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Intel Core i3-12100 Review: The Little Gaming Giant

Lowly quad-core serves up big gaming performance.

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

Intel Alder Lake Core i3-12100 Power Consumption and Efficiency

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. 

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. 

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, meaning you can't overclock the CPU cores, 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

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
Paul Alcorn

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

  • adamXpeter
    What is wrong with the Core i5-12600K?
    Reply
  • Why_Me
    adamXpeter said:
    What is wrong with the Core i5-12600K?
    My guess is it was reviewed before newer bios came out.
    Reply
  • deepblue08
    This chart makes me think how good of a value 5600X has been all this time. Even now it performs very solidly against the latest from Intel.
    Reply
  • blagomils
    The only thing is that i3-12100 should be compared against i5-10400 (if comparing current alternatives from previous generations) instead of i3-10100, as the i5 is the one that is similarly priced and the older i3 has much lower price. Basicaly the same 30% lower price for the same performance drop.
    Reply
  • rtoaht
    deepblue08 said:
    This chart makes me think how good of a value 5600X has been all this time. Even now it performs very solidly against the latest from Intel.
    5600x was getting sold for over $300 a year ago. It is now getting matched by a $169 12400F. Doesn’t seem to be a good value for “all the time” when a $300 class CPU becomes a sub $170 class CPU within a year. There wasn’t much inflation when 5600X launched for AMD to jack up the Ryzen 5 price by $50. Consumer mentality like yours can make them increase the price again this year by another $50 or may even be more since now there is an inflation to blame as well.
    Reply
  • tennis2
    rtoaht said:
    5600x was getting sold for over $300 a year ago. It is now getting matched by a $169 12400F. Doesn’t seem to be a good value for “all the time” when a $300 class CPU becomes a sub $170 class CPU within a year.
    AMD was a little too proud of their accomplishment in Ryzen 5000 at launch for sure.

    Can we appreciate that 4 cores is still relevant in offline/single-player gaming though!
    Reply
  • spentshells
    tennis2 said:
    AMD was a little too proud of their accomplishment in Ryzen 5000 at launch for sure.

    Can we appreciate that 4 cores is still relevant in offline/single-player gaming though!
    too proud? They overcame their only rival for the first time in a decade and did so quite handily.
    I'd say they were right on the money........
    Reply