Intel Core i3 2120 Review

ccokeman - 2011-07-14 18:48:42 in CPU's
Category: CPU's
Reviewed by: ccokeman   
Reviewed on: September 29, 2011
Price: $139


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.

Closer Look:

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.


Intel Core i3
Processor Number
Price (1Ku)
Cores/ Threads
CPU Base Freq (GHz)
Max Turbo Freq(GHz)
DDR3 (MHz)
L3 Cache
Intel® HD Graphics 2000/3000
Graphics Max Dynamic Frequency
850MHz up to 1100MHz
Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology
Intel® Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX)
Intel® Quick Sync Video
Intel® vPro/ TXT / VT-d / Intel® SIPP
Intel® AES-NI
Intel® Virtualization Technology



Intel Sandybridge Microarchitecture

Processor Graphics

Intel® Turbo Boost Technology 2.0

Intel® Hyper-Threading Technology 2

Up to 8Mb Shared Intel® Smart Cache

Integrated memory controller (IMC) –2ch DDR3, up to 1600

Halogen Free*


Testing the Intel Core i3 2120 will include running it and comparison products through the OCC test suite of benchmarks that include both synthetic benchmarks and real world applications to see how each of these products perform. The gaming tests will also include both synthetic benchmarks and actual game play to see if similarly prepared setups offer any performance advantages. Instead of leaving the gaming tests to a discrete video card, the gaming prowess of the IGP will get a small workout as well. The system will receive a fully updated, fresh install of Windows 7 Professional 64-bit edition and I've used the latest drivers for each board and the latest AMD Catalyst drivers for the XFX HD 6970. To ensure as few variables as possible, all hardware will be tested at their stock speeds, timings, voltages and latencies — unless otherwise stated.


Testing Setup: Intel Core i3/i5 Socket 1155


Testing Setup: AMD Socket FM1


Comparison CPUs:




Overclocked Settings:

As we all know with the Sandybridge lineup, there is only so much bclock headroom, with most CPUs coming in around the 103 to 106MHz mark — a really nice one may scale a little further, with some even reaching 110MHz. Those samples are difficult to find and are almost as common as chicken's teeth. What I found with this Core i3 2120 from Intel is that it scaled up to 105.8 MHz, to drive the CPU clock speed close to 3.5GHz, or 3491MHz to be correct. Very little was tweaked to reach this speed other than a small tweak to the I/O and system agent voltages. Very typical Sandybridge, no fuss overclocking. Graphics overclocking fared a little better, with the HD 2000 GPU core clock reaching 1300MHz, driving performance higher in some 3DMark Vantage testing. All in all, not much to work with, but there is some headroom to be had if so inclined. C'mon, it's free performance, so who wouldn't want to go and grab it?!


Maximum Clock Speed:

The maximum stable clock speed attained during the overclocked part of the testing phase. Each processor was able to pass Prime 95 for several hours at these speeds.




  1. Apophysis
  2. Bibble 5
  3. WinRAR
  4. Geekbench
  5. Office 2007
  6. POV-Ray 3.7
  7. PCMark 7 Professional
  8. Sandra 2011
  9. ScienceMark 2.02
  10. Cinebench 10
  11. Cinebench 11.5
  12. HD Tune 4.60
  1. Aliens vs. Predator
  2. Civilization 5
  3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
  4. 3DMark Vantage


The first part of our testing will be the system-specific benchmarks.


Let's get started with Apophysis. This program is used primarily to render and generate fractal flame images. We will run this benchmark with the following settings:



The measurement used is time to render, in minutes, to complete.











Lower is Better


WinRAR is a tool to archive and compress large files to a manageable size. We will use 100MB and 500MB files to test the time needed to compress these files. Time will be measured in seconds.




Lower is Better





Lower is Better



Geekbench 2.1 is a benchmark that tests CPU and memory performance in an easy to use tool. The measure used for comparison is the total suite average score.


Higher is Better


Bibble 5:

This test consists of converting 100 8.2MP RAW images to jpeg format. The file size is 837MB. The measure used for comparison is time to convert the file in seconds.


Lower is Better


Comparable pricing aside, the Intel Core i3 2120 easily outperforms the A8-3850 in each of these benchmarks — several of them representing real performance increases to increase productivity or reduce the time commitment needed to complete the work loads.


Office 2007 Excel Big Number Crunch: This test takes a 6.2MB Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and performs about 28,000 sets of calculations that represent many of the most commonly used calculations in Excel. The measure of this test is how long it takes to refresh the sheet.

















Lower Is Better


POV-Ray 3.7: This program features a built-in benchmark that renders an image using Ray Tracing. The latest versions offer support for SMP (Symmetric MultiProcessing) enabling the workload to be spread across the cores for quicker completion.


Higher Is Better



Intel's Core i3 2120 completes the workload in Excel faster than the A8-3850, while the results are just the opposite in POV-Ray.


SiSoft Sandra is a diagnostic utility and synthetic benchmarking program. Sandra allows you to view your hardware at a higher level to be more helpful. For this benchmark, I will be running a broad spectrum of tests to gauge the performance of key functions of the CPUs.
















Processor Arithmetic


Multi-Core Efficiency



Memory Bandwidth



Memory Latency



Cache and Memory




Power Management Efficiency



At stock clock speeds, the i3 2120 outperforms the AMD APU. Overclocked, the AMD CPU performs better against the Intel i3 2120.


ScienceMark tests real world performance instead of using synthetic benchmarks. For this test, we ran the benchmark suite and will use the overall score for comparison.





















Higher is Better!




CineBench 10 is useful for testing your system, CPU, and OpenGL capabilities using the software program CINEMA 4D. We will be using the default tests for this benchmark.





