K Review: Devil's Canyon Tantalizes Enthusiasts). In theory, that should create quite a bit of headroom for a 3.2 GHz CPU to scale up. Then again, it’s just as possible these dual-core dies aren’t flexible. There is no precedent for this; we’re literally looking at Intel’s first unlocked Haswell-based chip with two cores.

Quick Sync technology is also enabled, accelerating H.264, VC-1, and MPEG-2 decoding, along with H.264 encode in properly-optimized applications. This might seem like a relatively minor addition to the Pentium family. But take a look at this page of my Core i7-4770K review. If you watch a lot of multimedia content, capture video, or transcode from one format into another for your mobile devices, Intel’s application of fixed-function resources is quickly going to become a good friend.

Chris Angelini
Chris Angelini is an Editor Emeritus at Tom's Hardware US. He edits hardware reviews and covers high-profile CPU and GPU launches.