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Intel Core i3-12100 Review: The Little Gaming Giant

Intel Core i3-12100 Review
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Intel's four-core eight-thread Core i3-12100 comes with an incredibly competitive $129 price tag that earns a spot on our list of best CPUs for gaming and Best Cheap CPUs as Intel finally addresses what has become the most ignored part of the PC market — the sub-$200 segment. That's not to mention that the chip also comes as a $104 F-series Core i3-12100F that Intel ships with deactivated integrated graphics for $25 less than the full-featured model. In fact, with no clear current-gen competitor from AMD and stellar performance for its price point, the Core i3-12100 easily leads our CPU benchmark hierarchy in the $105 to $130 bracket.

Intel refreshed its Comet Lake Core i3 lineup when it released its 11th-Gen Rocket Lake chips in 2020, but those models didn't come with a new architecture or any meaningful performance improvements. Rather, they came as refreshed 10th-Gen models with a paltry 100 MHz clock speed increase. Not that it mattered — given the realities of the chip shortages, we rarely saw those chips at retail anyway.

Speaking of chips that don't really exist, AMD's last budget model came as the incredibly impressive Ryzen 3 3300X that landed back in 2020. The quad-core 3300X brought an unheard-of level of performance for a $120 chip, promising new levels of gaming performance for budget builds. Unfortunately, that didn't come to fruition as the chip was a ghost and never appeared in any meaningful volume at retail.

Things haven't improved in the interim, either. AMD abandoned the sub-$200 market when it launched its Ryzen 5000 processors, leaving its older 3000-series processors to hold the line. However, as you'll see in our benchmarks below, they aren't relevant. AMD's lowest point of entry into its Zen 3-powered Ryzen 5000 series comes in the form of the $259 Ryzen 5 5600G. At twice the price of the 12100, it's a non-factor for lower-end gaming rigs unless you plan to use integrated graphics.  

PriceCores | ThreadsP-Core Base/BoostE-Core Base/BoostTDP / PBP / MTPDDR4-3200L3 Cache
Core i9-12900K / KF$589 (K) - $564 (KF)8P + 8E | 16 Cores / 24 Threads3.2 / 5.2 GHz2.4 / 3.9 GHz125W / 241WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480030MB
Core i7-12700K / KF$409 (K) - $384 (KF)8P + 4E | 12 Cores / 20 Threads3.6 / 5.0 GHz2.7 / 3.8 GHz125W / 190WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480025MB
Core i5-12600K / KF$289 (K) - $264 (KF)6P + 4E | 10 Cores / 16 Threads3.7 / 4.9 GHz2.8 / 3.6 GHz125W / 150WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480016MB
Core i5-12400 / F$192-$199 | $167-$174 (F)6P + 0E | 6 Cores / 12 Threads4.4 / 2.5 GHzn/a65W / 117WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480018MB
Core i3-12100 / F$122 - $129 | $97 - $1044P + 0E | 4 Cores / 8 Threads3.3 / 4.3 GHzn/a60W / 89WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480012MB

That leaves Intel unchecked in the budget segment, adding to the company's newfound dominance with the Alder Lake chips that even outperform more expensive Ryzen 5000 chips. Intel's advantages also extend to the motherboard ecosystem too, with B660 and H610 motherboards providing a great pairing for the Core i3-12100. So even though these boards do cost more than we're accustomed to for the lowest-end models, they provide plenty of connectivity for budget systems.

Alder Lake's performance advantages come even without its support for DDR5 memory and PCIe 5.0 interfaces (both of which Intel brought to market first). As such, you can use standard DDR4 memory and PCIe 4.0 devices and still have superior performance and connectivity options over AMD's aging AM4 platform. There are also plenty of B- and H-series boards that leverage less-expensive DDR4 memory, which is a saving grace given the ongoing DDR5 shortages.

Alder Lake also brings another innovation — the hybrid x86 design. The higher-end Alder Lake chips have big and fast Performance cores (P-cores) for latency-sensitive work paired with clusters of small and powerful Efficiency cores (E-cores) that chew through background processes. The Golden Cove architecture powers the 'big' P-cores, while the 'little' E-cores come with the Gracemont architecture.

