Roundup: Intel Core i3 Processors with Ivy Bridge Microarchitecture

We continue talking about different desktop CPUs on third generation Core microarchitecture. Today we will discuss dual-core products: Core i3-3420, Core i3-3225 and Core i3-3220.

by Ilya Gavrichenkov
09/25/2012 | 02:17 PM

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.

Intel Core i3-3240

 

The top processor in the refreshed Core i3 family on Ivy bridge microarchitecture works at 3.4 GHz, which is the same frequency as the top quad-core processors have. However, Core i3-3240 has only half the cores and doesn’t support Turbo Boost. Moreover, this processor has the junior modification of the Intel’s integrated graphics core – HD Graphics 2500 with six execution units.

Although Core i3-3240 is currently the most expensive Intel’s dual-core desktop processor, it doesn’t allow increasing the multiplier and therefore doesn’t support any overclocking at all. However, it does allow adjusting the graphics core and DDR3 frequencies, i.e. you will be able to overclock graphics and use DDR3 SDRAM in modes, which are much faster than the nominal DDR3-1333/1600.

Intel Core i3-3225

 

The refreshed Core i3 processor family has slightly unusual hierarchy. The CPUs in this family are ranked not just according to their clock frequency, they also have a few other distinguishing features. The most “special” Core i3 model with Ivy Bridge microarchitecture would be Core i3-3225. Although this processor is 100 MHz slower than the top model in the family, it boasts a faster graphics core – Intel HD Graphics 4000 with sixteen execution units, which is similar to the graphics core integrated into the top desktop Core i7 and Core i5 CPUs. This makes Core i3-3225 a unique solution for inexpensive and compact integrated systems, which need fast 3D graphics and Quick Sync technology. At the same time it is important to point out that the graphics core operates at slightly higher clock speeds in Core i7 and Core i5 processors with higher TDP. However, you can always overclock graphics in Core i3-3225.

Intel Core i3-3220

 

The junior Core i3 model is the same as Core i3-3225, but with a “simpler” HD Graphics 2500. In other words, it is the analogue of the Core i3-3240 with 100 MHz lower frequency. This CPU costs $15-$20 less, which makes it a very attractive buy in terms of price-to-performance. I have to say that Core i3-3220 is not only the least expensive Intel’s third-generation Core processor, but the least expensive Core CPU in general among Ivy Bridge as well as Sandy Bridge models.

Testbed Configuration and Testing Methodology

We tested all three above described Core i3 processors from the 3000-series. They will be competing against previous generation Core i3 CPUs on Sandy Bridge microarchitecture as well as a few other products. To complete the picture we also included the junior Core i5 models. I am sure that many of you are wondering whether the new generation top Core i3 processors will be able to compete successfully against older quad-core Sandy Bridge based products.

Core i3 processors fall into a very attractive price range. This segment is also heavily populated by products from AMD – the company that has been focusing on affordable and entry-level processors lately. Therefore, we also included AMD FX-6200 and AMD FX-4170 processors with similar price tags. AMD Lynx platform may also fall into the same price range, so the AMD A8-3870K processor will also be one of the testing participants this time.

As a result, we put together test platforms with the following hardware and software components:

For our tests of the AMD FX-6200 and AMD FX-4170 based systems we installed KB2645594 and KB2646060 OS patches.

Intel Core i3-3225 processor didn’t participate in the tests performed in a system with a discrete graphics card, because its computational performance is identical to that of the Intel Core i3-3220 working at the same clock frequencies.

Performance

General Performance

As usual, we use Bapco SYSmark 2012 suite to estimate the processor performance in general-purpose tasks. It emulates the usage models in popular office and digital content creation and processing applications. The idea behind this test is fairly simple: it produces a single score characterizing the average computer performance.

We are already well familiar with the performance that Ivy Bridge processors can offer us, therefore SYSmark 2012 results seem quite normal to us. Just as with quad-core processors, the performance gain from the transition of Core i3 processor family to the new Ivy Bridge microarchitecture is quite minor: it makes only about 4%. It means that new Core i3 from the 3000 series cannot offer anything principally new in terms of performance. They are obviously slower than any originally quad-core Core i5 CPUs, but are faster than all AMD competitors including quad-core Llano as well as quad- and six-core Bulldozer.

