In a dual core battle, Intel’s entry level Sandy Bridge chip, the Core i3-2100, takes on AMD’s best, the Phenom II X2 565 Black Edition. Find out how they stack up against each another and Intel’s Clarkdale processors.
March 7, 2011 by Lawrence Lee
Phenom II X2 565 Black Edition
As Intel’s Cougar Point recall has begun to resolve itself, we thought it would be an appropriate time to check out a lesser known Sandy Bridge processor. With so much adulation being thrown at high-end parts like the Core i5-2500K and i7-2600K, followed by the issue with LGA1155 motherboards, it was easy for Intel’s new Core i3 lineup to get lost in the shuffle. These dual core chips certainly don’t elicit as much excitement, but they are important as many users’ computing demands don’t warrant the more expensive quad core chips. In addition, there still many applications that do not take advantage of extra threads.
The Sandy Bridge i3’s are stripped down 65W dual core chips with just 3MB of L3 (compared to 6MB/8MB on the i5/i7), slower HD 2000 graphics, and lack the TurboBoost dynamic overclocking feature, but they do have Hyper-threading. For now, there are just two standard models, the 3.1 GHz Core i3-2100 and 3.3 GHz Core i3-2120. Our i3-2100 sample will be compared with Intel’s older Clarkdale processors as well as AMD’s latest dual core CPUs. Unfortunately AMD doesn’t have anything remarkable in this department, just more of the same silicon with slightly higher clock speeds.
Dual Core Desktop CPU Comparison ($150 and less)
Athlon II X2 250
Athlon II X2 255
Athlon II X2 260
Athlon II X2 265
Phenom II X2 555 Black Edition
Phenom II X2 560 Black Edition
Phenom II X2 565 Black Edition
Tested processors are in bold.
Since our last budget CPU roundup, AMD added the Athlon II X2 265, and their latest is the Phenom II X2 565 Black Edition. Both are clocked at 3.3 GHz, but as per usual, the Phenom version has 6MB of L2 cache and an unlocked multiplier to aid in overclocking. With a street price of about US$115, it competes with midrange LGA1156 dual core processors like the Core i3-540. Despite being the entry-level Sandy Bridge model, the Core i3-2100 is more expensive than the X2 565 at US$130.
Of course CPU cost is only one part of the equation. You can’t discuss value without including motherboard cost, which varies from socket to socket. In the table above, we added the street price of the chips we’re comparing today with the average price of a compatible motherboard from Newegg (Intel/Asus/Gigabyte/MSI DDR3 microATX and ATX models). It turned out to be US$97 for AM3, US$118 for LGA1156, and US$147 for LGA1155 (LGA1155 prices were taken before the Cougar Point recall for the greater sample size). The average Sandy Bridge Core i3 setup costs about US$65 more than a typical Phenom II X2 565 combination, significantly more than the US$15 difference in CPU pricing.
Common Test Platform:
Measurement and Analysis Tools
Timed Benchmark Test Details
x264 1080p: Spaceship is a 1080p x264 clip encoded from the
Our main test procedure is a series of benchmarks, timed tests of real-world applications. System power consumption (AC) is measured with a Seasonic Power Angel during these tests (an average of the first 10~15 seconds) as well as at idle, during playback of a 1080p H.264 encoded clip, and during full CPU load. To stress the CPU we use either either Prime95 (large FFTs setting) or CPUBurn depending on which
produces higher system power consumption. The AC system power is then later converted to DC.
Certain services and features like Superfetch and System Restore are disabled
to prevent them from affecting our results. Aero glass is left enabled if supported.
We also make note if energy saving features like Cool’n’Quiet and SpeedStep
do not function properly.
Estimating DC Power
The following power efficiency figures were obtained for the
Seasonic SS-400ET used in our test system:
Seasonic SS-400ET Test Results
DC Output (W)
AC Input (W)
This data is enough to give us a very good estimate of DC demand in our
test system. We extrapolate the DC power output from the measured AC power
input based on this data. We won’t go through the math; it’s easy enough
to figure out for yourself if you really want to.
Before we jump into our test results, please note the operating voltages
of the processors tested today as sort of a disclaimer. Different samples of
the same processor often run at slightly different operating voltages which
can affect energy efficiency. Different motherboard models do not apply the exact same core voltage either.
Our first test is low load system power consumption, at idle and during video playback. While some users work their systems hard, other machines are often left idling or used for mundane tasks like watching video or surfing the web for hours on end.
