Project: 20th Anniversary Pentium G3258 – Part 1: The Nostalgia & the Parts

It’s not often in technology that something lasts a good 20 years, but it seems, the Pentium name is one of them. To celebrate this, Intel released a special Intel Pentium 20th Anniversary Edition G3258 in mid-2014 based on the Haswell design (LGA 1155) with unlocked multiplier, at a relatively low price, as a bit of a “gift” to overclockers.

A Bit of Nostalgia

When I first started with computers, the only thing I knew was the Intel 80386SX-16 that was in the box at home. From that, I eventually grew to building computers from ex-business scraps, mainly 486-DX2’s.

At that time, the Pentium name was well and truly the name for performance. I would look at the benchmarks and it was phenomenal. They literally ate my 486’s for breakfast! The 486’s were relegated to the budget end. I still remember advertisements on TV which pushed the Intel name, with the “Intel sound” very vividly. As part of your duties as a computer buyer, you were supposed to check it had “Intel Inside”.

This was no doubt because Intel was feeling the pressure from competing CPU manufacturers, such as AMD, who had a rather good run with the 386 and 486 clones and legal victories when it came to the 386 and 486 designations not being able to be trademarked as they were mostly numbers. Not to mention, the competition also involved Cyrix, IDT, Winbond and TI – many more than we see today.

As a result, the Pentium name came about, with Pent signifying the fifth generation, and -ium making it sound like an “element”. The funny thing? The Pentium name lived on through the Pentium, Pentium MMX, Pentium Pro, Pentium II, Pentium III, Pentium 4, Pentium-M, Pentium D and Pentium Dual-Core. There were four “big” generations with the Pentium name as the performance choice.

The second machine I bought second hand had a Pentium 133Mhz (non MMX) CPU in it. In fact, I made this machine stretch – from 1998 to 2005, I was still (painfully, and stubbornly) choosing to use the machine as my primary machine until the motherboard packed up and I leaped forward several generations to an AMD Athlon XP 2500+. It happily ran Windows 98SE on 48Mb of 72-pin SIMMs, a PCI 56k softmodem, a PCI-USB 2.0 host controller, two hard drives (4.3Gb each) and a CD-RW drive. Part of it was being as efficient as you could with your limited resources – unfortunately while everyone was happily enjoying DivX3 encoded files, my CPU couldn’t. Even MPEG2 wasn’t in reach. In high school, people were rather astonished when I told them I had one hundred and thirty three megahertz. They thought I was mistaken!

Not everything about the Pentium’s history is good. For one, the Pentium name introduced the wider public to the fact that CPUs are not infallible with the FDIV bug. Maybe that inspired the whole “upgradeable microcode” feature of most modern CPUs, as we’ve come to accept that errata are the norm, even for the modern Haswell CPUs. Prior to this, the Intel 80386 did have some buggy units which can’t run 32-bit software.

The Pentium CPUs ran hot for the time as well, requiring a small heatsink and fan, where older CPUs were content with a heatsink. This repeated itself with the Netburst Pentium 4, which ran very toasty compared to their AMD counterparts.

But even with all of that, the Pentium often provided the yardstick by which all their competitors were measured by, and this wasn’t by accident. If anything, the next most long-lived name may be the Celeron … possibly followed by the Athlon (and its variants, XP/MP, 64, x2) [citation needed].

Here’s a montage of every (really?) Intel animation (1971-2013) made by Flake Songs (the audio could do with some normalization), but you can see just how much the Pentium branding was the mainstay for four generations of CPUs.

On that note, I kinda got distracted … looks like Girls’ Generation did a whole song to advertise Intel’s Core CPUs (for the kpop lovers) …

… which marked the beginning of the “retirement” of the Pentium name. No longer did Pentium mean flagship – instead, Pentium is now used to denote “one notch above Celeron (i.e. the bottom), and one notch below Core i3, which is below the i5 and i7 respectively”. In some ways, it’s a bit of an undignified retirement of the name.

