Intel Core i3 2120 Reviewccokeman - September 29, 2011
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Sure its nice to play with the high end processors and video cards, but when you get down to it, how relevant is that to the person looking to build a computer for the same amount of cash some of us enthusiasts spend on just video cards or high end CPUs alone? Not everyone has the budget, or realistically the need, for a $5000 behemoth of a PC when a dual-core $500 build with a low cost CPU will do the job. In steps the Core i3 lineup, of which the 2120 I am looking at today belongs. Last year we had some pretty potent Clarkdale offerings in the Core i5 655K and 661, which delivered great performance and overclocking. Intel has limited most overclocking on the Sandybridge architecture unless you have a K-SKU processor. These are currently limited to the 2500 and 2600K quad-core chips, not the low end dual-core offerings. Although it would be nice to go down that road for some low cost unlocked fun, so far it's not an option! The i3 2120 is a dual-core Sandybridge-based processor, running with a clock speed of 3.3GHz. It supports Hyper-Threading, has 3MB of L3 cache, does not support Intel's Turbo Boost technology, and is equipped with Intel HD 2000 graphics. Priced at just under $140, this offering should give AMD's latest APU a run for its money. Let's see if it will.
When it comes to processor reviews, we usually have an engineering sample stuck in a tiny box instead of the full retail package, so Intel surprised us with this retail sample. The retail box is small, befitting the contents inside, and is typical for Intel. The front shows the Intel and Core i3 logo, with the processor packaged inside listed along the bottom edge of the box. The back side is covered with text listing what is inside, as well as some compatibility warnings near the bottom. The top side has a window that shows off the CPU so you can be assured you are getting exactly what is listed. The bottom contains all the pertinent information on the CPU, including the S-spec, power rating, batch code, and product code for the Core i3 2120.
Inside the packaging is a cardboard shell that holds the Intel heat sink package and Core i3 2120 processor. Also inside is a manual of sorts that contains information about the processor, its installation, and the warranty. Pretty much standard fare for processors sold today.
Last, but not least, is the Core i3 2120. This processor resides at the lower end of Intel's Socket 1155 Sandybridge series product line and is slightly faster than the i3 2100 due to the 2x multiplier difference. The Core i3 2120 is built using Intel's 32nm HKMG process. The die size on the Core i3 2120 is 131mm2 with 504 million transistors under the lid. Unlike the 2500 and 2600K processors, this is a dual-core processor that supports Hyper-Threading, dual-channel memory, and runs at a clock speed of 3.3GHz via the locked 33x multiplier and 100MHz bclock. Intel Turbo Boost technology is not supported, so the 3.3GHz is all you will see unless of course you tweak the bclock for an incremental bump to around 3.5GHz. The power window that the i3 2120 operates in is 65 watts. On-die graphics come in the form of Intel's HD 2000 graphics engine with six execution units versus the twelve found on HD 3000-equipped processors. Visually, the CPU looks identical to its overclocking-friendly brethren, with the exception being some of the surface mount transistors on the bottom and the laser-etched information on the integrated heatspreader.
Before curiosity kills the cat, let's look and see how well this little gem fares against AMD's latest Llahno-based offering, the A8-3850, and if the Core i3 2120 is a viable candidate for the low end budget.