TechSpot Review : Athlon X4 860K vs. Pentium G3258

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Aug 30, 2012
We received a lot of great feedback after recently updating our PC buying guide and then building and benchmarking the systems. Our most affordable build, the Budget Box, caught the attention of many readers, costing just ~$500 including a monitor, speakers, keyboard and mouse.

This system only has $350 worth of core components but that buys a quad-core CPU with decent integrated graphics, 8GB of high-speed DDR3 memory, a 120GB SSD, an optical drive and a solid case/power supply combo to bring everything together.

The Budget Box is ideal for everyday computing though it will handle some lightweight gaming. For anything beyond that you'll want to invest in a dedicated GPU such as the $100 Radeon R7 260X, which offered the Budget Box 355% more performance in BioShock Infinite in our tests and allowed the game to run at 50fps on ultra quality.

Although the Budget Box is intended for general usage, if you're building a gaming system, it makes sense to drop the AMD A8-7650K ($105) for the Athlon X4 860K ($75), with the latter being not only cheaper but faster out of the box.

The Athlon X4 860K is essentially the A10-7850K without an integrated R7 (8 CUs), allowing it to be a little over 40% cheaper, not to mention almost 30% cheaper than the A8-7650K, and every cent counts toward an entry-level graphics card.

While the $75 Athlon X4 860K with a dedicated GPU is a smarter choice than the A10-7850K if you're looking to game, knowing which processor to buy isn't that simple.

The only reason we picked AMD over Intel for our Budget Box is because AMD's APUs offer a much better balance of CPU and GPU performance -- it's a single chip solution that can actually handle some casual gaming. However, if you don't plan to run anything 3D-related then Intel is the way to go, as is often the case when installing a discrete GPU.

After all, for the same price as the Athlon X4 860K you could own a Pentium G3258, the Anniversary Edition chip that overclocks well beyond 4GHz on air. So then, folks looking to game on a ~$500 machine have a choice to make between AMD's FM2+ platform with the quad-core 3.7GHz Athlon X4 860K or Intel's LGA 1150 platform with the dual-core 3.2GHz Pentium G3258.

We dismissed the G3258 to a certain degree when we tested it about a year ago because it's only a dual-core processor and for a bit more money (granted, 60% more), the Core i3-4160 is a safer option thanks to HyperThreading support. Nonetheless, if you're aiming for the least expensive gaming rig possible, then the G3258 is a more feasible choice than the i3.

Both the Athlon X4 860K and Pentium G3258 are identical price-wise with supporting motherboards starting at around $40 and going up to $70 if you want the latest chipset (A88X vs. H97), and you'll be buying DDR3 memory regardless so there's no cost difference there either.

Your decision will inevitably boil down to which platform offers the best performance where you need it most. To help determine that, we've benchmarked the Athlon and Pentium with theGeForce GTX 960 and Radeon R9 285 in 20 of the most popular AAA titles.

The CPUs will be tested with their stock settings and tested separately with each GPU, which will drive games at 1080p, the most popular gaming resolution. For the hell of it, we've also included maximum air-cooled overclocking results for both processors.

Test System Specs
The AMD Athlon X4 860K and Intel Pentium G3258 were both benchmarked at their default operating frequencies as well as an overclocked 4.4GHz configuration. Based on our overclocked experiences with these processors using air-cooling the Pentium G3258 can easily hit 4.4GHz while that's a stretch for the Athlon X4 860K. We used the Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo for cooling, which is a highly popular $35 budget air cooler.