Let’s take a closer look at the performance scores SYSmark 2012 generates in different usage scenarios. Office Productivity scenario emulates typical office tasks, such as text editing, electronic tables processing, email and Internet surfing. This scenario uses the following applications: ABBYY FineReader Pro 10.0, Adobe Acrobat Pro 9, Adobe Flash Player 10.1, Microsoft Excel 2010, Microsoft Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft Outlook 2010, Microsoft PowerPoint 2010, Microsoft Word 2010 and WinZip Pro 14.5.

Media Creation scenario emulates the creation of a video clip using previously taken digital images and videos. Here they use popular Adobe suites: Photoshop CS5 Extended, Premiere Pro CS5 and After Effects CS5.

Web Development is a scenario emulating web-site designing. It uses the following applications: Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended, Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, Adobe Dreamweaver CS5, Mozilla Firefox 3.6.8 and Microsoft Internet Explorer 9.

Data/Financial Analysis scenario is devoted to statistical analysis and prediction of market trends performed in Microsoft Excel 2010.

3D Modeling scenario is fully dedicated to 3D objects and rendering of static and dynamic scenes using Adobe Photoshop CS5 Extended, Autodesk 3ds Max 2011, Autodesk AutoCAD 2011 and Google SketchUp Pro 8.

The last scenario called System Management creates backups and installs software and updates. It involves several different versions of Mozilla Firefox Installer and WinZip Pro 14.5.

The tests in specific CPU usage scenarios repeat the overall picture. Core i3-3240 and Core i3-3220 are always a little ahead of their predecessors – Core i3-2125 and Core i3-2130, but are considerably far behind the junior Core i5 models, irrespective of the Core microarchitecture generation. In fact, the diagrams are absolutely relevant to the price gap between the Core i5 and Core i3 solutions and the use of new Ivy Bridge microarchitecture doesn’t have any real effect on the situation.

The situation becomes slightly unusual in Data/Financial Analysis and 3D Modeling scenarios, where AMD FX-6200 does noticeably better than usual: it outperforms all Intel Core i3 processors. Multi-core structure is obviously an indisputable advantage in case of this specific type of computational load. AMD processor that is capable of processing six computational threads simultaneously gets a very good chance to show better performance numbers than dual-core competitors.

Gaming Performance

As you know, it is the graphics subsystem that determines the performance of the entire platform equipped with pretty high-speed processors in the majority of contemporary games. Therefore, we do our best to make sure that the graphics card is not loaded too heavily during the test session: we select the most CPU-dependent tests and all tests are performed without antialiasing and in far not the highest screen resolutions. In other words, obtained results allow us to analyze not that much the fps rate that can be achieved in systems equipped with contemporary graphics accelerators, but rather how well contemporary processors can cope with gaming workload. Therefore, the results help us determine how the tested CPUs will behave in the nearest future, when new faster graphics card models will be widely available.

During our numerous preceding test sessions we pointed out multiple times that Core i5 processors were a really good fit for gaming systems. However, Core i3 CPUs also have much more to offer as you may have thought in the beginning of our review. The thing is that there are still quite a few games out there that are optimized only for dual-core and not the quad-core processors. And keeping in mind that Core i3 work at just a little lower clock frequencies than Core i5, they manage to show very good results in a number of cases. The examples of games where Core i3 and Core i5 are almost equally fast in terms of fps rate could be such titles as Starcraft 2 and Mafia II. However, it is important to understand that as time goes on there will be fewer games left where dual- and quad-core processors could be considered equally efficient.

Anyway, Core i5 is undoubtedly a more promising option for gaming. In fact, the results demonstrated by AMD FX-6200 in Metro 2033 or Batman Arkham City could be considered a perfect illustration of how important multi-core structure could be for games. Here six-core AMD processor with Bulldozer microarchitecture, which is usually quite unimpressive with workloads of this type, totally defeats the competition including new dual-core Core i3 CPUs. As we can see, the Hyper-Threading technology that enables Intel processors with two computational cores to simultaneously execute two additional threads is not enough to completely make up for the fewer physical cores in Core i3.

