ProsGood balance of CPU and graphics power; user-friendly AM4 platform is easy to use and open to upgrades
ConsIf Intel's Pentium processors were actually available for purchase, the Athlon wouldn't be as appealing
Back in late 2015, we took a look at "ultra-light" gaming CPUs, benching several Intel Pentium and Core i3 processors with integrated graphics in basic gaming tasks. While we didn't include any AMD models in that test due to AMD's struggles at that time, in early 2017 AMD came back with a vengeance. Its Ryzen family of processors based on the Zen architecture reset consumer expectations regarding modern CPUs, offering more cores and more threads for the money than Intel. This in turn forced Intel's hand, and less than two years later, Intel was selling quad-cores for the price of its previous dual-cores, and eight-cores for the price of its previous quad-cores.
Unfortunately, it took a while for AMD's "APUs" (CPUs with built-in graphics processors) to arrive, but when they did in 2018, AMD's platform became even more appealing. The original APU launch included the ~$100 Ryzen 3 2200G and the ~$180 Ryzen 5 2400G, but it wasn't until very late in 2018 that truly budget-oriented APUs arrived, branded with the venerable Athlon name.
And that's what we'll be looking at today. AMD supplied us with all three Athlon processsors for testing (the $56 3.2GHz 200GE, the $65 3.4GHz 220GE, and the $75 3.5GHz 240GE), along with a low-cost B350-based motherboard. Because of the very similar specs of each of the Athlon processors, we decided to leave the 220GE in the box and just test the highest- and lowest-spec'd Athlons. We'll be able to extrapolate the 220GE's performance (and value) using the data we collected on its cousins. For comparison purposes, we pressed our Intel Pentium G4620 3.7GHz CPU into service, which was Intel's $85 entry in the CPU market in 2017, and is a virtual clone of the $75 Pentium Gold G5500 released in 2018. Alas, the Pentium Gold lineup was stillborn as a result of Intel's overwhelming production issues, and today it is impossible to actually buy any Intel CPU for under $130. That means AMD has the budget market all to itself, but we still wanted to include a Pentium to see the matchup that could have been. In fact, we also pulled in some data from our 2015 article to provide a comparison to those "vintage" Pentium and Core i3 processors, which have more in common with the latest processors than you might imagine, as we'll discuss shortly.
- Motherboard: Gigabyte AB350-Gaming 3
- RAM: G.Skill 2x8GB Sniper X DDR4-3400 (@2666MHz)
- SSD: Samsung 960 Evo 500GB
- Operating System: Windows 10
Special thanks to AMD for providing not only the Athlon processors used in this review, but the Gigabyte AM4 motherboard and G.Skill RAM as well. For the benefit of those new to the AMD AM4 platform, we put together an installation tutorial for the Athlon 200GE, which you can view right here:
Our Intel platform used a compact mini-ITX motherboard (our preferred format for these low-cost CPUs), along with 8GB of DDR4-2400, the fastest RAM Intel's Pentiums support. It was also equipped with a Samsung PCIe-based solid-state drive to keep things equal in that regard. A couple of notes are in order about the Intel Pentium G4620 and where it fits into the broader Intel ecosystem. Released at the beginning of 2017 (no doubt as a preemptive attack on AMD's Ryzen line), it sports not just two cores but two virtual cores as well, and was in fact the first Pentium to offer Hyperthreading. It also uses Intel's 630 Graphics, which to date is the very best graphics Intel offers on its mainstream desktop-class CPUs, despite being identical to the 530 Graphics it released in 2015. Don't believe us? We have some benchmarks to prove that 530 and 630 are identical! In fact, the G4620 is for all intents and purposes a rebranded Core i3-6100, released in mid-2015 at $120, and again, we have the benchmarks to prove it! While Intel would probably be the last to admit it, all of this reshuffling of the CPU brackets had everything to do with AMD resurfacing as a credible force.
And given how long the documented history of Intel's low-cost CPU and built-in graphics is, AMD had a very well-established target to aim for when designing its Athlon processors. Put bluntly, and without spoiling too much of the benchmarking that is to follow, AMD carved its Athlon out of the existing Ryzen "G" models a bit too close to the bone. While Ryzen blew Intel out of the water, as we're about to find out, Athlon is just treading water, making it easy prey for when Intel eventually chooses to re-enter the sub-$100 CPU market.
All right, let's get into our testing...