However, the Core i3-12100 doesn't have a hybrid architecture, instead coming with a more traditional design with only four Golden Cove P-Cores active. That means this four-core eight-thread processor doesn't need Intel's new Windows 11-exclusive Thread Director technology to place workloads on the correct cores. As a result, unlike Intel's hybrid models, the 12100 is just as potent in Windows 10 as it is in Windows 11.

As you'll see in our benchmarks below, the Core i3-12100 doesn't have a similarly-priced competitor from AMD. However, despite a total lack of competition, it still brings impressive generational performance gains to the table. In fact, in 1080p gaming, the $129 Core i3-12100 delivers 88% of the $299 Core i5-12400's performance, but for 56% less cash. The Core i3-12100 also trails the previous-gen $262 Core i5-11600K by a mere 3% in gaming, but at half the price. 

Overall, the quad-core i3-12100's potent combination of price, performance, and improved stock cooler dominates the $100 to $130 price range while punching up against more expensive competitors. 

Intel Alder Lake-S Core i3-12100 Specifications and Pricing

We have deep-dive coverage of the Alder Lake design and microarchitectures here, along with a broader overview in our Alder Lake all we know article. Additionally, Intel now assigns a Processor Base Power (PBP) spec instead of using the 'TDP' (Thermal Design Point) nomenclature. The company also added a secondary Maximum Turbo Power (MTP) value to represent the highest power level during boost activity. You can read more about that here.

Intel fabs Alder Lake on the 'Intel 7' process. We previously knew this 'Intel 7' manufacturing tech as 10nm Enhanced SuperFin, but Intel recently renamed its process nodes to match industry nomenclature. Technically, 'Intel 7' is the second generation of Intel's 10nm process, but it's a first for desktop PCs.

Intel 12th-Gen Alder Lake Core i3-12100 and Core i3-12100F Pricing and Specifications
PriceCores | ThreadsP-Core Base/BoostE-Core Base/BoostTDP / PBP / MTPMemory SupportL3 Cache
Ryzen 5 5600X$2996P | 12 threads3.7 / 4.6 GHz-65WDDR4-320032MB
Ryzen 5 5600G$2596 / 123.9 / 4.4-65W DDR4-320016MB
Core i5-12400 / F$192-$199 | $167-$174 (F)6P + 0E | 6 Cores / 12 Threads 4.4 / ~2.5 GHzn/a65W / 117WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480018MB
Ryzen 5 3600X$2406 / 123.8 / 4.4 -95WDDR4-320032MB
Ryzen 5 3600$2006 / 123.6 / 4.2-65WDDR4-320032MB
Core i3-12100 / F$122 - $129 | $97 - $1044P + 0E | 4 Cores / 8 Threads3.3 / 4.3 GHzn/a60W / 89WDDR4-3200 / DDR5-480012MB
Core i3-10105$1224 / 83.7 / 4.4 GHzn/a65WDDR4-26666MB

All Alder Lake chips support DDR4-3200 or up to DDR5-4800 memory, but caveats apply. PCIe support will vary by motherboard, but Alder Lake chips expose up to 16 lanes of PCIe 5.0 (technically for storage and graphics only, no networking devices) and an additional four lanes of PCIe 4.0 from the chip for M.2 storage. Intel's Alder Lake drops into Socket 1700 motherboards from the 600-series, including Z690, H670, B660, and H610.

The Core i3-12100 comes with a 60W PBP (base) and 89W MTP (peak) power rating. The chip clocks in with a 3.3 GHz base and boosts up to 4.3 GHz. It also comes with 12 MB of L3 cache.

The Core i3-12100 is a locked chip, meaning it isn't overclockable. However, Intel supports memory overclocking on Z690, H670 and B660 motherboards (Z690 doesn't make sense for this class of chip, though). Manipulating the power limits serves as a quasi-overclock that can eke out some additional performance in some gaming and threaded work, but you don't get much of a benefit with chips this far down on the low end.

Intel has revamped its stock air coolers with Alder Lake. These coolers are designed to address two major deficiencies with Intel’s stock coolers: Thermal dissipation limitations and aesthetics. AMD’s stock coolers have long beat Intel in both of these departments, so this is a sorely-needed upgrade. The Core i3-1100 ships with the Laminar RM1 cooler that comes without RGB lighting but has a decorative blue plastic ring lining the fin stack. Intel rates this cooler for ‘quiet performance’ at 3.9 BA. 