In addition to our gaming tests we would also like to offer you the results of the Futuremark 3DMark11 benchmark (Performance profile):

New Core i3 on Ivy Bridge microarchitecture are still a few percents ahead of their predecessors. Therefore, any competition against Core i5 processors is completely out of the question. Higher-end Intel processors are obviously faster here, too. As for the AMD products, the 3000-series Core i3 is confidently ahead of the quad-core Llano and Bulldozer, but since 3DMark 11 is very well-optimized for multi-threaded environments, the six-core AMD FX-6200 is still a little bit faster here.

Performance in Applications

To test the processors performance during data archiving we resort to WinRAR archiving utility. Using maximum compression rate we archive a folder with multiple files with 1.1 GB total size.

3000-series Core i3 processors are as usual a few percents ahead of their predecessors, but fall significantly behind the quad-core Core i5. The six-core Bulldozer also outperforms our today’s heroes.

The processor performance in cryptographic tasks is measured using a built-in benchmark of the popular TrueCrypt utility that uses AES-Twofish-Serpent “triple” encryption. I have to say that this utility not only loads any number of cores with work in a very efficient manner, but also supports special AES instructions.

Encryption is an example of a task where Core i3 processors reveal their weaknesses. Sufficient number of computational cores and AES instructions support are necessary to ensure that encryption algorithms will work fast. Core i3 with Ivy Bridge microarchitecture doesn’t have either of these. The result is obvious: they fall behind all of their competitors with the exception of the processors on Sandy Bridge microarchitecture.

Now that the eighth version of the popular scientific Mathematica suite is available, we decided to bring it back as one of our regular benchmarks. We use MathematicaMark8 integrated into this suite to test the systems performance:

Wolfram Mathematica is traditionally one of those applications that work well on Intel processors. Therefore, we are not surprised to see that dual-core Core i3 are way ahead of the quad-core and six-core AMD processors. Other than that the picture is quite common. Since all contemporary Intel processors have very close clock frequencies, Ivy Bridge CPUs are always a little bit ahead of the Sandy Bridge ones, and four fully-functional cores are always better than two cores with activated Hyper-Threading support.

We measured the performance in Adobe Photoshop CS6 using our own benchmark made from Retouch Artists Photoshop Speed Test that has been creatively modified. It includes typical editing of four 24-megapixel images from a digital photo camera.

New Ivy Bridge microarchitecture provides about 6% performance boost in Adobe Photoshop (provided the processors work at consistent clock frequencies). This is true for Core i5 as well as for different Core i3 modifications. However, this boost is obviously not enough to compare the 3000-series Core i3 processors at least against the old Core i5 on Sandy Bridge microarchitecture.

The performance in Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 is determined by the time it takes to render a Blu-ray project with a HDV 1080p25 video into H.264 format and apply different special effects to it.

HD video processing and transcoding is not a common task for inexpensive Core i3 processors. And in fact, it is not a really good fit for them anyway, because the number of computational cores does matter a lot here. As a result, Core i3 processors from the 3000-series perform as fast as the quad-core Bulldozer and fall behind their higher-end quad-core counterparts by more than 30%. However, we can’t deny that Ivy Bridge microarchitecture is indeed superior to Sandy Bridge here. New Core i3 are as much as 7% faster there than the old Core i3 processors. In fact, Premiere Pro should be regarded as one of those applications that let the new microarchitecture really show its strong sides.

In order to measure how fast our testing participants can transcode a video into H.264 format we used x264 HD Benchmark 5.0. It works with an original MPEG-2 video recorded in 1080p resolution with 20 Mbps bitrate. I have to say that the results of this test are of great practical value, because the x264 codec is also part of numerous popular transcoding utilities, such as HandBrake, MeGUI, VirtualDub, etc.

