Articles: CPU

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Slowly but surely Ivy Bridge microarchitecture continues to penetrate various market segments. In early September Intel quietly started shipping new products with this microarchitecture from Core i3 and Pentium series. Unfortunately, this milestone remained almost unnoticed by the industry press and user community, which we consider completely unfair. Yes, when we talked about the processors from higher-end families, we pointed out multiple times that their performance didn’t improve much compared with the predecessors, but the mainstream workhorses like Core i3 should be assessed based on completely different criteria. For example, the integrated graphics core in processors like that is of much greater value, and lower overclocking potential than that of Sandy Bridge CPUs doesn’t really matter at all: these processors aren’t used in overclocker systems anyway. In other words, the new Core i3 processors may end up being much more attractive than the older CPUs from the same family, and the introduction of the new Ivy Bridge microarchitecture in the mainstream price segment will most likely become a much more significant matter than the changes in the Core i5 and Core i7 families.

Keeping in mind that practice is the major criterion, we tested the new Core i3 processors from the 3000-series and compared their performance against that of the predecessors on Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. So far we have expressed very restrained excitement about Ivy Bridge, but maybe the new test session of the $100-$150 processors will change that. Let’s find out!

Closer Look at New Core i3

We would like to start our discussion of the new Core i3 processors by stating that all LGA 1155 processors with Sandy Bridge as well as Ivy Bridge microarchitecture are differentiated into Core i3, Core i5 and Core i7 model line-ups following the same exact rules. Therefore, just like before, new Core i3 processors are dramatically different form their higher-end brothers: they are dual-core and not quad-core CPUs.

It could be the reason why some users consider Core i3 family not worth their attention, but you shouldn’t make hasty conclusions. Although the first x86 CPUs with a pair of computational cores appeared in the market over 7 years ago, they still remain a pretty current choice for contemporary PCs and cannot get ousted from the market by modifications with more cores. The thing is that the existing software doesn’t get optimized for multi-core environments fast enough, and the continuously developing Intel Core microarchitecture delivers pretty decent relative performance per core. Moreover, Hyper-Threading technology activated in Core i3 processors does somewhat make up for the modest number of physical cores, as it adds two additional “virtual” cores to the two actual physical ones.

As a result, even though these processors are undoubtedly considered a lower-end solution than Core i5 or Core i7, it would be wrong to position them into the low-end price segment. You can clearly see it from the following table, where we collected the information about LGA 1155 implementations of the Ivy Bridge design in products from different price segments. Note that Core i3 processors offer higher frequencies, Hyper-Threading support and high-speed integrated graphics unlike the truly entry-level Pentium CPUs:

At the same time, fewer cores and, as a result, smaller L3 cache are not the only “weaknesses” of the junior Core line-up. These CPUs don’t have the “luxury” of enjoying Turbo Boost automatic overclocking technology, which works great in higher-end processors.

Besides, there are a few things potential owners of dual-core Ivy Bridge processors should also keep in mind. First, Core i3 CPUs from the 3000-series do not support cryptographic AES instructions. Secondly, the PCI Express bus controller integrated into these processors doesn’t support the third version of this specification and therefore allows connecting graphics cards only via PCI Express 2.0 protocol, just like previous generation processors on Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. However, these are not critical issues for the majority of today’s users. Fast cryptography is of no value in home systems, and the advantages of PCI Express 3.0 are quite ephemeral even if you are using a high-performance graphics card in your system.

Despite all the restrictions within the Core i3 family, it is currently one of Intel’s most popular offerings. This success is determined by very democratic prices combined with the performance level sufficient for most general purpose applications. Since their dual-core processors became so popular, Intel designed special semiconductor dies just for them. They have two computational cores right from the beginning and aren’t derived from the same quad-core die used for all CPU modifications with two disabled cores. Moreover, they even have two versions of this dual-core die: a modification with HD Graphics 4000 core inside (GT2) and HD Graphics 2500 core (GT1), which have completely different structure.

This allowed Intel to significantly lower the production costs of their Core i3 processors, because semiconductor dies with two computational cores are much smaller in size.

Core i3 processors can currently use Ivy Bridge H-2 modification, which, as we can see, allows the manufacturer to save quite a bit of silicon and increase the yields per 300 mm wafer. However, lower production cost is not the only benefit of having an original dual-core semiconductor die. All Core i3 processors also boast lower heat dissipation and power consumption than their elder brothers. While common Core i7 and Core i5 CPUs have a 77 W TDP, the TDP of the Core i3 processors is almost 30% lower and equals 55 W.

It may seem that a simpler semiconductor die should also have a positive effect on overclocking, but there is no real way to check whether it is true or not. The thing is that there is absolutely no way to change the processor clock frequency multiplier in any Core i3 processors. And together with the restrictions already implied in the LGA 1155 platform and the absence of Turbo Boost support in Core i3 these CPUs become fatally unoverclockable and can only be used at their nominal clock speeds.

The family of Core i3 processors manufactured using 22 nm process and based on Ivy Bridge microarchitecture is not very large and currently includes only five models. Two of them are energy-efficient processors and didn’t’ get included into our today’s roundup. The remaining three “regular” processors underwent extensive testing. They are Core i3-3240, Core i3-3225 and Core i3-3220. The table below lists their official specifications for your reference.

Note that although Core i3 processors from the 3000-series are based on Ivy Bridge H-2 die with a 4 MB L3 cache, a quarter of this memory has been blocked. Therefore, new Core i3 processors have a 3 MB L3 cache, just like the previous processors of the same series.

Using CPU-Z and GPU-Z utilities we will now take a closer look at the typical representatives of the Ivy Bridge Core i3 processor family.

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