Overclocking study – Intel Core i7 4790K & Intel Pentium G3258 – air, water, phase-change, DICE & LN2
Many things changed in the last 15 years and we are not going to go into too much detail, because this is not a history article but a scaling review with the latest CPU’s from Intel. However, we have a few more issue to address, in order to better understand the current situation with overclocking.
Since 15 years ago all motherboard manufacturers started to pay a lot of attention to overclocking and in the last decade we could see motherboards specially tailored for the needs of overclockers, after market cooling solutions becoming more and more popular, liquid nitrogen pots mass produced for retail sale and world wide overclocking championships with cash prizes.
Overclocking became very popular but that also became a problem for CPU manufacturers like Intel and AMD. Because you couldn’t simply block features on motherboards anymore but you also didn’t want anybody to be able to take the cheapest CPU and overclock it until it would get to the performance of the most expensive CPU.
CPU manufacturers used to block some features on the cheaper CPU’s since the 486 days, but now it was time that this was done in a different way. And that also meant that the PC enthusiasts got some attention and recognition from the manufacturers. That was the time when both manufacturers created top of the line series for those who do not care how much they spend for the top performance – the hard core overclockers, the PC enthusiasts, the heavy gamers. That is how AMD’s FX line was born and that is how the Extreme Edition was born, a series of unlocked CPU’s that stretches from the Pentium 4 days up until today, with CPU’s like Intel Core i7 4960X Extreme Edition available on the market and models like Intel Core i7 5960X (8 core Haswell-E CPU) launching sometimes this year.
The guys who wanted everything, the most powerful CPU’s with unlocked multipliers, got what they wanted and everybody else could still get a healthy overclocking on locked CPU’s by raising the FSB. However, the situation changed dramatically when the new Sandy Bridge architecture was introduced, and BUS overclocking wouldn’t bring you too much extra MHz at all. But unlike Pentium days though, overclockers and enthusiasts have become a very important part of the market in the meanwhile so this issue had to be addressed somehow.
In the year before the Sandy Bridge launch, Intel was very well aware of this, so they made a move that not many people understood at the time – the launch of a second special SKU, designed for overclockers and gamers. The K SKU first came to life with Intel Core i5 655K and Intel Core i7 875K. The two models had fully unlocked multiplier, but unlike their Extreme Edition counterparts at the time (Intel Core i7 980X) they wouldn’t cost 999 USD. The Core i5 655K had a price tag of 216 USD while the Core i7 875K had a price tag of 342 USD. Much closer to the needs of overclockers and enthusiasts, I might add.
After that all Intel families would have an unlocked Core i5 and Core i7 version, designed for overclockers. We are talking about Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Haswell and Haswell refresh. And even the Sandy-E and Ivy-E series have their own K model. And since Sandy Bridge these K models have roughly the same price – ~300-350 USD for the i7 version and 216 USD for the i5 version. In fact, Intel’s price scheme didn’t change much since Conroe – the high-end would have a 300 / 560 / 999 USD price tag and this is what we can see today with the SB-E or Ivy-E families.
Sandy / Ivy Bridge and Haswell topped out < 350 USD for the Core i7 K and < 250 USD for the Core i5 K and everything bellow that price is locked and you cannot achieve much through overclocking. If you compare this situation with 2006 for instance you would see that it’s even better for overclockers, since the non EE CPU’s didn’t have unlocked multiplier at all (think E6300, E6400, etc). So in the end things did improve over the years even from a price point of view, if we think about CPU’s, because now you get an unlocked multiplier at the same price you got a locked CPU (that you would overclock using FSB) a few years ago.
But there was only one little thing missing – an affordable CPU for those who want to try overclocking but don’t have the budget for a Haswell K. And this year, besides the 350 USD Intel Core i7 4790K, we all got another very nice present from Intel. It celebrates 20 years of Pentium, it has an unlocked multiplier and two Haswell cores, and it only costs 72 USD. It is called Pentium G3258, and this is what we are going to test today, together with the Intel Core i7 4790K beast…