Everything we have just said about Adobe Premiere Pro is true here, too. Video transcoding doesn’t work too fast on dual-core processors, and Hyper-Threading technology doesn’t really make up that well for the lack of physical computational cores. Therefore, Core i3 processors lose even to AMD Llano and AMD Bulldozer with at least four cores during the second and the most resource-consuming transcoding pass.

Following our readers’ requests, we’ve added a new HD video benchmark to our tests. SVPmark3 shows the computer performance in the SmoothVideo Project application which makes videos smoother by adding new intermediary frames. The numbers in the diagram reflect the speed of processing Full HD videos without the graphics card’s help.

HD video processing is not the best environment for Core i3 processors. Even taking into account their low price point, we can’t recommend Core i3 for the tasks like that. Inexpensive AMD products with Bulldozer microarchitecture with more computational cores inside will do much better here.

We will test computational performance and rendering speeds in Autodesk 3ds max 2011 using the special SPECapc for 3ds max 2011 benchmark:

The processors usually perform the same way in rendering tasks as they do during video transcoding. However, things are different this time. Here dual-core Core i3 with Ivy Bridge microarchitecture perform as fast as the quad-core competitor CPUs.

We use special Cinebench 11.5 benchmark to test final rendering speed in Maxon Cinema 4D suite.

Dual-core Core i3 processors look pretty good against the background of the AMD quad-core products. Two Intel cores deliver about the same performance. However, if we compare Core i3 against Core i5, it becomes obvious that four Core cores are a much faster option. Unlike Core i5, Core i3 processor is a product, which functionality has been limited for the purpose of lowering the price, and activated even Hyper-Threading technology cannot fully make up for the limited number of physical cores.

Power Consumption

While Ivy Bridge microarchitecture doesn’t deliver any significant boost in the computational performance, it can provide other benefits. For example, it allows lowering power consumption and heat dissipation due to the core design as well as due to the transition to 22 nm production process and use of tri-gate transistors. When we tested Core i5 processor with Ivy Bridge microarchitecture, we pointed out that the power consumption of systems with them has dropped by about 10-15% compared with the power consumption of systems with Sandy Bridge based CPUs inside. We expect Core i3 processors to demonstrate about the same improvement of energy-efficiency, especially since the use of new microarchitecture allowed Intel to lower their TDP by 15%: from 65 to 55 W.

To get a better idea of how greatly the processor’ energy-efficiency actually improved we performed a round of special tests. The new digital power supply unit from Corsair – AX1200i – allows monitoring consumed and produced electrical power, which we use actively during our power consumption tests. The graphs below (unless specified otherwise) show the full power draw of the computer (without the monitor) measured after the power supply. It is the total power consumption of all the system components. The PSU's efficiency is not taken into account. The CPUs are loaded by running the 64-bit version of LinX 0.6.4-AVX utility. Moreover, we enabled Turbo mode and all power-saving technologies to correctly measure computer's power draw in idle mode: C1E, C6, Enhanced Intel SpeedStep and AMD Cool’n’Quiet.

It is hardly possible to reveal any noticeable changes in the energy-efficiency of the LGA 1155 platform in idle mode. The thing is that in idle mode all contemporary processors switch to special power-saving modes, in which their power consumption is as low as a few watts. In these conditions the power appetites of other system components and the efficiency of the voltage regulator circuitry on the mainboard prevent us from estimating pure processor power consumption adequately. A great illustration to this fact would be low power consumption of the AMD A8-3870K based system. It can be explained not by some specific features of the CPU, but merely by the fact that this Socket FM1 platform is based on a Gigabyte mainboard, which boasts a simple CPU voltage regulator circuitry, which is highly efficient under low operational loads.

In case of single-threaded load processors with different microarchitectures demonstrate dramatically different levels of power consumption. And here we have every right to state that Ivy Bridge microarchitecture is the most energy-efficient among all testing participants. Core i3 manufactured with 22 nm process do win the promised 8-10 W of power from their predecessors and demonstrate overwhelming advantage over the competitor’s offerings. However, let’s take a look what will happen under heavy multi-threaded load.