AMD Kaveri System Specs

  • AMD Athlon X4 860K (3.7GHz - 4.0GHz)
  • Asrock FM2A88M Extreme4+ (AMD A88X)
  • 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-2400 RAM
  • Crucial MX200 1TB
  • SilverStone Essential Series 500w
  • Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Intel Haswell System Specs

  • Intel Pentium G3258 (3.2GHz)
  • Asrock Z97 Anniversary (Intel Z97)
  • 8GB (2x4GB) DDR3-2400 RAM
  • Crucial MX200 1TB
  • SilverStone Essential Series 500w
  • Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit
Benchmarks: Crysis 3, BioShock, Metro Redux, Tomb Raider

The Radeon R9 285 can only render a maximum of 40fps in Crysis 3 at 1080p using the quality settings we tested with. As you can see the Pentium G3258 was able to achieve this target without any overclocking while the Athlon X4 860K could only render 34.3fps out of the box and overclocking pushed it to 39.2fps.

Overclocked, the Pentium G3258 is 3% faster than the Athlon X4 860K but given that equates to just 1fps, it's fair to say that in their overclocked state both CPUs deliver similar performance in Crysis 3 with the R9 285.


Interestingly, when testing with the GTX 960 the G3258 required overclocking to achieve 40fps, while the overclocked X4 860K was only able to match the standard G3258. The G3258 was 7% faster when comparing the overclocked configurations.


When testing with BioShock Infinite with the R9 285, the Pentium was 11% faster than the Athlon when comparing the overclocked results.


Using the GTX 960 reduces the margin slightly as Intel's chip is now 9% faster than AMD's. It's worth pointing out that with over 60fps, both easily delivered playable performance in BioShock.


Metro Redux is the first game that shows a significant performance gain favoring Intel's dual-core processor. With both the Pentium G3258 and Athlon X4 860K clocked at 4.4GHz, the G3258 was 16% faster.

Although this meant that the G3258 was just 4.5fps faster than the X4 860K, that counted significantly toward delivering playable performance as the overclocked Pentium was the only solution to exceed 30fps.


The Pentium's huge 16% performance advantage in Metro Redux when testing with the R9 285 disappeared when we swapped it for the GTX 960. Here the G3258 is just 4% faster than the X4 860K once both are overclocked to 4.4GHz.


The G3258 is almost able to get the most out of the R9 285 at its default 3.2GHz operating frequency, as it gained just 2fps extra through overclocking. The Athlon X4 860K only managed 61.4fps out of the box, while overclocking it to 4.4GHz boosted the frame rate to 66.2fps. The G3258 was 2% faster when comparing the overclocked results, though with just 1.5fps separating the two it's close enough to call it a tie.


Again the Pentium was 2% faster than the Athlon, this time when testing Tomb Raider using the GTX 960. That said, just 1fps separated the two CPUs, so again this is close enough to call a tie.

Benchmarks: Arma 3, Sleeping Dogs, Battlefield 4, Battlefield Hardline

For whatever reason the Athlon X4 860K really struggles in Arma 3 and despite a 4.4GHz overclock the chip managed just 18.3fps. In comparison, the Pentium G3258 delivered 24fps out of the box and 27fps once overclocked, making it 48% faster in overclocked trim.


The deficit isn't quite as bad when using the GTX 960, though the overclocked Pentium was still 22% faster than the overclocked Athlon. For those wondering, the latter saw an average of 80% utilization in the Arma 3 Altis benchmark and 95% at the default operating frequency. The Stratis benchmark, which we didn't include, only saw half the X4 860K being utilized.


The Sleeping Dogs performance when using the Radeon R9 285 was virtually identical when using the G3258 and X4 860K. Both delivered 46fps once overclocked, though the G3258 managed this even at its standard 3.2GHz clock speed.


We found similar results when using the GTX 960, though this time the G3258 was 2% faster than the X4 860K once overclocked, which is only a single frame.


The Pentium extracted the maximum performance from the R9 285 at just 3.2GHz, allowing for 56fps, 3% faster than the overclocked Athlon's 54.5fps at 4.4GHz.


When using the GTX 960, the Pentium G3258 was again able to max out the GPU at its default operating frequency of just 3.2GHz. This meant that the G3258 prior to any overclocking was 5% faster than the Athlon X4 860K, which was clocked at 4.4GHz.


