Intel’s Pentium Gold G5600 (list-priced at $75 to $82, per Intel) is one of the company’s fastest Pentium desktop processors, as well as one of its snappiest dual-core products. Equipped with Hyper-Threading technology so it can handle four processing threads at once and a perky 3.9GHz clock speed, does the Pentium Gold have what it takes to compete in today’s highly competitive economy CPU market? We tested it against a variety of budget chips from both Intel and AMD, and discovered that while it’s a sight better than some other Pentiums and a significantly better option than a current-gen Celeron that just came through PC Labs, its real-world pricing could use some tweakage against processors such as AMD’s Ryzen 3 2200G and newer Ryzen 3 3200G.
Going for the Gold
Architecturally, the Pentium Gold G5600 is nothing new, and indeed, here in 2020 the processor is getting long in the tooth. Like all 8th Generation Intel “Coffee Lake” processors, it utilizes essentially the same architecture as the 6th Generation “Skylake” and 7th Generation “Kaby Lake” CPUs. That architecture has formed the backbone of the company’s mainstream desktop business since 2015. Unlike most of Intel’s 8th Generation lineup, the Pentium processors didn’t gain any extra cores with the move to Coffee Lake, though they are higher-clocked than their Kaby Lake counterparts and work in motherboards with Intel’s new 300-series chipsets. (Note that Intel has introduced, since the G5600, a 9th Generation “Coffee Lake Refresh” version, the G5600T, with a lower base clock of 3.2GHz. We opted to review the higher-clocked original.)
While the Pentium Gold G5600 has no Turbo Boost technology to surpass its base clock of 3.9GHz, that’s still plenty fast for a Pentium. (Another “Coffee Lake Refresh” 9th Generation chip, the Pentium Gold G5620, is clocked trivially higher, at 4.0GHz.) Its dual-core, Hyper-Threaded design makes it nearly identical on paper to Intel’s 2017 Core i3-7100 processor, though it has a larger 4MB pool of L3 cache.
The Pentium Gold G5600 also comes equipped with Intel’s widely used UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics silicon, which features 24 execution units (EUs) and is clocked at 1.1GHz. To keep the processor cool, Intel has bundled it with its typical stock cooler. This one has a solid aluminum heatsink and does the job with no fuss and no surprises.
Before looking at the benchmarks, I should note that during our tests the AMD processors have a slight, but justifiable, advantage over the Intel CPUs in our testing process. As many high-end Intel motherboards lack video ports, and a typical Pentium buyer isn’t going to use a Z370 or Z390 mainboard with such a budget chip, we had to look down-stream for a proper testbed to use for testing this CPU and another (Celeron) budget one on Intel’s LGA 1151 socket. We ultimately settled on Asrock’s DeskMini 310 bare-bones mini-PC to run our Intel LGA 1151 budget CPU tests. The motherboard in that system, though, supported RAM only up to 2,600MHz.
As a result, the Intel Pentium and Celeron CPUs were benchmarked with DDR4 memory clocked at 2,600MHz, while the AMD processors were tested using an AM4 B350 board with DDR4 DRAM clocked at 3,000MHz. (The B350-based motherboard was the Gigabyte AB350-Gaming 3.) That should give AMD a slight advantage in some tests, notably the graphics and 7-Zip benchmarks. Both systems’ memory was configured in dual-channel mode using two 8GB RAM sticks for a total of 16GB. That said, this is a justifiable configuration choice given how these CPUs will likely be installed and configured in real life.
Here’s a breakout of several of the CPUs we’re comparing against the Pentium Gold in our performance charts, for a sense of their vital stats.
In the actual performance graphs, we also included a couple of older-gen Core i3 and i5 CPUs for perspective, as well as a current-gen Ryzen 5, but these chips are a tier above the Athlon, Pentium, and Celeron offerings here. The Ryzen 3 chips, on the other hand, in the spec matrix above, are often found right in the same price zone as this Pentium Gold chip, just under $100.
Cinebench R15 and Handbrake 0.9.9
Kicking things off with Cinebench R15, we see the Pentium Gold G5600 performing well against the similarly equipped AMD Athlon 200GE and Intel Core i3-7350K. It’s not quite able to match the latter due to the Core i3-7350K’s higher 4.2GHz clock speed, but it comes close.
The Pentium Gold fared less well in our Handbrake 0.9.9 video editing exercise. The Athlon 200GE’s time to complete the task was a few seconds faster, though this situation would likely be reversed if the systems were tested with RAM operating at the same frequency. Still, call it a wash, but recognize that the Athlon 200GE is much cheaper at under $60.
Blender 2.7 and iTunes Encoding Test
Testing with Blender sent the Pentium Gold G5600 into a space of its own. Although it proved significantly quicker than the slower Intel Celeron G4920 and AMD Athlon 200GE, it was also considerably slower than all other tested processors.
Our old, single-threaded iTunes 10.6 encoding test represents legacy software that hasn’t been updated to run on multiple cores and threads. It tends to run better on Intel CPUs with high clock speeds, and this is quite evident with our test results. Even AMD’s quad-core, multithreading Ryzen 5 3400G couldn’t keep up with the Pentium Gold. The dual-core Intel Core i3-7350K also managed to pull ahead of the six-core Core i5-8400, clearly showing that more cores aren’t always better than faster cores in edge cases like this.