No doubt that Core i3 processors from the new 3000 series will make the most energy-efficient systems. Their power consumption and therefore heat dissipation are significantly lower than by all other platforms, and their advantages over the systems with dual-core Sandy Bridge processors is between 10 and 20 W. This makes Core i3 with Ivy Bridge microarchitecture a perfect choice for compact and energy-efficient systems. And, by the way, for these particular systems Intel has special energy-efficient Core i3 CPU modifications with 35 W TDP instead of 55 W.

Graphics Core Performance

When talking about contemporary LGA 1155 processors it is important to pay due attention to the integrated graphics cores, which has become faster and more advanced with the introduction of Ivy Bridge microarchitecture. This is particularly relevant for the Core i3 processors, which affordable price often places them into systems without external graphics accelerators.

Intel also understands this, and therefore they apply slightly different approach to the graphics core distribution in the Core i3 processor family than they do with quad-core CPUs. For example, desktop Core i3 processors may feature a “simple” Intel HD Graphics 2000 or HD Graphics 2500 as well as more advanced HD Graphics 3000 or HD Graphics 4000 modifications, which are common in mobile and overclocker CPUs from the K-series. Therefore, some desktop Core i3 processors, namely Core i3-2125 or Core i3-3225, could be, in fact, considered APUs, like AMD Llano with a Radeon HD graphics core inside.

We decided to start testing integrated graphics with 3DMark Vantage benchmarks. 3DMark scores are a very popular way of estimating average gaming performance of the graphics cards. And we chose Vantage suite because it uses DirectX 10 supported by all the participating graphics accelerators including integrated graphics in Core processors with Sandy Bridge microarchitecture.

Although new Intel HD Graphics 4000 core developed by Intel specifically for the Ivy Bridge processors has 16 execution units, it is still unable to catch up with the integrated graphics in the AMD A8-3870K processor. According to 3DMark Vantage, Core i3-3225 graphics is more than 25% behind the graphics of AMD Llano. So, looks like Core i3 processors cannot yet be considered a good choice for an entry-level gaming system.

However, Intel’s integrated graphics cores have indeed made colossal progress. HD Graphics 2500 in Core i3-3240 and Core i3-3220 processors is just as good as the previous generation HD Graphics 3000 core from Core i3-2125. And the Core i3-3225 CPU equipped with HD Graphics 4000 is twice as fast.

In addition to the synthetic 3DMark Vantage we ran a few real gaming tests. We used low image quality settings and 1650x1080 screen resolution, which in our opinion is the lowest acceptable screen resolution for the majority of desktop users these days.

The gaming 3D performance of the graphics cores integrated into processors is very similar to what we have just seen in 3DMark Vantage. AMD A8-3870K processor is at the top of all charts unattainable for Intel’s dual-core (and even quad-core) products. Its Radeon HD 6550D graphics core has the highest 3D speed of all integrated cores (and it will remain so until AMD A10 series processors come out). And even Core i3-3225 with Intel’s fastest integrated graphics accelerator can’t defeat the AMD competitor.

Nevertheless, in some games Core i3-3225 can generate quite acceptable graphics performance, which will provide decent fps rate for those gamers who do not chase superb image quality in 1650x1050 resolution and can do just fine with low image quality settings. In any case, while we could find quite a few games that worked fine on Intel’s integrated graphics from the Sandy Bridge generation, now the number of such games should be even greater. However, all this is only relevant to HD Graphics 4000. The “lite” graphics core modification, Intel HD Graphics 2500, can’t boast acceptable gaming performance. it yields to HD Graphics 3000 in games, so if you are looking for a dual-core LGA 1155 processor with fast graphics core, consider Core i3-2125 and not Core i3-3220.

However, not all users regard Intel’s integrated graphics cores as gaming 3D graphics accelerators. Many users are attracted to HD Graphics 4000 and HD Graphics 2500 for their multimedia capabilities, to which there is absolutely no alternative in the low-end price segment. Here we first of all mean the Quick Sync technology intended for fast hardware video transcoding into AVC/H.264 format, which second version has been implemented in Ivy Bridge processors. Since Intel promises that new integrated graphics cores will offer much higher transcoding speeds, we paid special attention to testing Quick Sync this time.