For the first time in this article, the Athlon X4 860K has come out on top, beating the Pentium G3258 in Battlefield Hardline when armed with the R9 285. The G3258 was 5% slower than the X4 860K when comparing the overclocking results, though both CPUs did allow the R9 285 to exceed 60fps.


Interestingly, with the GTX 960 installed, the G3258 is 2fps or 2% faster the Athlon X4 860K when comparing the overclocked 4.4GHz results.

Benchmarks: Thief, Watch_Dogs, Dying Light, Hitman: Absolution

Thief has never been kind to AMD processors (without Mantle enabled) so it isn't that surprising for the Pentium G3258 to beat the Athlon X4 860K by an 18% margin when both are overclocked to 4.4GHz.


With the GTX 960, installed the performance margin favoring the Pentium is extended, as it now leads the Athlon by a 25% margin.


The overclocked G3258 averaged 55.1fps in Watch_Dogs using the R9 285, making it just 2% or 1.3fps faster than the X4 860K.


When testing Watch_Dogs with the GTX 960, the Pentium was 4% faster than the Athlon once both were overclocked to 4.4GHz.


Back when we benchmarked Dying Light in January we found that the Pentium G3258 was considerably slower than the AMD FX and Intel Core i5 processors, though it's worth noting that we were testing with the GTX 980. Unfortunately we didn't test any Athlon X4 chips or APUs at the time, but the FX-4100 wasn't much faster than the G3220.

As you can see, the Pentium G3258 is much faster than the Athlon X4 860K, so much so that the standard 3.2GHz clock speed was enough to crush the overclocked X4 860K. In the end, the overclocked G3258 was 30% faster than the overclocked X4 860K when using the R9 285.


Moving to the GTX 960 helped the X4 860K, though the G3258 was still 18% faster when comparing the 4.4GHz overclock configurations.


The G3258 maintained a solid lead over the X4 860K when testing Hitman Absolution using the Radeon R9 285. The overclocked G3258 was 5% faster than the X4 860K as it enjoyed a 2fps advantage.


Using the GTX 960 allowed the Athlon to beat/match the Pentium by a single frame once both CPUs were overclocked.

Benchmarks: DA: Inquisition, Civilization: Beyond Earth, Total War, AC Unity

Out of the box, the Pentium G3258 is able to extract the maximum amount of performance from the R9 285, hitting 31.4fps at 3.2GHz. This meant without any overclocking the Pentium G3258 was still 3% faster than the Athlon X4 860K at 4.4GHz.


Using the GTX 960 changes things quite a bit and here we see that both processors are able to deliver between 31 and 32fps regardless of clock speed.


Civilization: Beyond Earth is CPU intensive and as a result all four cores of the Athlon X4 860K were used heavily, resulting in a total CPU utilization of 90%. Despite the X4 860K working hard, it was still slower at 4.4GHz than the G3258 at just 3.2GHz. Once overclocked, the G3258 was 19% faster than the overclocked X4 860K.


Again, the GTX 960 works much better with the X4 860K and this time the G3258 was just 6% faster.


Total War Attila, like Civilization: Beyond Earth, is another CPU intensive game and the Athlon X4 860K remained above 70% utilization in our benchmark. Yet again, despite heavy four core utilization the X4 860K was still much slower than the Pentium G3258 when paired with the R9 285. This time the G3258 enjoyed a 15% performance advantage.


Whereas the Athlon X4 860K did well in Civilization: Beyond Earth once paired with the GTX 960, this isn’t true when testing with Total War Attila. In fact, the opposite happens, and here the Pentium G3258 is now 24% faster than the X4 860K when comparing the 4.4GHz overclocked configurations.


All four of the Athlon's cores were tapped with a total utilization of 60% in our Assassin's Creed Unity test, yet for some reason the chip's performance was extremely poor, allowing the Pentium to deliver a little over 50% more performance.


Things just got worse with the GTX 960 for AMD, as the Pentium G3258 was now 108% faster. We're not sure what's hurting the Athlon X4 860K in Assassin's Creed Unity.