Laminar RM1 Cooler

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We tested with both the stock heatsink and a Corsair H115i watercooler to gauge the strength of the air cooler. We didn't measure any meaningful difference between the two, so as long as you're not experiencing severe chip bowing issues, you can use the stock cooler without worry.

The standard Core i3-12100 comes with the UHD Graphics 730 engine with 24 EUs. The engine runs at 300/1400 MHz base/boost frequencies. If you're looking to save some coin, the graphics-less Core i3-12100 comes with a $25 price reduction and has the same specs as the 12100, which is incredibly attractive if you plan on using a discrete graphics card. The only difference between the standard 12100 and the 12100F is that the latter has a 58W PBP rating, so performance is identical with both models. Notably, going with the 12100F means you will lose Quick Sync capabilities and the iGPU fallback that you can use for troubleshooting in the event of an issue with a discrete GPU.

Test Setup

We tested with Windows 11 and DDR4 memory on a Z690 motherboard to maintain a comparable test environment with the rest of the processors in the test pool. Of course, you wouldn't pair this chip with this class of motherboard, but the 600-series B- and H-series motherboards also support overclocking memory and removing power limits. Given the 12100's tame power consumption, even lower-end motherboards will provide the chip with enough juice for full operation. We used DDR4 memory for testing, as DDR5 pricing removes it from consideration for this class of chip.

The Core i3-12100 is a locked chip, but you can overclock the memory on Z- and B-series motherboards. We also tested with secure boot, virtualization support, and fTPM/PTT active to reflect a properly configured Windows 11 install. We have a full breakdown of the test system configurations at the end of the article. We tested the Core i3-12100 in two different configurations:

  • Core i3-12100 DDR4-3800: Corsair H115i 280mm water cooler, power limits removed, memory overclocked to DDR4-3800 in Gear 1 mode (Gear 2 results in performance regressions)
  • Core i3-12100: Stock cooler, Intel recommended stock power limits (60/89W), Stock DDR4-3200 in Gear 1

Intel Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks — The TLDR

As usual, we're testing with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 to reduce GPU-imposed bottlenecks as much as possible, and differences between test subjects will shrink with lesser cards or higher resolutions. You would never see the Core i3-12100 paired with an RTX 3090, but this allows us to highlight unrestrained chip performance. Because most of the titles below show little meaningful differentiation at higher resolutions, we only tested four of the seven titles at 1440p.

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Core i3-12100 Review Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Review

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Core i3-12100 Review Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Review Gaming Benchmarks

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We paired the Core i3-12100 with affordable DDR4 memory for our testing. We removed the 12100's power limits and overclocked the memory for the 'Core i3-12100 DDR4-3600' entry, but only registered a 2.2% improvement. That means you won't benefit much from investing in a more expensive memory kit.

The 12100 doesn't need too much help, though: The chip was a whopping 29.5% faster than the Core i3-10100 in our cumulative gaming measurement, representing a massive leap forward for budget 1080p gaming. 

The 11600K, last-gen's fastest Core i5, was only 3.5% faster than the stock Core i3-12100, but overclocking the 12100's memory narrowed that to 1.4%. That's an impressive gen-on-gen improvement given the 11600K is twice the price of the 12100. Naturally, overclocking the 11600k would give it the lead, but that also requires a much more expensive cooler and other accommodations. 

The 12100 is even more impressive against AMD's lower-end models. Moving on to the only comparably-priced AMD chip, the mythical quad-core Ryzen 3 3300X, finds the 12100 beating it by 19.2% and 18.8% at stock and overclocked settings, respectively. The 12100 is also 19% and 9% faster than the six-core $199 Ryzen 5 3600 and $240 3600X, respectively, showing that it has the chops to take on AMD's entire sub-$250 roster.

That means we have to move up into the $260 range to find an AMD chip that can compete with the 12100, but there isn't a great AMD comparable at that price point. AMD's Ryzen 5 5600G APU isn't designed as a direct competitor for the 12100 — it's designed for gaming on its integrated graphics, and there it will easily outmaneuver the 12100. However, when paired with a discrete GPU, the 12100 is 6% and 1% faster than the 5600G at stock and overclocked settings, respectively. So at twice the price, it's clear that the Ryzen 5 5600G isn't a suitable competitor for the 12100 if you plan on using a discrete GPU.