During our test session we measured the time it took to transcode one 40-minute episode of a popular TV-show from 1080p H.264 with 10 Mbps bitrate into a format compatible with Apple iPad2 (H.264, 1280x720, 3 Mbps). We used Cyberlink Media Espresso 6.5.2830 utility that supports Quick Sync.

The situation here is radically different from what we have just seen in games. The AMD processor we tested today doesn’t have any tools that could accelerate HD video transcoding for it. Therefore, any CPUs on Core microarchitecture supporting Quick Sync are several times faster than their competitors from AMD. Among Intel products the leadership belongs to Core i3-3225 with HD Graphics 4000 core inside. It is significantly faster than all of its dual-core counterparts as well as quad-core Core i5. In fact, there is nothing surprising about it: Intel HD Graphics 2500 modification not only has fewer execution units, but also has a slower media engine. That is why all other Core i3 and Core i5 processors with HD Graphics 2000, HD Graphics 2500 and HD Graphics 3000 take about the same time to transcode HD video, which is almost 1.5 times longer than it takes Core i3-3225.

Conclusion

The recently launched Core i3 processors from the 3000 series based on dual-core semiconductor dies with Ivy Bridge microarchitecture turned out to be not particularly exciting. Frankly speaking, these processors are not very much different from their predecessors in practical terms, and as for the few innovations that they have, we have already seen them before in other Ivy Bridge processors.

The new Core i3 have two computational cores, support Hyper-Threading and work at 3.4 GHz frequencies, just like the Core i3 processors with the 2000 series. Therefore, the performance improvement of the new processors results solely from the microarchitectural improvements, which are not very significant, as we all know. As a result, the performance difference between Core i3 processors on Ivy Bridge and Sandy Bridge microarchitectures is only 5%.

In other words, new Core i3 processors do not disturb Intel’s processor hierarchy in any way. The LGA 1155 Core i5 with either microarchitecture inside are noticeably faster than Core i3, which is reflected by their price. The new Core i3 CPUs cost the same as the old members of this family, i.e. considerably less than Core i5, which is a simple translation of their performance into terms familiar to any user.

The introduction of Ivy bridge design into dual-core Core i3 processors didn’t create internal competition with Core i5, but made the new Intel products look really impressive compared with the competition from AMD within the same price range. Our tests showed that in general purpose applications only six-core (!) AMD FX processors can actually successfully compete against the new dual-core Core i3. And this can only be the case in those tasks where the load can be effectively split into parallel threads, such as final rendering and HD video processing. As we see, Intel manages to retain the leadership in the mainstream price segment even without a significant performance improvement.

However, it would be unfair to say that Ivy Bridge microarchitecture didn’t bring any noticeable improvements to the new Core i3 processors. It did, though not to their computational performance aspect, but rather to their power consumption and heat dissipation. The TDP of the new Core i3 CPUs has officially become 10 W lower than that of the previous generation models. In reality, new processors allow building highly energy-efficient systems taking about 15 W off the power consumption of platforms built with previous generation dual-core Intel CPUs.

Moreover, just like their higher-end brothers, Intel Core i3 processors from the 3000 series acquired faster graphics cores with richer functionality. There is even a model with Intel’s best HD Graphics 4000 core – Core i3-3225. Since besides the support of all contemporary API it also boasts dramatically better 3D performance, we can recommend this processor for most integrated systems, especially if one of the common uses will be video transcoding with Quick Sync technology.

As a result, there is only one thing that we wish were different: Core i3 processors are not fit for enthusiasts. You can only overclock their graphics core, but the performance level in the nominal mode, though more than sufficient for many tasks, will hardly satisfy the advanced users’ cravings. So, dedicated explorers and enthusiasts who are looking for the lowest cost solutions out there, will still have to stay with various AMD CPUs, which do not limit overclocking and may often offer faster and more interesting integrated graphics.