Benchmarks: GTA V, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Grid Autosport, Company of Heroes 2

The Pentium G3258 crushes the Athlon X4 860K in Grand Theft Auto V when using the R9 285, offering an average of 46.6fps, 25% faster than the X4 860K's 37.2fps.


The Athlon looked much better when paired with the GTX 960, but still the Pentium G3258 was clearly faster with a 7% performance advantage.



The G3258 was around 5% faster than the X4 860K when testing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt with both the R9 285 and GTX 960.


The Pentium G3258 was considerably faster in Grid Autosport when paired with the R9 285, so much so that the stock 3.2GHz Pentium outperformed the overclocked 4.4GHz Athlon. With both CPUs at 4.4GHz the G3258 was 21% faster than the X4 860K.


Using the GTX 960 was beneficial to the X4 860K, as the G3258 was now just 5% faster.



Regardless of the GPU used, the G3258 was 18% faster than the X4 860K when comparing both overclocked at 4.4GHz.

Conclusion: Core Efficiency Beats Core Count
Having watched the Pentium G3258 and Athlon X4 860K trade blows in no less than 20 games using two mid-range GPUs, the G3258 is undeniably faster and it's the processor you want if you're building our Budget Box with the intentions of gaming.

This might surprise a few of you given that the Athlon X4 860K is a quad-core chip clocked up to 4.0GHz, while the Pentium G3258 is a lowly dual-core that runs at 3.2GHz out of the box.

The problem for AMD, which we have seen time and time again, is core efficiency. Having more cores available isn't much use if they are slower. Moreover, just because a game can use four cores (and all the games we tested could) doesn't mean a dual-core will be inferior if two cores are working harder than four.

Most of the games saw the Athlon X4 860K working all four cores at 70% capacity or greater, with a few such as Civilization: Beyond Earth, Thief, Battlefield Hardline and Battlefield 4 reaching 90%. Despite that, in all of those games the Pentium G3258 was as fast or faster than the Athlon X4 860K.

Focusing on the overclocked 4.4GHz results we found that on average the Pentium G3258 was 15% faster than the Athlon X4 860K when paired with the Radeon R9 285 and 14% faster with theGeForce GTX 960.

If we remove Assassin's Creed Unity results, which saw the Athlon X4 860K deliver abnormally low results, the G3258 was still 13% faster with the R9 285 and 9% faster with the GTX 960.

Looking at the GTX 960 data, as this seems to be best case for the Athlon X4 860K (with the Assassin's Creed Unity results removed), we find on average 4fps favoring the Pentium G3258. That's not a huge amount, but every last frame counts in games such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Total War Attila, Dying Light, Arma 3, Metro Redux and Crysis 3 for example where the average frame rate was 40fps or lower.

For a lot of the games, such as Tomb Raider, Sleeping Dogs, Battlefield Hardline, Watch_Dogs, Hitman: Absolution and Dragon Age: Inquisition, performance was so close it really didn't matter, so you could happily go either way. Sadly though, the Athlon just doesn't deliver the same consistency as the Pentium G3258, being much slower at times.

At this point you may have noticed we decided to skip the power consumption testing. We didn't see the need to dredge up those results for this type of article, we all know Intel is much more efficient here based on results from previous articles.
Finally, aside from performance, the Pentium G3258 and its LGA1150 platform offers some other advantages over the FM2+ Athlon X4 860K. Upgradability is a key feature here, as gamers have the option to drop in a Core i3, i5 or even i7 processor down the track.

Touching on that a little more, the Core i3 isn't really an ideal upgrade. Although it does support four threads thanks to Hyper-Threading, the highest clocked model runs at just 3.8GHz with no Turbo boost, so it won't be much of an upgrade from an overclocked G3258, if at all.

The Core i7 makes little sense for gaming if you care about value so this leaves the Core i5 range and for LGA1150 users there are plenty of options, from the $185 Core i5-4430 to the $240 fully unlocked Core i5-4690K.
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