So, I guess it’s Happy 20th Birthday Intel Pentium … but maybe this is the last hurrah for the name.

C’mon Intel – Are You Being Serious?

Intel announced the Pentium Anniversary Edition G3258 to be released in mid-2014 and it was received with mixed results. On the one hand, it seems that overclockers appreciated a low-cost unlocked part, on which we could take our gambles. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the CPU we had wished for – as a Pentium series CPU, it didn’t have some of the special instruction sets and improved graphic cores that the Core i3 and above had. It also only had two cores and no HyperThreading, and as a result, its performance would be relatively limited regardless of how high it was overclocked. In fact, it turns out the CPU is just the unlocked cousin of the existing Intel Pentium G3420.

Relatively old-hat overclockers will remember the days when locked CPUs were not the norm, and will remember the days when the Front Side Bus still existed and could be decoupled from other buses for very fine overclocking of any chip. You didn’t need to play by their rules in paying more for an unlocked chip, and buying a more versatile chipset board based on the Z-series chipsets.

As a result, some of the overclockers see no point in giving the G3258 any attention at all. Why would one spend significant amounts on an overclocking-motherboard, and maybe aftermarket cooling and high performance RAM when the CPU is likely to only give performance approaching a bottom end i3 CPU?

On the other hand, the CPU is AU$78, which can be considered inexpensive enough to play with. To try and address the motherboard cost issue for the Z97 series chipset, stripped down versions of motherboards have been offered – for example, the Asrock Z97M Anniversary edition for AU$112 and the Asrock Z97 Anniversary edition for AU$122, both claimed by Asrock to be the best motherboards for overclocking the Pentium Anniversary Edition (yeah right). I’m sure other manufacturers are coming out with theirs too, but they are less available at this time.

Again, I would have to give the cynnical overclockers some credit, as neither of these two boards are particularly good boards. In fact, it’s downright weird. As a “gateway drug” to overclocking higher range CPUs, the Z97M Anniversary lets us down by utilizing a 3+1 phase arrangement which is rather limited when it comes to providing the power we need. The Z97 Anniversary Edition board has a 4+2 phase arrangement which is better, but then that board has only one HDMI graphics out and omits the DVI and VGA that the Z97M Anniversary Edition has.

In all, I wouldn’t purchase either motherboard if you want to upgrade in the future. Those boards are best used with the G3258 for a “value” system with a bit of additional kick.

Others will yell loudly that the CPUs themselves should have been marked faster and this isn’t real overclocking. Bulldust! Overclocking only comes about because of the binning process by which CPU manufacturers use. This is mostly a marketing exercise, as chips have to be sorted based on their tested performance into model numbers. Sometimes you will have chips which meet the requirements, but only just, and other cases you will have considerable headroom which you can utilize (i.e. the overclocking).

When the bins match the yield very closely, then you will find CPUs with very little headroom at each model number. Overclockers then cry in disappointment because they’re getting no free rides. Conversely, when the bins match the yield very loosely, then overclockers get excited because this means free performance to be gained.

Everything is still a gamble – there’s no saying your particular chip will go faster than the 3.2Ghz they’ve posted on the sticker, although, I suppose you’re likely to be very very disappointed if it doesn’t. I don’t think Intel puts effort into making sure every chip overclocks equally well, or at all. So yes, it is overclocking.

Keeping it Cheap

I think it’s clear that if you’re going to make the G3258 an economical proposition, you’re pretty much going to have to forego spending on any exotic components at all and instead work hard at trying to juice everything from what you already have.

As a result, I picked up the following:

  • Intel Pentium Anniversary Edition G3258 AU$78
  • Asrock Z97M Anniversary Edition AU$112
  • 2x4Gb Samsung DDR3 1600Mhz OEM AU$86

This brings the total for the system “core” parts to AU$276. The choice to go with two RAM modules was mainly to make use of the dual channel RAM capabilities, and improve performance, but limiting the amount of RAM and number of sticks should help with overclocking (as you’re often limited by your weakest part).