The Core i5-12400 is the next step up the Intel ladder. At $199, the 12400 is 13% and 16% faster than the 12100 at stock and unlocked power settings, respectively. Put another way, the 12100 delivers 88% of the 12400's gaming performance, but for 56% less cash. The Core i5-12400 delivers much more performance in threaded application benchmarks than the 12100, though, making it a better all-rounder. 

1080p Gaming Benchmarks %age Relative to Core i9-12600K with DDR4
Tom's Hardware 1080p Game Benchmarks - fps %age
Core i5-12600K DDR4100%
Core i5-1240097.1%
Ryzen 5 5600X95.36%
Core i5-11600K88.9%
Core i3-12100 DDR4-3800 / Stock87.6% / 86%
Ryzen 5 5600G81.1%
Ryzen 5 3600X74.95%
Ryzen 3 3300X72.1%
Core i3-1010066.2%

Naturally, moving over to 1440p brings a GPU bottleneck into the equation, so the performance deltas between the chips shrink tremendously. Flipping through the 99th percentile charts for both resolutions also shows larger deltas, but we have to view those with caution as Windows 11 seems to suffer from more framerate variability than our Windows 10 test platform.

The Core i3-12100 easily beats the Ryzen comparables, but be aware that large performance deltas in a few of the game titles can heavily impact these types of overall measurements. It's always best to make an informed decision based on the types of titles you play frequently, so be sure to check out the individual game benchmarks below.

In either case, the Core i3-12100 is now the budget gaming champion, offering a superior level of performance at its price point with no clear competitors.

3DMark, VRMark, Chess Engines on Intel Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Gaming benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming benchmarks

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Synthetic benchmarks don't tend to translate well to real-world gaming, but they do show us the raw amount of compute power exposed to game engines. It's too bad most games don't fully exploit it. 

Far Cry 6 on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 performance benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 performance benchmarks

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F1 2021 on Intel Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Performance

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Performance

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Performance

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Performance

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Hitman 3 on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Horizon Zero Dawn on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Microsoft Flight Simulator 2021 on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Red Dead Redemption 2 on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Watch Dogs Legion on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Gaming Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks — The TLDR

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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We can boil down productivity application performance into two broad categories: single- and multi-threaded. These slides show the geometric mean of performance in several of our most important tests in each category, but be sure to look at the expanded benchmark results further below.

The Core i3-12100 is surprisingly agile in our cumulative measure of single-threaded performance. The 12100 is 27% and 5% faster than the Core i5-10100 and i5-11600K,  respectively, but the 12400 leads by roughly 2%.

Compared to Ryzen, the 12100 dominates in single-threaded applications, with its lead stretching between 25% over the Ryzen 5 3600 to 11% over the Ryzen 5 5600G. 

Overall, the Core i3-12100 offers great performance in single-threaded workloads for its price point, but if you're looking for the closest thing to a "catch," you'll find it in threaded application workloads. 

In multi-threaded work, the Core i3-12100 continues to assert its dominance over comparably-priced chips with an 18% lead over the Ryzen 3 3300X and a 30% lead over the Core i3-10100. However, the 124100 isn't as impressive in multi-threaded work against the six-core chips as we saw in our gaming benchmarks. The Ryzen 5 3600 and 3600X lead by ~11%, while the 5600G leads by 19%. 

Those six-core chips obviously lead in threaded productivity applications, they do carry much higher price tags after all, but they pale in comparison to the Core i5-12400 as it takes a 32% lead over the 12100. Unfortunately, unlocking the power limits and tuning the memory didn't yield any performance increases in threaded work for either the 12100 or 12400.

Overall the Core i3-12100 offers a solid blend of performance in both single- and multi-threaded apps given its price point, but its single-threaded performance stands out as exceptional. You'll have to look to Intel's own Alder Lake family for faster single-threaded performance. The 12100 also dispatches the comparably-priced Ryzen 3 3300X and Core i3-10100 easily in threaded work. 

