Meet Intel's Core i3-8100
Intel's Coffee Lake architecture represents the company's biggest generational improvement in more than a decade. Specifically, though, its Core i3 models benefit most. In the past, Core i3 chips wielded two Hyper-Threaded cores. But Coffee Lake-based i3s sport four physical cores. On paper, that makes them roughly equivalent to Kaby Lake-based Core i5s at lower prices.
The improvement was badly needed. AMD's Ryzen 3 1300X and 1200 offered unlocked ratio multipliers and twice as many cores as previous-gen Core i3s, earning our unabashed praise. Intel tries leveling the playing field with Coffee Lake. In response, AMD slashed prices on its Ryzen 5 and 7 CPUs.
Part of our list of best CPUs for desktop applications at press time, the Core i3-8100 competes at a price point where AMD might not be able to get much more aggressive. All Ryzen processors utilize the same eight-core die, so there is a fixed manufacturing cost, even for the four-core Ryzen 3 models.
Although Intel only sells two Coffee Lake-based Cores i3s for now, there's a $60 chasm between the Core i3-8100 and unlocked Core i3-8350K. And that K-series chip isn't a typical Core i3. It doesn't come with a bundled cooler, it requires a pricey Z-series motherboard for overclocking, and it only costs a few dollars less than the six-core Core i5-8400. Naturally, we recommend stepping up to the higher-performance CPU.
Core i3-8100, on the other hand, fits neatly into the familiar mainstream pricing structure and is a good complement for the B-series motherboards due to arrive early this year. Selling for $121 online, it's Intel's only real competition against Ryzen 3 1300X and 1200.
The Core i3-8100
Intel's entire Coffee Lake line-up operates at lower base frequencies than its Kaby Lake chips due to the prevalence of extra cores. For the Core i7/i5 families, Intel offsets those conservative clock rates with higher Turbo Boost bins. But Core i3-8100 doesn't benefit from Turbo Boost. That means you get a static frequency, regardless of how many cores are active. So, the -8100's 3.6 GHz ceiling could yield lower performance in lightly-threaded workloads compared to the 3.9 GHz Core i3-7100.
Of course, four physical cores should also translate to a big speed-up in heavily-threaded tasks favoring Core i3-8100. Extra cores naturally use more power, so Core i3-8100 carries a 65W TDP versus Core i3-7100's 51W rating.
The i3's cores come with 1.5MB of cache each, adding up to 6MB of L3 across the die. Core i3-8350K boasts 2MB of L3 cache per core, for a total of 8MB. Meanwhile, the Ryzen 3 models sport 8MB of L3 cache as well. As we've seen, though, in real-world applications, cache latency and throughput can drag down the advantage of higher capacity. Our benchmarks will sort out the winners.
Coffee Lake-based Core i3s support the same DDR4-2400 transfer rate as Kaby Lake models, while Core i5s and i7s now accommodate up to DDR4-2666. The Core i3-8100 includes UHD Graphics 630 on-die, which is essentially the same as Kaby Lake's integrated graphics engine. This gives Intel an advantage over AMD's Ryzen processors if you aren't planning on using a discrete GPU.
Intel lists the Core i3-8100 at $117, which matches the Kaby Lake-based Core i3-7100. Coffee Lake pricing has improved alongside availability, and we're now seeing this chip online for ~$121. It naturally does battle, then, with AMD's $130 Ryzen 3 1300X and $110 Ryzen 3 1200. Let's see how they stack up.
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