Is Intel's Core i3-530 Fast Enough For Performance Gaming?

What does it mean to run face-first into a bottleneck? When we talk about bottlenecks here on Tom's Hardware, we're usually referring to a single component that's preventing the rest of a PC from reaching its full performance potential in any given benchmark. For games, that component is usually either the CPU or graphics card, depending on how much performance the other part provides.

Our System Builder Marathon machines often expose CPU limits when multiple graphics processors are combined, but most gamers begin their builds with only a single GPU. Among these, AMD’s $320 Radeon HD 5850 represents the highest performance most gamers will want to spend money on. The argument, of course, is that as you start shopping for more expensive alternatives, like a $700 Radeon HD 5970, consoles start looking a lot more attractive.

With our best bang-for-the-buck graphics card fairly well defined, the question becomes: how much CPU do we need to milk the last ounce of performance from this pixel-spewing beast? Would a dual-core CPU do the job or, given that today’s games are ever-more multi-threaded, would a triple- or even quadruple-core processor be needed? How much could overclocking help? Must we spend all of the money saved on the CPU to purchase a big cooler? Knowing that all of the subsequent questions must be addressed to completely answer the first, we gathered our Intel and AMD processor samples and began testing.

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  • JohnnyLucky
    Looks like some gamers will not have to spend as much money for a new cpu.
    25
  • Kelavarus
    Aye, I'd go with testing GTA IV. None of these titles are all that CPU intensive, get something that takes a lot of processing as well.

    I also don't get the argument with if someone has a 'super high end GPU why would they look at an i3 processor.' Just because they spent a lot of money on one place doesn't mean they WANT to spend it elsewhere. I'm sure there's plenty of penny-pinching enthusiasts who are looking at top performance for lowest dollar. I know I'm one.
    22
  • shin0bi272
    all similar fps results usually means one of two things... either youre gpu limited or those results are accurate (meaning you didnt ever become cpu limited ... which I thought was the point of this review). Please redo the test with a 5970 to see if the rankings change. Plus if youre saving money on your cpu you can spend it on the gpu ;)
    21
  • Other Comments
  • Dekasav
    Excellently done. Thanks a lot THG!
    9
  • andy5174
    It should also take GTA IV (which is CPU intensive game and can utilize four cores) into consideration, although most games don't behave similar today. In addition, I would expect more and more to-be-released games to be able to utilize the full potential of quads.
    14
  • andy5174
    However, I do admit that i3's performance is really impressive!
    6
  • shin0bi272
    all similar fps results usually means one of two things... either youre gpu limited or those results are accurate (meaning you didnt ever become cpu limited ... which I thought was the point of this review). Please redo the test with a 5970 to see if the rankings change. Plus if youre saving money on your cpu you can spend it on the gpu ;)
    21
  • dapneym
    On the "Is Overclocking Needed" I think you forgot a few fours. A voltage of 1.72 would probably fry the processor quite quickly. You had it right later one with 1.472, but it shocked a me a bit at first to see such a high number, haha.
    3
  • tortnotes
    shin0bi272, correct me if I'm wrong, but the point of this article was to see how much the CPU really matters when paired with a reasonable single GPU. I think the result--that it doesn't much matter--is pretty good to know.
    If a super high end GPU was used, it wouldn't be relevant to gamers looking at CPU performance.

    For me personally though.... I'll stick with my i7. Beats any i3 at mental ray rendering any day.
    20
  • shubham1401
    ^Yeah!!

    If the user has money for Super high end GPU why would he look at an i3 processor?
    0
  • JohnnyLucky
    Looks like some gamers will not have to spend as much money for a new cpu.
    25
  • Anonymous
    I wonder who will buy such an exclusive separated Graphics card with the core-i3 processor. cause most of the core-i3 buyers don't want to waste money on a separated GPU.others will just keep their core-2(specially quad series) processor because they're better than core-i3 processors(According to 3D-Mark Result).
    -4
  • amdfangirl
    Great article.

    We need more articles like this! A million better than a standard review.
    12
  • Kelavarus
    Aye, I'd go with testing GTA IV. None of these titles are all that CPU intensive, get something that takes a lot of processing as well.

    I also don't get the argument with if someone has a 'super high end GPU why would they look at an i3 processor.' Just because they spent a lot of money on one place doesn't mean they WANT to spend it elsewhere. I'm sure there's plenty of penny-pinching enthusiasts who are looking at top performance for lowest dollar. I know I'm one.
    22
  • gti88
    The good thing is, that you can go for the 100$ MB and cheap cooler, and still, you'll have excellent gaming experience.
    5
  • SpadeM
    I agree with andy5174 and Kelavarus. GTA IV and RTS games would have been a good addition to the benchmark since they put a lot more emphasis on CPU performance then these shooters.

    Plus, the difference between amd and intel was in the ".x" margin which is negligible so what i've learned is that this articles tries to make a point but fails to do so.
    1
  • masterjaw
    Nice article in general. Splendid performance especially on power consumption. I hope you also added the Athlon II chips in the line for a more broader comparison among low-cost chips.
    0
  • th_at
    So once again, a 3 Ghz Dual Core CPU (100$) and a Radeon 5850 (300$) manage to play to just about every game perfectly at up to 1920x1200 (and mostly beyond) with HQ image settings. And why wouldn't it, when every developer with half a brain will make sure their games run on the XBOX 360 and thus froze system specs in 2006.
    Why is that never stressed more in regular CPU/GPU tests, where the focus is usually on 300$ CPUs and 500$ GPUs and their Pyrrhic victories of producing meaninglessly high framerates that only framerate morons (everything below 50 fps stutters) and insects care about?
    16
  • vaughn2k
    yup this is spicy...

    off topic - its nice to see that the Phenom 965 can beat the Core i7 870 which is around $120 more.
    6
  • izliecies
    andy5174It should also take GTA IV (which is CPU intensive game and can utilize four cores) into consideration, although most games don't behave similar today. In addition, I would expect more and more to-be-released games to be able to utilize the full potential of quads.

    I totally agree. Reviewers should include GTA IV when benchmarking CPUs.
    5
  • hundredislandsboy
    Very useful article, especially for gamers or an budget who opt to spend mosre on the GPU and then be forced to shop for a low cost CPU.

    Interesting to see charts (only hi-rez, max AA) where the 5850 IS the bottleneck and the low cost CPU waits for the 5850.

    This article would have been perfect if there was one more line or bar added beneath the 2560 X 1600, one more test where they plug in the 5970 to remove the bottleneck and then see if the CPU beoomes the bottleneck at the high resolution.
    2
  • abhishekk89
    if ur sole purpose is just gaming i'd go for a dual core... but since i do a lot more than just gaming quad's my way..
    0
  • Crashman
    HundredIslandsBoyVery useful article, especially for gamers or an budget who opt to spend mosre on the GPU and then be forced to shop for a low cost CPU. Interesting to see charts (only hi-rez, max AA) where the 5850 IS the bottleneck and the low cost CPU waits for the 5850.This article would have been perfect if there was one more line or bar added beneath the 2560 X 1600, one more test where they plug in the 5970 to remove the bottleneck and then see if the CPU beoomes the bottleneck at the high resolution.


    The article is more for the mid-budget gamer who wants the high-end gaming experience but can't afford everything associated with it. It even mentions the CPU bottleneck with CrossFire that's found in several SBM articles, and that would include the two slightly-underclocked 5870's in CrossFire that make up the 5970.
    -1