Finding The Best Intel Core i3 Processor
The Intel Core i3 series is the lowest end of Intel’s “Core” series of processors. This doesn’t mean that the i3s are bad or underpowered, however: the Pentium and Celeron lines still exist for low-end users, with the i3 line serving as more of an entry to the world of mid-range CPUs.
Because of this, i3 processors are particularly popular for budget-minded enthusiasts, who can’t afford to spend more than $400 or $500 on a custom PC build. The latest i3 processors are even getting better at keeping up with modern GPUs, thanks in part to hyperthreading, increased core counts, and unlocked overclocking capabilities on some chips.
Today, we’re going to discuss all you need to know about the Intel Core i3 series of processors and help you pick out the best one for your needs.
Where does the Intel Core i3 excel?
The i3 CPU series excels in the following contexts:
- General usage and productivity. Intel i3 processors should be able to manage your typical tasks- web browsing, listening to music, watching videos- with little-to-no issues. Unless you’re using Chrome with, say, 30+ tabs, you shouldn’t experience any problems with your i3 processor in day-to-day usage.
- Media consumption and HTPC usage. If you want to use an i3 in your Home Theater PC build, go ahead! It’s perfect for the job, with integrated graphics capable of handling HD video rendering and a low-power, low-heat profile. This also means i3 processors are great for long Netflix, Hulu, and YouTube marathons.
- Budget gaming builds. Running a GTX 1050 Ti or lower? An i3 processor will be great for you, providing the performance you need to push your graphics card to its limits without bottlenecking your system. However, you may still struggle with modern CPU-intensive games.
Is the Intel Core i3 too little for my usage scenarios?
Worried the i3 might not be enough for you? Here are some situations where it won’t be:
- Hardcore gaming. If you’re running a GTX 1060 or better, an i3 will bottleneck your system. If this is the case, you should either upgrade to an i5 or tone down your GPU selection and put the spare cash elsewhere in your budget, like an SSD or a larger HDD. Additionally, don’t expect to push eSports titles to 144hz or play modern games at high settings with reliable 60FPS performance.
- Streaming on Twitch. If you fancy yourself a livestreamer, you need to buy a high-end i5 or an i7. Streaming on Twitch while maintaining acceptable in-game performance would be pretty much impossible with an i3 CPU, and for that reason, we strongly recommend against it.
- Rendering video. Even outside of real-time scenarios, an i3 will be dreadfully slow for rendering video, especially when compared to an i5 or i7. It will work in a pinch, but you really shouldn’t do it if you need to render video on a regular basis.
- Core Count – 2 (4 with hyperthreading)
- Speed – 3.70 GHz
- Integrated Graphics – Intel HD Graphics 530 with 4K support
First up is our first budget pick, the i3-6100. While a few generations behind, this CPU is still a worthwhile buy for gamers on a budget and isn’t quite obsolete yet. There are cheaper i3s out there- new and used- but those chips are so old at this point that from a performance and upgradability standpoint, buying them in 2018 would be a truly horrible decision.
This processor boasts 2 “real” cores, which will be treated as 4 cores by Windows with hyperthreading enabled. While it’s better to have more real cores, hyperthreading still results in performance boosts, especially for tasks that utilize multiple CPU cores or general multitasking.
For your $300-$400 gaming build, this processor is a good match. With its burgeoning 4K video support on its integrated graphics, it may even make for a nice HTPC chip with no dedicated GPU required.
- Core Count – 4 cores
- Speed – 3.6 GHz
- Integrated Graphics – Intel UHD Graphics 630
The Intel Core i3-8100 CPU is our value pick. It has an excellent price-to-performance balance, arguably the best of the i3 line in general, and boasts an actual quad-core setup, no hyperthreading required.
In addition to superior performance and core count over the 6100, the 8100 is also on Intel’s latest motherboard socket. This means that if you opt to buy this CPU, you can upgrade it to a current-gen i5, i7 or i9 processor in the future, providing it with much more future-proofing than the 6100 and its dead socket.
Its integrated graphics are also a significant step up, which should make it appropriate for actual 4K video viewing in an HTPC environment. In terms of gaming, however, you still won’t be getting much to speak of here- be sure to buy a dedicated GPU if you choose to go that route.
Overall, this processor should serve your purposes if all you’re looking for is a budget gaming CPU or a great HTPC/general use CPU. There’s one more CPU below as well, in case you want to squeeze as much performance as possible out of your i3 without buying an i5.
- Core Count – 4
- Speed – 3.70 GHz (overclockable)
- Integrated Graphics – Intel UHD Graphics 630
If you’re looking for the most powerful i3 processor on the market, this one is it.
The i3-8350K breaks tradition by being not only a quad-core i3 CPU, but an i3 CPU that you can overclock. With a high base clock speed of 3.70 GHz and a theoretical max “turbo” clock of 4.70 GHz, the 8350K is boasting some seriously impressive clock speeds.
Like the 8100, the 8350K also boasts 4 real cores and Intel UHD graphics. Where it sets itself apart is with a whopping 18% performance advantage, which actually allows it to perform on par with a basic i5 of the same architecture! From a sheer performance standpoint, it’s really hard to overlook the 8350K and its capabilities.
Where its downside comes into play, however, is in its pricing. While a better value than a low-end i5, the 8350K is still suffering from a disproportionately high price versus its other i3 companions. Additionally, to actually utilize its overclocking, you’ll need to buy a motherboard which supports the feature, which can easily add another $50 or more to your price tag.
Because of this, we have to place this CPU at the bottom of the list. While its overclocking capabilities do allow it to punch outside of its weight class, those capabilities can only be unlocked by opting for a non-budget motherboard, which defeats the entire purpose of the i3 line.
If you’re thinking a bit further ahead, and want to start with an OC-enabled motherboard so you can upgrade to an overclockable i5 or i7 later…this might be a good option. Otherwise, save your money and get the 8100 instead.