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AMD FX Vs. Intel Core i3: Exploring Game Performance With Cheap GPUs

FX-4100 And Core i3-2100 Go Head-To-Head

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-4100Intel Core i3-2100
Codename:ZambeziSandy Bridge
Process:32 nm32 nm
Cores (Threads):4 (4)2 (4)
Clock Speed (Turbo):3.6 (3.8) GHz3.1 GHz
Interface:Socket AM3+LGA 1155
L3 Cache:8 MB3 MB
Thermal Envelope:95 W65 W
Online Price:$110$125

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.

  • ilysaml
    Great...AMD is still capable.
    Reply
  • reyshan
    Whats with the line graph Don, it's hard to read especially with the choice of color on the lines. Bring back the bar graphs.:)
    Reply
  • jjb8675309
    This is a great article, Toms needs more budget rundowns like this and perhaps more games in the test sweet that exploit the cpu difference more...
    Reply
  • compton
    I think if you're really budget limited, but need to build a system today, buying 1155 makes a little more sense. Get a decent motherboard, then get an 1155 Celeron G530/540 or Pentium. Then save up some money, and upgrade to an Ivy Bridge CPU later. The i3 is great, but the i5s are a much better deal $/performance.

    So if you need a new system and can't afford an i5, just buy a cheap 1155 SB as a placeholder until you can . Like the conclusion states, the upgrade path is there -- I just think that if it's a temporary step, you might as well save $60 to $80 if you're upgrading in the next 4 months anyway. You'd be surprised how fast the SB budget parts are, and they're fast enough to get you through till IB.

    Reply
  • esrever
    would be nice if more benchmarks were done, there are a lot of popular games that would be nice to test like civ 5, l4d2 or similar source game, mw3, SWTOR ect. Even if some of them aren't the most demanding games it would be nice to see them as they would be more relevant than dirt 3 or battlefield 3 single player.
    Reply
  • jp182
    esreverwould be nice if more benchmarks were done, there are a lot of popular games that would be nice to test like civ 5, l4d2 or similar source game, mw3, SWTOR ect. Even if some of them aren't the most demanding games it would be nice to see them as they would be more relevant than dirt 3 or battlefield 3 single player.
    It would be nice if they through Civ 5 or MW3 in but at least on the FPS front, I think BF3 has a bigger following on the PC and the same thing goes for Skyrim. Not sure how many people are still playing Just Cause 2 though. In either case, I think this has more to do with being able to compare these results to the results from past benchmarks they've run.
    Reply
  • manu 11
    Thanks for appreciating our feedback, thank you very much. Great Article As always.
    Reply
  • lemlo
    9527590 said:
    Whats with the line graph Don, it's hard to read especially with the choice of color on the lines. Bring back the bar graphs.:)


    The line graph is better way to show it's behaviour over a period of time rather than a flat average, which doesn't explain frequent dips or long stretches of smooth gameplay in fps and such.

    A very informative and realistic article, nice work Tom's. Lets hope AMD has something with piledriver.
    Reply
  • amdfangirl
    Sucks that the Core i3 can't be overclocked like the legendary e4xxx series or the e2160 which you could get a 100% OC with.

    If DC Sandy Bridges could be unlocked, they would be so good for gaming.
    Reply
  • erunion
    Love the FPS graphed over time. Keep using them!
    Reply