1080p Gaming Benchmarks %age Relative to Core i9-12600K with DDR4
Tom's Hardware - Application BenchmarksSingle-ThreadedMulti-Threaded
Core i5-12600K DDR4100%100%
Core i5-1240090.7%73.4%
Core i3-12100 DDR4-3800 / Stock90.7% / 88.9%53.6% / 53.5%
Core i5-11600K84.1%73.8%
Ryzen 5 5600X82.1%71.5%
Ryzen 5 5600G78.4%65.9%
Ryzen 3 3300X69.3%43.7%
Ryzen 5 3600X69.2%60.8%
Core i3-1010064.5%37.3%

Rendering Benchmarks on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Rendering Benchmarks

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The Core i3-12100 is impressive in single-threaded rendering work, leading all competing Ryzen chips in both Cinebench and POV-Ray benchmarks, including those that cost more than twice the price.

The 12100 also easily beats AMD's price-comparable Ryzen 3 3300X throughout the full gamut of threaded rendering benchmarks and shows massive gains over the Core i3-10100. The six-core Ryzen models take the lead in the threaded workloads over the quad-core Core i3-12100, but that isn't a fair comparison because they are in a much higher price class. 

Encoding Benchmarks on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Encoding Benchmarks

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Web Browsing on Intel Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Web Browser Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Web Browser Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Web Browser Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Web Browser Benchmarks

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The ubiquitous web browser is one of the most frequently used applications. These tests tend to be lightly threaded, so a snappy response time is critical. The Core i3-12100 beats the competing Ryzen processors in its price bracket easily.

Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, and Lightroom on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Adobe Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Adobe Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Adobe Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Adobe Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Adobe Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Adobe Benchmarks

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We've integrated the UL Benchmarks Procyon tests into our suite to replace the aging PCMark 10. This new benchmark runs complex Adobe Premiere Pro, Photoshop, and Lightroom workflows with the actual software, making for a great real-world test suite. 

The Core i3-12100 is incredibly impressive as it takes the lead over all the Ryzen chips in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop and trails only the vastly more expensive $299 Ryzen 5 5600X in Adobe Premiere Pro. 

Office and Productivity on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Microsoft Office Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Microsoft Office Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Microsoft Office Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Microsoft Office Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Microsoft Office Benchmarks

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The Core i3-12100 provides snappy application load times, but the Ryzen 5 5600G and Ryzen 3 3300X are faster. Conversely, the 12100 beats the entire Ryzen roster in the Microsoft Office suite. 

Compilation, Compression, AVX Benchmarks on Core i3-12100

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Application Benchmarks

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The Core i3-12100 easily beats the comparably-priced Ryzen 3 3300X in nearly all of these workloads, including exceedingly branchy code in the LLVM compilation workload and the massively parallel molecular dynamics simulation code in NAMD. That said, most of these types of workloads aren't well-suited for this class of chip, but we include them as a reference.

Intel Alder Lake Core i3-12100 Power Consumption and Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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The Intel Alder Lake chips still suck more power than AMD's Zen 3-powered Ryzen 5000 series chips, but pairing the Intel 7 process with the hybrid architecture brings big improvements, particularly in threaded work.

As we can see, the 12100 jockeys with the quad-core Comet Lake Core i3-10100, with the latter often consuming less power. But that comes at the cost of performance. As you can see in our renders-per-day measurements, the Core i3-12100 is more efficient, which comes as a byproduct of its higher performance within a similar power envelope.

The Zen 3-equipped Ryzen 5 5600G takes the crown as the most efficient chip in the test pool and often finds itself in the mix with the Core i3 models in the average power measurements. This six-core 12-thread chip also serves up quite a bit more performance than the i3's, so it takes a big lead in our renders-per-watt-per-day metrics. 

However, the Core i3-12100 doesn't have a modern quad-core AMD competitor, and it takes the win against MD's only quad-core entrant, the Zen 2-powered Ryzen 3 3300X. 

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Core i3-12100 Power Consumption Efficiency

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Here we take a slightly different look at power consumption by calculating the cumulative energy required to perform Blender and x264 and x265 HandBrake workloads, respectively. We plot this 'task energy' value in Kilojoules on the left side of the chart. 

These workloads are comprised of a fixed amount of work, so we can plot the task energy against the time required to finish the job (bottom axis), thus generating a really useful power chart. 

