Intel Core i3 2100 £96
14th Apr 2011 | 14:25
Does the budget Sandy Bridge processor provide enough features?
Intel Core i3 2100: Overview
After all the Sandy Bridge goodness without the quad-core price-tag? Then the dual-core Intel Core i3 2100 might well be up your street.
While the high-end unlocked Sandy Bridge CPUs, the Intel Core i7 2600K and Intel Core i5 2500K were rightfully taking all the plaudits for being overclocking monsters, the 2600K especially, not many people were looking at the other end of the food chain.
That is to say in the value end of the market where the lowly Intel Core i3 2100 is to be found. As with all the current Sandy Bridge processors, it's built on the 32nm process and manages to pack 504 million transistors into its die.
The Core i3 2100 is clocked at 3.1GHz with 3MB of L3 cache, which sounds like it should be a fairly blazing chip. However it has no Turbo Boost and is totally locked down, so there's no overclocking fun available on the processing side.
This is a pity, because some of the best overclockable Intel chips in the past have come from this segment of the market.
You may not be able to overclock the CPU core but you can though do a smidgen of tinkering to the HD2000 graphics core integrated into this second generation Core CPU.
Intel Core i3 2100: Benchmarks
Because the Intel Core i3 2100 multiplier is locked, and without any Turbo Boost, the only thing that can be overclocked is the graphics core.
This is done by adjusting the graphics multiplier in the BIOS. The way the speed is worked out is by multiplying the host clock by 0.5 and then by the multiplier.
The highest we could get our sample to run stably was at 1.3GHz
CPU video encoding performance
1080p CPU gaming performance
1080p CPU gaming performance (maximum overclock)
Intel Core i3 2100 review: Verdict
The Intel Core i3 2100 is the first of the Sandy Bridge processors that does away with the four cores of its siblings and makes do with just two, though HyperThreading is thrown in.
This, together with its lack of overclocking features, means it's very much the poor relation of the family when it comes to performance.
The degree to which the performance has taken a hit from this reduction in core count can be seen by comparing any of the i3 2100's CPU benchmarks and comparing it against the Intel Core i5 2500T.
The Intel Core i3 2100 has a 3.1GHz clock speed with 3MB of L3 cache compared to the 2.3GHz clock speed of the i5. The i5, though, is a fully fledged quad core with 6MB of L3 cache, and simply crushes its sibling.
The Core i3 2100 uses Intel's HD2000 graphics core using six execution cores and has a base frequency of 850MHz which can rise to dynamically to 1,100MHz when needed.
The HD2000 is the only part of the core that can be overclocked, which is achieved by tweaking the graphics multiplier in the BIOS. After several goes our i3 settled down at 1,300MHz, which isn't a bad jump from the standard speeds.
It probably doesn't need saying, but even at its overclocked speed the gaming performance of the graphics core is practically nonexistent for high-end 3D games.
To lock the Intel Core i3 2100 down is a bit of an odd decision by Intel, because it may just make potential purchases turn to low-priced, but overclockable, AMD processors instead. Though it may just be hoping people instead choose to dig a bit deeper and buy a more powerful quad-core Core i5.
It's really tough to like the Intel Core i3 2100 as it doesn't have a lot going for it. The CPU market is just so competitive in this price range that about the best you can say for it is that it'll be fine for a low-power HTPC
One of the great things about low cost Intel processors of the past was that some of them turned out to be overclocking gems, legends even. Unfortunately the Core i3 2100 won't be able to join them thanks to Intel's decision to lock the core completely.
Low end system builders may love it, but whether the home user will build a system around it is a bit doubtful.