AMD FX-4170 Vs. Intel Core i3-3220: Which ~$125 CPU Should You Buy?

AMD has the clock rate on its side. But Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture boasts superior IPC throughput. We pit the 4.2 GHz FX-4170 against Intel's new 3.3 GHz Core i3-3220 in an effort to determine which CPU is the better buy for $125.

Intel's Ivy Bridge architecture does give us improved graphics performance. However, aside from a slight boost to instruction-per-cycle (IPC) throughput, the new design offers little more to enthusiasts shopping for a stronger processor. As a result, the new 3.3 GHz Core i3-3220 is fairly similar to the older Core i3-2120, which also ran at 3.3 GHz.

The situation is a little different when you look at AMD's mainstream line-up. The company recently introduced its FX-4170, which features a base close 600 MHz faster and a Turbo Core frequency up to 500 MHz faster than FX-4100. Granted you step up to a 125 W thermal ceiling when you embrace AMD's dual-module solution, and you pay $10 more. But we expect enthusiasts chasing performance to gladly make those compromises when a better experience is available. So, is it?

New action in the budget-oriented processor space makes for an interest re-match. Ever since introducing its Sandy Bridge design, Intel has enjoyed a quantifiable advantage in the gaming space, its Pentium G860 beating AMD's Phenom II X4 955 and FX-8120 in our suite using high-end graphics (Picking A Sub-$200 Gaming CPU: FX, An APU, Or A Pentium?) Conversely, we've shown that an FX-4100 can keep pace with Intel's Core i3-2100 when you use a less expensive GPU, which becomes the bottleneck in games (AMD FX Vs. Intel Core i3: Exploring Game Performance With Cheap GPUs).

So, with the introduction of the Core i3-3220, we thought it'd be prudent to revisit both companies' $125 offerings to see how they do in terms of gaming and productivity.

AMD FX-4170Intel Core i3-3220
Architecture: BulldozerIvy Bridge
Manufacturing Process: 32 nm 22 nm
Cores (Threads): 4 (4)
2 (4)
Base Clock Rate (Maximum Turbo): 4.2 (4.3) GHz
3.3 GHz
Processor Interface: Socket AM3+LGA 1155
L3 Cache: 8 MB3 MB
Thermal Envelope:
125 W
55 W
Online Price:
$120 (Newegg)
$130 (Newegg)

The match-up we have is both interesting and asymmetrical. The two processors are capable of executing four threads concurrently. Intel achieves this with two physical cores equipped with its Hyper-Threading technology to exploit underutilized resources, while AMD's FX-4170 employs two Bulldozer modules sporting a pair of integer cores, a shared floating-point unit, and a bunch of other shared resources. The FX-4170 includes 8 MB of shared L3 cache, while the Core i3 has 3 MB. AMD's FX-4170 operates at a base clock rate 900 MHz higher than Intel's offering, and it can accelerate a full 1 GHz higher under the influence of Turbo Core. The Core i3-3220 doesn't benefit from Intel's Turbo Boost technology at all, but instead relies on an architecture able to execute more instructions per cycle than AMD's. The entire FX family comes equipped with an unlocked ratio multiplier, useful for overclocking, while all of Intel's Core i3s don't accommodate overclocking at all, really.

If you consider the specifications on their own, the Core i3-3220 looks completely outclassed. But because the Ivy Bridge design enjoys far superior IPC than AMD's best effort, each core is made all the more effective, despite a substantial frequency deficit. To that point, there's also a colossal disparity in the power these two chips dissipate. The FX-4170 has a 125 W TDP, while the Core i3-3220, manufactured at 22 nm, has a 55 W ceiling. That's less than half of the FX.

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  • EzioAs
    Nice review as always. Nothing really too surprising but I guess it was quite necessary to compare the 2 CPUs at the same price point (not everybody prefers Intel). If Piledriver pulls through (I hope it does), then maybe AMD will have the slight edge at performance per dollar against the i3 Ivy Bridge
  • jerm1027
    At $125, they should have included the FX-6100. That's $120 on Newegg, plus an additional $15 off on sale.
  • Soma42
    Nothing too surprising I suppose. AMD is looking to cut 20% of it's workforce and I think I know why. Performance is hit or miss and at twice the power of Intel's offerings. Intel is getting close to competing with ARM with their mainstream lineup and AMD's dual module is still at 125W. What's wrong here?

    Hope Piledriver is all that it promises and more.
  • joytech22
    Damn it AMD, I really want you to pull a rabbit out of your cake hole and do well.
  • theabsinthehare
    This hurts. I've been an AMD fan for a long time and I was really excited for Bulldozer. However, after seeing the lackluster performance, I put off upgrading until Piledriver. I'm not so sure about Piledriver now, though, and I think it might be time to throw in the towel and finally buy an Intel chip for once.
  • abitoms
    One thing in the review's last page's title really piqued me

    "...but Tomorrow Shows More Promise for AMD". in ... Oct 16, 2012 or is it only figurative?
  • abhijitkalyane
    Hope Vishera changes this - a $125 chip that can beat i3 at stock (apps & games) and can ALSO be overclocked would be a great thing for budget enthusiasts, who right now are stuck with either locked Intel CPU or not-so-great-performing AMD CPU. Power numbers still don't look good. Probably due to the 32nm process (and also due to architectural differences I suppose). Is Vishera 32nm or 22? Fingers crossed for healthy competition :)
  • cleeve
    jerm1027At $125, they should have included the FX-6100. That's $120 on Newegg, plus an additional $15 off on sale.