Bear in mind that faster compute times, and lower task energy requirements, are ideal. That means processors that fall the closest to the bottom left corner of the chart are best. 

As you can see, Intel's chips have descended from the undesirable upper right of the chart down closer to the lower left hand, indicating improved efficiency. The gap between the Core i3-12100 and the Core i3-10100 illustrates just how much the Golden Cove architecture paired with the 'Intel 7' process has improved the company's standings in our efficiency measurements. 

Budget Gaming Dominance

Like the rest of the Alder Lake family, the $104 to $130 Core i3-12100 comes to market with disruptive pricing as Intel continues to attempt to claw back market share from AMD at any cost.

Frankly, given that Intel has virtually no competition from AMD in the sub-$200 market, it's surprising that Intel has delivered this much performance at such attractive pricing. Below, we have the geometric mean of our gaming test suite at 1080p and 1440p and a cumulative measure of performance in single- and multi-threaded applications. We conducted our gaming tests with an RTX 3090, so performance deltas will shrink with lesser cards and higher resolution and fidelity settings. 

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Review

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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Core i3-12100 Performance Benchmarks

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The Core i3-12100 eschews the hybrid Alder Lake design, instead going with 'only' four P-cores. That doesn't hold the chip back in gaming, though, and the Core i3-12100 now reigns as the fastest budget gaming CPU on the market.  

The Core i3-12100 represents a massive leap forward for Intel in budget gaming performance, beating the Core i3-10100 by a whopping 29.5% at 1080p. The Core i5-11600K, last-gen's fastest Core i5, was surprisingly only 3.5% faster than the stock Core i3-12100, but at twice the price. The 12100 is also equally impressive compared to Intel's higher-end Alder Lake models, delivering 88% of the 12400's gaming performance but for 56% less cash.

AMD's chips can't compete, but that's because the company has completely abandoned the sub-$250 market. The Core i3-12100 easily beat AMD's previous-gen Ryzen 5 3600 and 3600X, not to mention the venerable 3300X, by margins ranging from 9% to 19%, respectively, showing that the 12100 has the chops to take on AMD's entire sub-$250 roster in gaming.

The Core i3-12100 is plenty impressive in lightly-threaded apps, too. In fact, the $800 Ryzen 9 5950X is the only Ryzen chip that can match the Core i3-12100's single-threaded performance in our CPU benchmarks hierarchy. You'll have to look to other Alder Lake chips to find faster performance in single-threaded work.

The Core i3-12100 is impressive in threaded productivity workloads for its price point, easily beating the price-comparable Ryzen 3 3300X in nearly every benchmark and establishing a commanding 30% lead over the Core i3-10100. Of course, AMD's more expensive six-core chips provide more performance in threaded work, but they should given their higher price tags.

You can also pick up the graphics-less $104 Core i3-12100F for ~$25 less than the full-featured model, but it provides the same level of performance. In addition, both the Core i3-12100 and 12100F also come with a capable Laminar RM1 cooler that delivers the full performance of the chip, making a sweet deal even sweeter for budget builders.

You should pair the Core i3-12100 with a B- or H-series motherboard, though the latter doesn't allow memory overclocking. That said, memory overclocking only imparted a 2.2% gain in 1080p gaming performance and no gain in most applications, so it doesn't make too much sense — especially for budget builds.

The Core i3-12100 also has a much more modern platform than AMD's AM4 ecosystem. Leading-edge DDR5 and PCIe 5.0 interfaces add too much cost for this class of chip, so look for DDR4 B660, H670 and H610 motherboards for the best value. You won't need DDR5 memory to unlock the best gaming performance, and that's a good thing because DDR5's high pricing doesn't make sense for sub-$250 chips.

Alder Lake has delivered a decisive blow to AMD's entire Ryzen 5000 family, and it doesn't look like we'll have a chance to see competitive new budget offerings until the Zen 4 'Raphael' Ryzen 7000 chips arrive later this year. If you're looking for a bit more performance in threaded workloads than you'll get with the 12100, the Core i5-12400 remains the undisputed value champ for an all-rounder chip, but you'll have to shell out an additional $65.