Higher is Better

Cinebench 11.5



Higher is Better


HD Tune measures disk performance to make comparisons between drives or disk controllers.





Higher is Better





Lower is Better


PCMark 7 is the latest iteration of Futuremark's popular PCMark system performance tool. This latest version is designed for use on Windows 7 PCs and features a combination of 25 different workloads to accurately measure the performance of all PCs from laptops to desktops.


Higher is Better


Again the i3 2120 outperforms the AMD APU in just about every benchmark. Access time in HD Tune is the only test in this group where the i3 2120 is outperformed and is more a system-specific benchmark than a CPU benchmark.

Aliens vs. Predator, developed by Rebellion Developments, is a science fiction first-person shooter and is a remake of its 1999 game. The game is based off the two popular sci fi franchises. In this game, you have the option of playing through the single player campaigns as one of three species. The Alien, the Predator or the Human Colonial Marine. The Game uses Rebellion's Asura game engine that supports Dynamic Lighting, Shader Model 3.0, Soft Particle systems and Physics. To test this game I will be using the Aliens vs. Predator benchmark tool with the settings listed below. All DirectX 11 features are enabled.















Higher = Better


This first set of game tests shows the GPU as the limiting factor in gaming performance. In Aliens vs. Predator, the i3 2120 is more than capable of delivering the same frame rates as the quad-core 2500K. At 1680 x 1050, the Intel CPUs deliver a higher level of performance.


Civilization V is a turn-based strategy game. The premise is to play as one of 18 civilizations and lead the civilization from the "dawn of man" up to the space age. This latest iteration of the Civilization series uses a new game engine and massive changes to the way the AI is used throughout the game. Civilization V is developed by Firaxis Games and is published by 2K games and was released for Windows in September of 2010. Testing will be done using actual game play with FPS measured by Fraps through a series of five turns,150 turns into the game.















Higher = Better


In all four Civilization V tests, the i3 2120 delivers higher FPS than the A8-3850.


Batman: Arkham Asylum is a new game that brings together two bitter rivals, the Joker and Batman. The Joker has taken over Arkham Asylum, Gotham's home for the criminally insane. Your task is to rein the Joker back in and restore order. This game makes use of PhysX technology to create a rich environment for you to become the Dark Knight.















Higher = Better


The i3 2120 performed more in-line with the 2500K than the A8-3850 in this game.


Featuring all-new game tests at the time, this benchmark is for use with Vista-based systems. "There are two all-new CPU tests that have been designed around a new 'Physics and Artificial Intelligence-related computation.' CPU test two offers support for physics related hardware." There are four preset levels that correspond to specific resolutions. "Entry" is 1024 x 768 progressing to "Extreme" at 1920 x 1200. Of course, each preset can be modified to arrange any number of user-designed testing. For our testing, I will use the four presets at all default settings.















Higher = Better


The CPU scores show the i3 2120 to be stronger at stock speeds, as well as when overclocked. Running with a discrete card installed, the 2120 leads the A8-3850 in almost all the tests.


The integrated GPU used in the i3 2120 is Intel's HD 2000 graphics engine. Equipped with six execution units, or half of the compliment seen with the HD 3000 GPU used on the i5 2500K, the performance is going to be less than what is offered with a K-SKU or select i3 models, such as the i3 2125.


Testing Setup: Intel Core i3/i5 Socket 1155


Testing Setup: AMD Socket FM1




Batman Arkham Asylum Settings:




To further put the HD 2000 graphics to the test, I overclocked the IGP from 800MHz to 1350MHz and measured the performance increase over the baseline number in Futuremark 3DMark Vantage. The results show that there is a benefit to pushing the clock speeds on the IGP.


As can be seen in the Batman testing, the HD 2000 graphics engine is capable of playing Batman with reasonable frame rates when the eye candy and resolution are turned down. AMD's solution proves stronger here, delivering performance on par with that of the HD 3000 graphics engine used in the i5 2500K. Overclocking the HD 2000 GPU does pay dividends, but most people probably wont bother.


Is the Core i3 2120 a processor for the enthusiast? Yes and no. As a toy to use for overclocking and searching for the upper limits of the performance ladder, it is not. As a processor for use in a low-cost gaming rig or home theater PC, the i3 2120 is more than adequate. Not that you can't overclock this little gem, but overclocking is seriously hampered by the locked multiplier on the CPU and lack of Turbo Boost technology support. The bclock can be bumped up for a small boost in performance on the CPU side of the chip. I was able to boost up the bclock to a fairly decent 105.8MHz to drive the processor speed up to 3492MHz — a 192MHz increase over the baseline 3300MHz. Not stellar, but worth the effort and about average for the Sandybridge lineup. The HD 2000 graphics core saw some overclocking action as well, with a boost up to 1350MHz that proved to deliver a decent boost in IGP performance. The question is how many will take advantage of these overclocking options? Priced at $139, the Core i3 2120 comes in right at the same price point as the A8-3850 from AMD. Comparing the two together directly shows that Intel's architecture at that price point seems to be superior at just about every turn. The exception is in gaming performance using the IGP, where AMD's 6550D delivers performance along the lines of Intel's HD 3000 graphics engine. When using a higher-end discrete video card, the results flip the other direction with the i3 2120 outperforming the A8-3850 at stock speeds and the higher overclock on AMD's offering almost evening the field...but not quite.

Sporting two physical cores with Hyper-Threading support, the i3 2120 has proven itself to be a potent little performer against its direct competition. As a low cost, low power solution, it offers improved performance in applications used every day for compressing data and editing pictures or movies. Having few faults, the i3 is able to perform all the tasks asked of a modern multimedia PC for a low cost of entry.