iXBT Labs - Computer Hardware in Detail






Intel Core i3-2100 Processor

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The move from single to dual-core processors in the mainstream market happened rather quickly and firmly: both Intel and AMD just stopped developing single-core CPUs. The production continued, but such models were already made by cutting down dual-core ones. Intel also used the dual-core design in making of quad and hexacore processors, too. AMD, in turn, developed the initially quad-core Phenom, but continued to produce dual-core Athlons. The change in process technology and architecture resulted in as many as three independent lineups: Deneb, Propus and Regor. The latter was a special sort of dual-core design (also used in single-core Semprons). Intel, having mastered monolithic design, didn't stop making initially dual-core chips which still occupy the largest share of the market, especially in mobile PCs where the number of cores is rarely higher than two.

For how much longer this may go on? We can't say much about AMD right now, but Intel does have a dual-core design for processors based on the new architecture. Such products (mostly mobile, of course), although were sent to production just recently, were announced at almost the same time the higher-end quad-core processors were rolled out. In other words, Intel is going to stick to making dual-core solutions for a while longer, so we might as well take a closer look at those.

The architectural part is simple: it's the familiar Sandy Bridge, but with twice as fewer cores and halved cache: 2 cores, 4MB L3. Note that you'll get the full-fledged cache, only if you buy a machine with a Core i7 CPU based on Sandy Bridge DC. As for graphics, all new notebooks will feature GMA HD 3000 whatever the processor lineup. As you can see, Intel hasn't yet bothered to put model naming in order: Core i7 solutions can still have either two (mobile) or four (desktop) cores. But mobile processors need to be reviewed separately, so let's get back to desktop CPUs based on Sandy Bridge DC for now.

You're going to see a lot of those in the market soon, because Intel plans to start producing inexpensive LGA1155 processors before the spring ends. Well, this is reasonable — Celeron and Pentium for the LGA775 platform have been around for much too long. As for higher-end segments, not a lot of dual-core CPUs is slated for those. Which is also logical, because the trend of increasing the number of cores and threads in the over $150 segment has been around for a while, too. All in all, there are four desktop processors based on this core so far. All have 3MB of L3 cache and GMA HD 2000 graphics. Of those four only two are regular desktop solutions with 65W TDP: Core i3-2100 and Core i3-2120. The other two, Core i3-2100T and i5-2390T, consume 35W and belong to a class which hasn't been represented in desktop lineups before. (Some people were surprised why Celeron E3000 processors had official TDP about three times higher than their maximum power consumption.) Well, it seems Intel has finally noticed and acknowledged the demand for compact PCs, and offered proper CPUs for those instead of just mobile ones. But why did they have to make the same mistake and come up with a desktop dual-core Core i5 processor? The only one at that. Sure, it has low power consumption, but it'll also have to compete with Core i5-2500T. And the latter works at similar clock rates, consumes up to 45W, but has twice as many cores and double the cache at that. And those who don't care about low TDP at all, may just buy an inexpensive 95W Core i5 or a slightly more expensive S series CPU with 65W TDP. Oh well. How marketologists think has always been a mystery.


CPU Core i3-2100 Core i3-560 Core i5-680 Core i5-2300 Core 2 Quad Q8200
Core Sandy Bridge DC Clarkdale Clarkdale Sandy Bridge QC Yorkfield
Process technology, nm 32 32/45 32/45 32 45
Core clock rate, GHz 3.1 3.33 3.6/3.87 2.8/3.1 2.33
Initial multiplier 31 25 27 28 7
Turbo Boost scheme - - 2-1 3-2-2-1 -
Cores/threads 2/4 2/4 2/4 4/4 4/4
L1 cache, I/D, KB 32/32 32/32 32/32 32/32 32/32
L2 cache, KB 2x256 2x256 2x256 4x256 2x2048
L3 cache, MB 3 4 4 6 -
Uncore clock, GHz 3.1 2.13 2.4 2.8 -
RAM 2 x DDR3-1333 2 x DDR3-1333 2 x DDR3-1333 2 x DDR3-1333 -
FSB clock rate, MHz - - - - 1333
Socket LGA1155 LGA1156 LGA1156 LGA1155 LGA775
TDP, W 65 73 73 95 95

For our tests we got Core i3-2100, the lowest-end in the series. Since testing it alone would've been boring, we found a few competitors. Firstly, Core i3-560, the fastest of the 'older' Core i3 processors. Its clock rate is a bit higher, but that will hardly help, given the efficiency of the Sandy Bridge architecture. Secondly, Core i5-680. Its clock rate is noticeably higher, and that should help. But also costs much more than any LGA1155 solution, so losing to it isn't critical (though the extent of the loss is important). Thirdly, Core i5-2300. It's interesting to know the difference between two CPUs for the same platform. Finally, the somewhat unexpected Core 2 Quad Q8200, the slowest in the lineup. But we know that Core i5 LGA1156 processors couldn't adequately replace Core 2 Quad solutions in due time. Let's see how today's processors compare.

CPU Athlon II X4 645 Phenom II X2 560 Phenom II X3 740 Phenom II X4 965
Core Propus Callisto Heka Deneb
Process technology, nm 45 45 45 45
Core clock rate, GHz 3.1 3.3 3.0 3.4
Multiplier 15.5 16.5 15 17
Uncore clock, GHz - 2 2 2
Cores/threads 4/4 2/2 3/3 4/4
L1 cache, I/D, KB 64/64 64/64 64/64 64/64
L2 cache, KB 4x512 2x512 3x512 4x512
L3 cache, MB - 6 6 6
RAM 2 x DDR3-1333 2 x DDR3-1333 2 x DDR3-1333 2 x DDR3-1333
Socket AM3 AM3 AM3 AM3
TDP, W 95 80 95 95

Since we haven't yet tested Phenom II X4 840, the direct rival of the today's hero, we decided to add as many as four AMD processors to the competition. Firstly, Athlon II X4 645, a fast quad-core CPU without L3 cache. Secondly, Phenom II X2 560 and X3 740 — two and three cores, respectively, but with L3 cache already. Finally, Phenom II X4 965 with enough cores and cache, good clock rate, and everything else. All the more so because the last price cut made it cheaper than Core i5-2300.

  Motherboard RAM
LGA1155 Gigabyte P67A-UD5 (P67) Kingston KVR1333D3N9K3/6G (2x1333; 9-9-9-24)
LGA1156 Gigabyte P55A-UD6 (P55) Kingston KVR1333D3N9K3/6G (2x1333; 9-9-9-24)
LGA775 ASUS P5Q Deluxe (P45) Crucial Ballistix BL2KIT25664AA80A (2x1066, 5-5-5-15-2T)
AM3 Gigabyte 890FXA-UD7 (AMD 890FX) Corsair CM3X2G1600C9DHX (2x1333; 7-7-7-20-1T, Unganged Mode)

We planned to stop using DDR2 memory in our tests, but decided to make an exception for LGA775. Long ago, we found out that DDR3 memory had a negative effect on those processors. Besides, these results will be mostly interesting for those who already have such a CPU and plan to upgrade. And such people most likely have DDR2 memory, so there they go.

The rest of the testbed is as follows:

  • 1TB Samsung HD103SJ hard drive;
  • ATI Radeon HD 5870 1GB GDDR5 graphics card;
  • Cooler Master Real Power M1000 power supply;
  • 22-inch monitor at 1680x1050;
  • Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate x64 operating system;
  • ATI Catalyst Drivers 10.3.

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Page 2: Tests

Page 3: Tests cont'd, conclusions

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