Overall, the Core i3-12100 is a balanced chip that offers exceptional performance in gaming and lightly-threaded work in tandem with leading performance for its price point in multi-threaded workloads. If you're looking for an unprecedented amount of gaming and application performance from a $105 to $130 chip, the Core i3-12100 is the hands-down winner and takes a spot on our list of Best CPUs for gaming

Core i9-12900K and Core i5-12600K Test System Configurations
Intel Socket 1700 DDR4 (Z690)Core i3-12100, Core i5-12600K, Core i5-12400
MSI Z690A WiFi DDR4
2x 8GB Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 - Stock: DDR4-3200 14-14-14-36 / OC: DDR4-3800
Intel Socket 1200 (Z590)Core i5-11600K, Core i3-10100
MSI Z590 Godlike
2x 8GB Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 - Stock DDR4-3200/2933 Gear 1
AMD Socket AM4 (X570)Ryzen 5 5600X, 5600G, 3600X, 3600, Ryzen 3 3300X

MSI MEG X570 Godlike
2x 8GB Trident Z Royal DDR4-3600 - Stock: DDR4-3200 14-14-14-36 | OC/PBO: DDR4-3800 (5600X) DDR4-4400 (5600G),Second-gen DDR4-3600
All SystemsGigabyte GeForce RTX 3090 Eagle - Gaming and ProViz applications
Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti FE - Application tests

2TB Sabrent Rocket 4 Plus

Silverstone ST1100-TI
Open Benchtable
Arctic MX-4 TIM
Windows 11 Pro
CoolingCorsair H115i, Custom loop

Paul Alcorn is the Deputy Managing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews on CPUs, storage and enterprise hardware.

  • zipspyder
    That is pretty impressive. To bad higher motherboard prices don't do budget gaming justice when paired together.
    Reply
  • DRagor
    Does not matter now - who cares if you pay 100 or CPU, 100 for mobo, when you have to dig 500+ for GPU. There is no such thing as budget gaming rig currently, so 12100 is a king of nothing.
    Reply
  • Neilbob
    I hate the stupid Microsoft Office benchmarks - and I mean that regardless of the CPU vendor.

    With the possible exception of certain Excel spreadsheets, what is anyone ever going to do in Office that they'll notice any difference with any of these processors, especially the differences seen in these bar charts?
    Reply
  • rluker5
    zipspyder said:
    That is pretty impressive. To bad higher motherboard prices don't do budget gaming justice when paired together.
    $85 on Newegg for one with pcie gen4 to max out any gpu at 1440p cheap enough yet?
    The platform is only a few months old, I'm sure prices will continue to drop.
    Reply
  • zipspyder
    rluker5 said:
    $85 on Newegg for one with pcie gen4 to max out any gpu at 1440p cheap enough yet?
    The platform is only a few months old, I'm sure prices will continue to drop.

    That certainly is getting there!
    Reply
  • rluker5
    zipspyder said:
    That certainly is getting there!
    That with ram prices have been tempting me, but the cheapest decent Alder I can find is a $200 12400 :(
    Reply
  • spentshells
    Quad-core with hyper threading is perfect for gaming.

    Yes after a decade 4 cores 8 threads is all you need beyond a gpu you can afford.

    1080p 60 fps is fine.

    Gitgud
    Reply
  • Alvar "Miles" Udell
    It's entirely reasonable to assume there are many people out there with RX 480 and GTX 1660 rigs based on AMD Bulldozer or Intel 7000 series, and a rig based on this would not only be -far- faster, it would be a relatively inexpensive upgrade.
    Reply
  • Matt_ogu812
    Given the lack of GPU availability and the cost of MBs to support this CPU, I have to ask 'what's the point'?
    Reply
  • artk2219
    Matt_ogu812 said:
    Given the lack of GPU availability and the cost of MBs to support this CPU, I have to ask 'what's the point'?

    While I get the sentiment, you cant really claim that you shouldn't buy a new CPU because GPU prices are bad. If you already have a GPU, have a line on a decent priced GPU, or you don't do much gaming then this I3 is a solid upgrade for anyone on a sky lake or Kaby lake era chip and prior, I'd say if you're on AM4 stick with AM4 or wait until AM5 before making a decision. You're on point with the current motherboard situation though, those prices need to drop a bit more, but as stated before $85 is starting to get there. Granted its for a pretty crummy H610 board that ideally should be more than $65, but its working its way down.
    Reply