Skip to main content

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 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.

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

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

F1 2021 on Intel Core i3-12100

Hitman 3 on Core i3-12100

Horizon Zero Dawn on Core i3-12100

Microsoft Flight Simulator 2021 on Core i3-12100

Red Dead Redemption 2 on Core i3-12100

Watch Dogs Legion on Core i3-12100

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