In an unexpected turn of events, it's now possible to overclock the otherwise-locked Athlon 200GE processor that currently sits as the least expensive Zen-based chip you can buy, selling for about $55. In what appears to be a slip up by MSI, about two weeks ago the component maker released a new BIOS for their full range of AM4 motherboards to include support version 220.127.116.11 of AMD's Generic Encapsulated Software Architecture, otherwise known as AGESA.
This latest version improves memory support by enhancing overclocking and compatibility, it also adds a virtualization-related feature that enables the ability to manually assign PCIe graphics cards within IOMMU groups.
Improved memory support is great, of course, but today we're exploring Athlon 200GE overclocking which has been inadvertently enabled across MSI's AM4 motherboard lineup.
We've tried a handful of Asrock B350 and B450 boards, but none enabled 200GE overclocking. However, all MSI AM4 boards do, and we've confirmed this ourselves from budget B350 boards right up to the higher-end B450 models such as the Gaming Pro Carbon, for example. We've yet to try additional Asus or Gigabyte boards, we'll give them a shot soon but so far reports are only coming in from MSI owners. Surely, MSI has made a mistake here, but a happy accident for budget enthusiasts it would seem.
With the genie out of the bottle, there is little MSI or AMD can do to put it back in. MSI can certainly lock the 200GE back down with a future BIOS revision, but that won't change the fact that you can flash the current November release and overclock all the same. With the AGESA 18.104.22.168 firmware installed on an MSI motherboard you simply need to enter the BIOS and apply a standard multiplier overclock.
Our 200GE wouldn't post at 4 GHz, it did post at 3.9 GHz but even with 1.4v wasn't completely stable in Windows. At 3.8 GHz it was 100% stable with 1.35v, so that's where we decided to test.
DDR4 memory is still locked down, so we were limited to DDR4-2666, but you can tune the timings to improve performance there. For testing though CL14 memory was used since that's not overly expensive in 2400 to 2666 speeds.
Compared to stock clocks we were able to increase the core frequency by 19% from 3.2 GHz to 3.8 GHz. Not an earth shattering increase but every little bit is really going to help the $55 Zen processor. Unfortunately we don't have the 200GE box cooler on hand, so the Wraith Stealth was used for this overclock. Nevertheless we suspect that the box cooler will facilitate this overclock as the Wraith Stealth peaked at just 59 degrees after an hour long Blender stress test with an ambient room temperature of 21 degrees.
For testing, we used a Gigabyte RTX 2080 Ti. Yes, it's an unrealistic GPU to pair with this CPU but for the purpose of removing any GPU bottleneck and be able to later compare this data with that of the higher-end CPUs, we went this way. Then of course the entire point of testing and comparing these CPUs is to test CPU performance, not low end GPU performance. So with all that made clear, let's jump into the results.
First up we have Cinebench R15 and here we see our 19% overclock has improved the multi-threaded score by 13%, not bad. This is just 4% lower than our simulated 3.9 GHz overclock using the Ryzen 4 2400G with half the cores disabled. It's worth noting that this overclock allowed the 200GE to overtake the Pentium G5400 by a small margin.
Testing with Corona shows a mere 7% time reduction for the render test, not amazing but it does place the 200GE much closer to the Pentium G5400 in this test.
Running our overclock though the Blender render test shows a more impressive 14% reduction in render time and places the 200GE miles ahead of the AVX-lacking Pentium G5400. Good stuff, but now it's time to check out some games.
Testing with Assassin's Creed Odyssey we see that the overclocked 200GE offers a 9% boost for the average frame rate and a much needed 15% boost to the frame time performance. The game played noticeably smoother with the 200GE overclocked, so while the gains don't seem that significant, they really are.
We find a similar story with Assassin's Creed Origins and now the overclocked 200GE is able to match the average frame rate of the Pentium G5400 but kill it for the frame time performance.
Testing with Battlefield 1 reveals a nice 14% increase in average frame rate performance at 1080p, going from 71 fps to 81 fps once overclocked.
We also see some solid performance gains with Forza Horizon 4, a 9% boost was enough to just push the 200GE ahead of the more expensive Pentium G5400.
The gains in Hitman were huge, a 16% boost is seen at 1080p as the 200GE went from a stock result of 38 fps to an overclocked result of 44 fps and now the experience is miles better than what you get with the G5400, particularly because of the 1% min FPS.
Here we see another nice performance gain, this time in Project Cars 2, going from 56 fps on average to 63 fps at 1080p, a free 13% bump in frame rate.
In Rainbow Six Siege the overclocked 200GE is still slower than the G5400 at 1080p but somehow it does much better at 1440p.
We were having issues with the Athlon 200GE in Star Wars Battlefront II before, but a recent game patch seems to have solved that, not sure if it's related or not but the game loads faster on the 200GE now and plays much better.
We also see a big 16% boost to the average frame rate when overclocking the Athlon processor, taking us from 67 fps to 78 fps at 1080p and here it was much faster than the Pentium G5400.
Last up we have Shadow of the Tomb Raider and please note you will see considerably better frame rates using the built-in canned benchmark, as that's not very CPU intensive and mainly focuses on GPU performance. So actually playing the game on a low-end CPU will provide very different results, results like what you see here. The overclocked 200GE boosts frame rates by 12% which is ok, but truth be told this game is a bit beyond an SMT enabled dual-core that isn't clocked beyond 5 GHz.
With the right motherboard you can now overclock the Athlon 200GE and boost gaming performance by as much as 16%, which is no small margin for an entry-level CPU.
As far as we can tell, this will require an MSI motherboard and for those shopping for new options we suggest something like the B450M Pro-VDH as it costs just $70. Throw the $55 200GE on that and you have a pretty decent ultra affordable combo once overclocked.
Alternatively, if you're after a placeholder until Zen 2 arrives the 200GE will work just as well on a better quality board, such as the B450 Gaming Pro Carbon that I used.
Having said all that, our opinion on the best budget CPU has not changed, and we still strongly suggest you spend the extra $45 on the Ryzen 3 2200G and overclock that. It's a much more capable processor and factoring in just a basic $70 B450 board means it only costs 35% more, throw in 16 GB of memory and you're down to a 20% premium for the much faster 2200G.