    At 3.3 GHz, the 6100 doesn't fare well. It's easily out-gamed by the FX-4170, and only gets a bit of a break in highly threaded apps.
  • user32123
    Why not compare with Trinity? It has higher performance, lower power and modern chipset
  • abitoms
    @user32123, i guess it's because that's already done
  • tomfreak
    Looking at those slow the softwae developer adopting multi-threaded app, it seems it is clear that i3 is the clear winner.
  • esrever
    Would have love to have seen a phenom II in there too.

    In my opinion, if you are on a budget, the FX4170 can be a decent cpu, it is $10 cheaper than the i3, it isn't much but might be able to give you a slightly bigger budget on graphics. Its not a complete wash either. The power consumption might be high but nothing a desktop can't handle, would be more expensive for people who pay more for power but generally in north america, power is pretty cheap.
  • e56imfg
    As an Intel fanboy and a ex-AMD fan, this article was both enjoyable and depressing, since AMD is just losing the CPU game.
  • army_ant7
    I seriously squealed when I saw this article on the front page. These kinds of articles make really excited. I'm looking forward to (really anxious for) the Vishera review. Will now read... :lol:
  • army_ant7
    402965 said:
    Is Vishera 32nm or 22?
    I forgot where I read it, but I believe it's still 32nm... Oh wait... Maybe that's just Trinity. I may've actually been hoping Vishera were 28nm or something. I hate it when my memory fails me. Anyway...

    21257 said:
    jerm1027At $125, they should have included the FX-6100. That's $120 on Newegg, plus an additional $15 off on sale.
    At 3.3 GHz, the 6100 doesn't fare well. It's easily out-gamed by the FX-4170, and only gets a bit of a break in highly threaded apps.

    Does that mean the FX-4170 and 6100 really share the same MSRP? Because I was thinking that it may just be a Newegg (shop-specific) price thing (possibly a sale/discount).
    I don't think it would've been a bad idea to have it around if that were the case (though I don't mean to impose more work on you guys). It might've been something to see what relative application performance score it would've gotten compared to the i5, as well as how much it performs less compared to the FX-4170. (I imagine by not so much since a lot of the games were GPU-limited already.) :)
  • fe1ixdcat
    I buy whatever CPU and GPU will do the best at the time I decide to upgrade...

    NO fanboi here....

    My current AMD powered laptop plays Skyrim reasonably, something that would have easily required another $100 to do with an Intel laptop at the time of upgrade.

    Next time? Whatever has the best numbers will be what I buy... (I always wait to see if a chipset or CPU/GPU is plagued with problems before I buy - usually 3-6 months after they hit market)

    Brand loyalty is something companies try to instill in consumers, and nowadays it has no place in a consumer's choice of hardware or software.

    Buy what will do the things you NEED to do... forget about joining the war one way or the other.

    If more people would buy what is on top instead of supporting only one company, more companies would have to innovate and improve their products more substantially.
  • theabsinthehare
    churfyo guy who wrote this is dumb. look at what he says, 'significant' fps advantage in some game or another. the difference was 10 fps and not just any fps. the fps from 55 to 65 is nothing on a 60hz monitor that can only play 60 fps, basically. intel biased guy who wrote this needs to drink a cup of reality.

    A: 10 frames is significant. It's 16.6%
    B: This is about benchmark performance, not whether you'll notice the drop in frames or not.

    However, I will note that if your display is 60hz, and the game you're playing has vsync, then that small 5 frame difference between the game running at 55 fps and the display's 60hz actually changes to a HUGE frame drop, because the FPS will drop to 30 to stay in sync with the display.
  • division_9
    They should've included the Phenom II X4 965 BE just for comparison's sake. Its $90 as well.
  • ModernKamikaze
    I built my PC with the 2120, should I get the 3220 instead?
  • amdfangirl
    I wish they included overclocked results... but those power consumption figures...

    Not something you'd like with Australian electricity prices.
  • Regor245
    ModernKamikazeI built my PC with the 2120, should I get the 3220 instead?

    3220 is only 5-7% faster than 2120 ^

    2120 to 3220... not worth (imo) and you should get an i5 instead.
  • adgjlsfhk
    Given The performance of this gen AMD, I would much prefer if they kept the same performance, but took down power by 15%
  • jerm1027
    21257 said:
    At 3.3 GHz, the 6100 doesn't fare well. It's easily out-gamed by the FX-4170, and only gets a bit of a break in highly threaded apps.

    On an unlocked CPU, I don't see much of an issue with the clockspeed and even at stock speed the extra module would have performance benefit, especially in the A/V conversion, content creation, and even some productivity workloads. Correct me if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the FX-6100 be a better option than the FX-4170 for someone who isn't gaming, especially considering the same price point?
  • daglesj
    I read these comments about AMD CPUs and it's as though they were still pushing the old K6 chips from the turn of the century.

    Hyperbole much? Just exactly what applications would you be stopped from running if you used a current AMD CPU?

    Remember there are benchmarks and then there is reality. Reality is those of us that actually do proper work and not sit running pointless benchmarks all day.