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
Now officially, AMD does not support overclocking of its Athlon processors, unlike its Ryzen processors, which are all overclocking-friendly, and even engage auto-boost routines to maximize performance. When we pressed AMD's representative on this point, we received the following clear statement:
AMD has not unlocked and does not officially support overclocking the Athlon processors.
But is it really that clear? It's a poorly-kept secret that all of AMD's board partners allow overclocking of AMD's Athlon processors, as this motherboard feature was originally designed around Ryzen and apparently has no trouble working with Athlons. We have a feeling this is more a marketing bullet point than a technical limitation. Out of respect for AMD's position, however, we're not going to refer to what follows as overclocking benchmarks, but rather "clock-for-clock" benchmarks conducted in the interest of science. ;)
The CPU-intensive "Physics" score is the only one that matters here, as it's the only one that actually changes with CPU speed. And at 3.7GHz, the 240GE comes within 5% of the Pentium G4620, which also runs at 3.7GHz. Interestingly, the 240GE doesn't scale particularly well here, as a near-6% clock boost only nets a 3% performance boost, i.e., we're seeing diminishing returns. We suspect there may be something else in the platform holding the score back.
The good news for AMD is that in Cinebench, the 240GE catches up with the Pentium G4620 when clocked at the same speed. Tying Intel in terms of instructions per clock cycle is no mean feat, and AMD should be proud to be able to offer a processor that can do this. But alas, it's not actually offering a processor that catches Intel: the $75 240GE is still slower than the $85 G4620 and its newer, nearly-identical cousin, the $75 G5500. If the Athlon truly distanced itself from the Pentium in terms of graphics horsepower, this would be excusable, but in the end we're left feeling that AMD just isn't offering enough to win absent Intel's absence from the market!
This is another benchmark that gives us pause. Granted, our G4620 was using an energy-efficient ITX platform, while AMD supplied us with a power-hungry ATX motherboard for testing (we did request an ITX board to make this more apples-to-apples, by the way). While the Athlon isn't exactly an energy hog, and certainly won't "blow any fuses," so to speak, we're a bit concerned that it is in fact blowing past its 35W TDP. Yes, we realize that there's also RAM, a chipset, etc., etc. pulling down power, but the same is true of the Pentium, and yet it's coming in massively below its 51W rating. We believe that AMD still has work to do in sorting out the power use of its chipsets, as we've witnessed similar results in the performance CPU segment, where the Ryzen 7 2700X, for example, is competitive with Intel's finest at load, but uses far more power at idle.
In the current marketplace, AMD earns a win by default with its Athlon lineup, delivering Pentium-class performance for Pentium-class prices, in an age where Intel no longer ships any Pentium products. And while it doesn't deliver a clean sweep in the gaming benchmarks, the Vega 3 graphics chip that's included in all three current Athlon processors is certainly a step ahead of Intel's 630 Graphics, which has been kicking around unchanged since 2015. That leaves AMD with no competition other than Intel processors of years past, or indeed AMD's own Ryzen 3 2200G.
And that's where things get a bit trickier for AMD. We truly believe that AMD would have offered consumers more value with its Athlon line, just as it has with its Ryzen line, if not for Intel's production woes. Before a single Athlon was even announced, it was clear that there were no Pentiums in the marketplace to compete with. Even so, AMD could and should have released the 3.5GHz Athlon 240GE at $55 to better compete with Intel's previous-gen products, while targeting the $75 pricepoint with a 3.7GHz processor. That of course would have put a bit of pressure on its lower-clocked multi-core CPUs, which could lead to an awkward family feud, but it would have been the right thing to do. The 2200G may be clocked at just 3.5GHz with boost to 3.7GHz, but it is a quad-core after all, and consumers would understand that it remained superior to a 3.7GHz dual-core. Making matters worse for the Athlon line is that the Vega 3 GPU is just too slow, oddly aiming for Intel's ancient Graphics 630 chip rather than continuing in the honored tradition of its forebears, the Vega 8 (as used on the 2200G) and the Vega 11 (on the 2400G), which are 2.5x and 4x faster, respectively.
So, which processors win our competition? In a sense, none of them. Based on pricing and clock speed alone, we actually believe that the 3.4GHz Athlon 220GE is the only Athlon to consider, as it costs just $9 more than the 200GE, despite being 200MHz faster. Spending the additional $10 on the 240GE nets you only an extra 100MHz bump, which makes it a less of a bargain, keeping in mind that they have the same Vega 3 graphics. And the ultimate winner is the Ryzen 3 2200G, which offers 40% more CPU processing power than the 240GE along with more than double the GPU power for an extra $25. That, dear readers, is a huge bargain, and would be a winner even if Intel actually had any product to sell at that pricepoint. As it stands, the Athlon family is only truly competitive today due to Intel's absence.
As always, to get our recommendations on the best PC builds at every price point, see our Do-It-Yourself PC Buyer's Guides!