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Following our sub-$200 gaming CPU comparison, we put Intel's Core i3-2100 and AMD's FX-4100 under the microscope. This time, we test a number of different graphics cards from AMD to see how GPUs affect perceived processor bottlenecks.
At the end of January, we published our analysis of the sub-$200 gaming processor market called Picking A Sub-$200 Gaming CPU: FX, An APU, Or A Pentium?. We were surprised to find that Intel’s budget-oriented LGA 1155 offerings are surprisingly capable when it comes to handling modern titles. In fact, the $125 Core i3-2100 beat out AMD's entire line-up including top-tier Phenom IIs, Athlon IIs, APUs, and even the new FX models. Although they're easier to overclock, AMD’s best efforts could only achieve parity with the Core i3-2100, and Intel's Core i5 was so far ahead of the sub-$200 pack that it sat in a league of its own.
Now, we used a very high-end Radeon HD 7970 graphics card in that article because we wanted to isolate CPU performance. You can't draw conclusions about a CPU's potential when you're faced with a graphics card bottleneck, after all. But some of our readers rightly pointed out that, when it comes to building an inexpensive machine, our combination is unrealistic. A $110 CPU would never accompany a $550 graphics card. And if we used an entry-level GPU, the resulting bottleneck would have masked the differences between processors to a greater extent. The counter, of course, is that a cheaper graphics card would have also imposed lower resolutions and detail settings, shifting load back in the direction of the CPU.
As you know, though, we put a big emphasis on addressing your feedback, so we went back to the lab to run some follow-up data on two of the most interesting $120 options from our previous story. Intel's Core i3-2100 is the low-cost processor to beat, so we made sure to include it. On the other hand, with AMD's Phenom II and Athlon II lines disappearing from store shelves, the $110 FX-4100 represents that company’s best low-priced option.
Every game's workload is different, but Intel’s i3-2100, on average, achieved 18% higher minimum frame rates and 11% higher average frame rates compared to the FX-4100 in our previous story. As we said, though, that was with a Radeon HD 7970. This time around, we’re using a broader range of graphics cards ranging from the Radeon HD 5570 up to the Radeon HD 6950 to see if the bottleneck situation changes.
|AMD FX-4100||Intel Core i3-2100|
|Process:||32 nm||32 nm|
|Cores (Threads):||4 (4)||2 (4)|
|Clock Speed (Turbo):||3.6 (3.8) GHz||3.1 GHz|
|Interface:||Socket AM3+||LGA 1155|
|L3 Cache:||8 MB||3 MB|
|Thermal Envelope:||95 W||65 W|
We also received some feedback on our test platform's memory configuration; it was suggested that AMD's FX might perform better complemented by higher memory data rates. So, this time we're using 8 GB (2 x 4 GB) of Corsair Vengeance DDR3-1600 at 8-8-8-24 timings.