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The Athlon X4 860k has a 3.7 GHz clock speed, but the Pentium G3258 can be overclocked to 4.2 GHz.

Does the higher clock speed of the G3258 compensate for the fact that it has 1MB less cache?

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    The architectures and designs are fundamentally different,and comparing clock speed for clock speed is pointless. I'd do my homework and look up reviews and benchmarks to decide.
    – Journeyman Geek
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 4:30

3 Answers 3

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Hennes' analogy is pretty good for this problem, but I think you (OP) have a bit of a misunderstanding as to what a CPU consists of.

A CPU has a clock speed, which refers to how many clock cycles it has per second (some instructions take a cycle, others take many cycles), and in general, the higher the clock speed the faster the program runs.

However, there are some programs, or parts of programs that depend on loading data or other things other than pure speed. For example, memory bound computations are inherently limited more by how fast data is retrieved from the memory (and how much is loaded from cache) than anything else. If the application takes up 4MB of memory, and one machine has 4MB cache and the other has 3MB, then the 4MB machine will run better (if its memory bound, with identical memory bus speeds, etc.). If the application is inherently bound by your disk I/O, you'd be better off getting a SSD instead of worrying about your CPU.

As for gaming, it also depends on the game and its design. Games that are computationally heavy and properly parallelized will probably run faster on a medium speed multicore than one with a single fast core, but that could also not matter if you have a bad GPU.

In the end, unless one chip is equal or better in every aspect, with identical cache and processor architectures, it's possible to find an application in which the "weaker" one will end up being better than the "stronger" one.

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Have a look at the PassMark CPU Performance Comparison.

Your question seems to imply that you are most interested in performance, rather than in power consumption. The Athlon has 2 logical cores per physical core. This raises the question: Are you interested in single core performance or in multi core performance? Is it for gaming, then single core performance is important. If it is for a server, consider multi core performance, as a server usually runs multiple processes at once, so the number of cores gets interesting, among other things.

The questions here are more or less rhetorical. Just answer them for yourself, and decide yourself. :)

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  • also. wait, is he comparing a desktop to a laptop core?
    – Journeyman Geek
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 5:37
  • The G3258 is a desktop CPU. Or was that a rhetorical question?
    – Léo Lam
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 10:33
  • @LéoLam The PassMark link says that the G3258 is a desktop CPU, whereas the X4 860K is a laptop class CPU. But I removed my comment.
    – Shi
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 14:46
  • @Shi ah, I thought Journeyman Geek's moment was saying that the G3258 was a laptop CPU, my bad. Sorry for the confusion. Anyway, I would suggest bringing back the comment as some people across the SE network don't seem to understand what rhetorical questions are…
    – Léo Lam
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 15:01
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No and yes. As journeymangeek wrote it is comparing applies and oranges. In one situation clock speed might help, in another extra cache might help more. So it depends on whatever you are doing.

Using my way overused car analogies again: You are asking if it is better to have a faster car or a car with more room in the trunk. If I have a bigger trunk and I am serious shopping or moving inventory then that would be way faster. If I needed to race from A to B then the other car would be faster. Aka: it depends.

And all that ignores other things like stalls while the CPU waits for disk IO. It ignores different architectures in the CPU's (which also make one CPU better at some tasks and the other CPU better at different tasks) etc etc.

So there simply is no one single clear answer to your question.

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  • Oh, I was also thinking process sizes, the fact that clock speeds don't mean anything these days with widely variable process sizes and architectures. You can't compare 2 processors of different generation of the same make by clockspeed, let alone an AMD and an Intel
    – Journeyman Geek
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 5:52
  • Agreed. I glossed over that with only "It ignores different architectures". But there really are sooooo many reasons why there is no one simple answer.
    – Hennes
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 5:58

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