I decided to forego a case (for now, as I’ve entered this competition on OCAU and I’m hoping to win), and re-use an old spare crappy power supply. I’ll bench the components on the motherboard box, in open air, and use an old 100Gb laptop 2.5″ SATA drive for booting. The interest is on overclocking as a hobby.

Most overclockers will agree that a quality CPU cooler is a prerequisite for decent overclocking. To that, I will instead yawn and remind you all that your “pricey” Noctua NH-D14’s are more expensive than the CPU itself, and it’s hardly a sensible spend. Instead, I will set myself the constraints of stock CPU cooling and the provided Intel paste (albeit, fan on maximum).

The Goodies – The CPU

The CPU comes in the classic Intel cardboard packaging, with blue colouration. The design, however, has been changed to reflect the anniversary nature.

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This particular chip’s details are as follows:

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The box also includes a cooling solution and a three year warranty, as noted on the rear. This particular chip comes from their Costa Rica plant.

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The sides list the details of the features supported, and the top has a window for you to admire the chip inside. The underside has the regular multilingual details.

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Inside, there is an installation booklet and McAfee offer.

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The rear of the booklet has the case badge.

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The CPU comes safely ensconced in a plastic bubble.

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The chip, outside of the carrier, looks like this:

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And nestled safely in the motherboard … almost ready to go!

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The included cooling solution is a regular Intel orb style cooler – a bit thinner than the LGA 755 ones I’ve dealt with in the past.

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The Goodies – The Motherboard

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The Asrock Z97M Anniversary motherboard is a mATX board with a decent feature set. The features include four DIMM slots, 1x PCI-e x16, 2x PCI-e x1, 6 SATA III ports, 2xUSB 3.0 on rear + 2x USB 3.0 on headers, 4xUSB 2.0 on rear + 4xUSB2.0 on headers, Realtek GbE, Onboard Audio, VGA+DVI+HDMI graphics output, PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse connectors. It also claims to have Elna capacitors in the audio path, but there’s a lot of marketing exaggeration as to the quality of the onboard sound solution …

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Unfortunately, at this price point, the power delivery circuitry of 3+1 phase design is a little limiting when it comes to overclocking, especially higher end CPUs. There is no Intel Gigabit LAN, or support for M.2 SSDs or SATA Express which is a feature of the Z97. It also seems through a peruse of the BIOS, that the voltage going into the FIVR is not adjustable either.

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The board itself also seems to have the Z97M Anniversary model number labelled onto the PCB. The PCB itself is very similar to their H97M Anniversary board, which isn’t much cheaper at AU$106. The power is taken from a single four-pin auxiliary connector, which tells me that the board’s VRMs aren’t very beefy at all.

Conclusion

The Pentium name has been around for a long time. While in the late part of its life, it represented value-end products in a rather big “fall from grace”, it was the yardstick and flagship for many many series of CPUs and remains a memorable name.

The Pentium Anniversary Edition is a commemorative release, which doesn’t suit all. As rightly pointed out by some overclockers, its value proposition is at most, suspect considering all the requirements to maximise overclocking, however, as a “free gamble” with good odds of reaching 4.5Ghz, it’s not a bad deal.

However, it’s not a foregone conclusion, as it may be possible to gain acceptable performance gains without investing too heavily through careful “no-frills” part selection.

Stay tuned for Part 2 here, where I push the G3258 to its absolute limits and find out just how high it can go.

About lui_gough

I'm a bit of a nut for electronics, computing, photography, radio, satellite and other technical hobbies. Click for more about me!
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2 Responses to Project: 20th Anniversary Pentium G3258 – Part 1: The Nostalgia & the Parts

  1. sparcie says:

    I heard a joke about the FDIV bug.

    Management at Intel sends a memo around asking people to divide and conquer, but the engineers misread it as divide and cock up.

    Not the funniest joke, but there it is none-the-less.
    Sparcie

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