Haswell, Unlocked, For $75
The Pentium G3258, at 3.2 GHz, is a fairly slow CPU. Two cores, 3 MB of shared L3 cache, no Hyper-Threading—those specifications are indeed Pentium-class. But it’s the unlocked clock multiplier that makes Intel’s 20th anniversary Pentium something special.
And let’s face it: nobody’s going to buy the G3258 and leave it at 3.2 GHz. Enthusiasts are going to take it and crank it up beyond 4 GHz.
Before now, it was hard to go wrong with AMD’s Athlon X4 750K. Devotees of Don’s Best Gaming CPUs For The Money column know that’s where his recommendations begin. But you can almost scratch everything under the $200 mark by tuning this processor up to 4.5 GHz.
The Pentium isn’t perfect. Threaded workloads are going to punish its two cores. I find myself wishing this was a K-series Core i3 instead, if only for the addition of Hyper-Threading. But then it’d also probably sell for $50 more, at least. Down at $75, Intel is clearly gunning for that unlocked Athlon X4, which sells $5 higher. It’s only unfortunate that you’ll want to pair the Pentium with a Z97- or Z87-based motherboard for overclocking. Right there, you’re looking at a $20 or $30 premium over nice A88X-based platforms.
Update: A number of readers brought up overclocking with H-series chipsets. It appears that certain boards, equipped with older microcode, will allow tuning of unlocked CPUs (against Intel's wishes). This capability is being treated as experimental, but could help bring down the cost of a Pentium-equipped platform versus pricier Z97-based options.
Although the Pentium gets kicked around in a few of our benchmarks, it does beat the Athlon in every game we test—sometimes by a lot. As a value-oriented gaming processor, this thing is just awesome. I’d love to see what Paul Henningsen could do with it in our System Builder Marathon, where he'd pick a more suitable graphics complement than the Titan I used to alleviate graphics bottlenecks. Powering a quiet, lightly-tuned home theater PC, it’d be right as rain. And although I wouldn’t want to rely on the G3258’s on-die HD Graphics engine, the chip’s Quick Sync technology is a real boon if you’re watching or converting video content.
For as long as Intel insisted on making enthusiasts pay a premium for K-series Core i5 and i7s, AMD had the market cornered on budget-friendly overclocking. The Pentium G3258 is a watershed moment for the company, though. It’s giving power users access to a powerful and efficient architecture, along with the freedom to tweak it, all at an inclusionary price point. The Pentium G3258 typifies what our Tom’s Hardware Smart Buy award is all about.