If you rely mainly on legacy single-threaded applications that are sensitive to clock speed, this is an interesting result, but most folks don’t fall into that profile.
POV-Ray 3.7 and 7-Zip
The POV-Ray 3.7 ray-tracing benchmark differs substantially from iTunes as it’s made to take advantage of the higher core and thread count of today’s modern processors. As a result, AMD’s quad-core Ryzen G chips blew past the Pentium Gold G5600, though the latter managed essentially a tie with the Core i3.
The Pentium Gold G5600 also performed admirably in the 7-Zip file compression benchmark. It handily outpaced the AMD Athlon 200GE and Intel Core i3-7350K. Despite being equipped with slightly slower RAM, the Pentium also managed to tie with AMD’s Ryzen 3 2200G.
As I mentioned above, the results of our graphics tests need to be taken with a grain of salt due to the Intel CPUs being paired with ever-so-slightly slower-clocked RAM, though in the real world, this is likely just how they will be configured in a budget environment. We tested the integrated graphics silicon on each chip with the games below at the settings indicated.
With their superior Vega 8 integrated graphics, AMD’s Ryzen 3 3200G and Ryzen 5 3400G easily lead the pack. As these results show, Intel’s UHD Graphics 630 is certainly not what you want for playing modern games, but it’s not a terrible solution for older casual games. It was able to maintain marginally playable frame rates in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive with medium graphics settings at 1080p resolution. Rainbow Six: Siege was also borderline playable, though at 720p resolution and medium settings. But the AMD solutions really step it by comparison.
Although we didn’t test them here, older games such as BioShock Infinite and other titles with a few years under their belts should be playable at 720p if you keep the settings low.
The Pentium Gold in Daily Use
All these numbers are great fodder for tech enthusiasts like myself. But rather than dwell on them here, I’d like to relate my everyday experience using the Pentium Gold G5600. I switched from my primary desktop (a quad-core, Hyper-Threaded Core i7-3770K overclocked to 4.4GHz and teamed with 16GB of DDR3 memory) to the G5600 for routine work for a few days, and while the latter was noticeably slower than my main rig, it wasn’t an altogether unpleasant experience.
My first day using the Pentium Gold started off on a down note, as the mouse suffered notable lag. This appears to have been caused by Windows performing background updates, however, as the issue later cleared up. There were still occasional moments of input lag during fast typing or cursor movement, but this typically happened when I was taxing the processor by starting a game or rapidly opening multiple tabs in Chrome. On the whole, the G5600 felt a “step behind” and slowed me down a little while performing my daily writing work and photo editing, but not by an unbearable margin.
I also booted up a few older games not benchmarked above and saw mixed results. Attempts to play State of Decay ended in failure; the game was able to maintain 30fps at 1,280 by 720 with maxed graphics settings, but the game wasn’t able to reach 60fps even with the graphics turned down to their lowest levels. The poor performance caused the game to feel jittery with an unstable refresh rate, and I ultimately quit trying to play it.
Playing Bethesda’s Fallout: New Vegas, a 10-year-old personal favorite of mine, went much more smoothly. With AA turned off, the game ran at 1080p with high graphics settings and maintained a persistent 60fps while I quietly murdered the town of Novac. The frame rate dropped for a brief moment once or twice, but this didn’t seriously hamper the experience.
Supply and Demand: It Comes Down to Pricing
While Intel says the Pentium Gold G5600’s list price is between $75 and $82, it was selling for a somewhat pricey $101.57 on Amazon at this writing; some other e-tail outlets had it for just under $95. If you need your computer for heavy multitasking or want to pair your processor with a high-end GPU, you’ll want to consider something with a bit more horsepower. But the G5600 will likely perform well enough for someone who just wants to check email and Facebook or do a little photo editing on the side.
Taking the competition into consideration, however, it’s fairly obvious that you shouldn’t buy the Pentium Gold G5600 at its current price except under very limited circumstances. AMD’s Ryzen 3 3200G was $94.99 on Amazon at the same time (and as low as $90 from some other e-tailers), and it outruns the Pentium Gold in all our tests, especially the gaming ones. If you’ll rely on the integrated graphics (and that is a big part of the appeal of AMD’s low-end Vega-based Ryzens), it’s no contest.
There isn’t anything inherently wrong with the Pentium Gold G5600, but unless you already own a compatible motherboard (and if you do, you probably already have a better CPU on it), consider the budget-priced Ryzen alternatives unless the price dynamic changes. The Gold simply needs to sell closer to its list price to be a decent value relative to its AMD competition, and even if it does, spending the extra $20 would gain you a fair bit more oomph, especially on the graphics side, with the Ryzen 3 crowd.
The Bottom Line
Intel’s dual-core, four-thread Pentium Gold G5600 offers solid performance, but it doesn’t quite stack up in real-world pricing or pep-for-money against AMD’s similarly priced processors.