At idle and during video playback using discrete graphics, the i3-2100 used the same amount of power as the quad core i5-2400, but both were much more frugal than AMD’s lineup. The i3-2100 used 12W less than the X2 565 at idle. For context, if the CPUs are used as always-on file servers, 12W is the equivalent of 3~4 idling low RPM hard drives.
On a theoretical full load, the i3-2100 and X2 565 are polar opposites, with the Intel chip sucking down 40W less than the Phenom, and 20~30W less than the dual core Athlons.
For our thermal test, each CPU was paired with the Scythe Kabuto with its stock
fan spinning at ~800 rpm. AMD temperatures were taken using the motherboard’s
sensor via SpeedFan and Intel temperatures were taking with RealTemp.
On load, the i3-2100 was 14°C cooler than the i5-2400. The X2 565 was hotter incrementally compared to the models below it.
To test performance we pit the processors against one another in a short series of timed tasks using real world applications. Power consumption was measured when applicable.
Not content to take the energy efficiency crown, the i3-2100 beat up the X2 565 in Photoshop by 25 seconds, 22% faster. It performed on par with the more expensive and higher clocked i5-680 for LGA1156.
The X2 565 performed much better in our NOD32 test, trailing the i3-2100 by just five seconds, but it takes a beating when you consider power consumption as well. In this test the i3-2100 was closer in speed to its LGA1156 predecessors.
In WinRAR, both Sandy Bridge processors came out on top, with a big lead over the Phenom II X2 565 and 555, both in speed and energy efficiency. The i3-2100 was blew the i5-680 out of the water despite a 500 MHz clock speed differential.
The i3-2100 was a bit faster clock for clock than the Clarkdale i5-600 series when encoding AAC with iTunes. None of AMD’s chips were competitive in this test.
Our video encoding benchmarks are representative of how well the CPUs respond to multithreaded applications. This is where quad and hex core processors typically shine.
In TMPGEnc, the quad core i5-2400 obviously led the pack, followed by Intel’s dual core offerings. The i3-2100 was no faster than its predecessors, finishing the test ahead of the i3-530 and behind the i5-661. AMD’s chips trailed by a substantial amount.
The i3-2100 fared better with HandBrake, pulling slightly ahead of the i5-661. Once again AMD’s dual core chips were far behind.
Overall, the Core i3-2100 was a very impressive performer, finishing our benchmarks a few seconds slower than the Core i5-680, which is clocked 500 MHz higher and sells for US$170 more. The i3-2100 also beat out AMD’s best dual core, the Phenom II X2 565 by 21%. The Athlon II and Phenom II X2’s struggle to compete with Intel’s previous generation.
The total power consumption of our test suite gives Intel another win, with the i3-2100 using just 18.5 Watt-hours to finish our benchmarks, almost half that of the X2 565. It was also a bit more efficient than the older Clarkdale CPUs, though many of our readers have pointed out that our LGA1156 test board is not very efficient. We’ll call it a draw.
In our opinion, CPU selection should be based on a combination of performance, cost, and energy efficiency. With this in mind we created a weighted scoring system, with each aspect having equal worth. The best performing processor in each category received 33.33 points and the rest scored proportionally. The perfect CPU would ideally have a total score of 100. For the energy efficiency portion of score, we assumed that half of its operating life would be at low load (the average of idle and video playback consumption) and the other half at high load (the average consumption during our timed tests).
When all three aspects are taken into account, i3-2100 is the most balanced dual core chip under the US$150 mark. Despite their poor performance and lackluster power efficiency, the Athlon II X2’s score well thanks to their extremely low pricing.
Given the dominance of the quad cores in Intel’s Sandy Bridge lineup, it is no surprise that the dual core Core i3-2100 is equally impressive. Despite having a large clock speed disadvantage, the i3-2100 matches the much more expensive i5-680 in performance without consuming additional power. The entire i5-6xx series is priced substantially higher than the i3-2100, making them effectively redundant unless price-cuts are introduced. With LGA1155 motherboards now beginning to ship once again, LGA1156, as a platform is not particularly attractive. It may only be worth investing in if a low-end Core i3 is to be paired with a cheap H55 motherboard.
Unfortunately, we don’t have many positive things to say about AMD’s latest dual core processors. The reality is that the K10 architecture is looking really long in the tooth and it’s going to take a lot more than clock speed bumps to stay in the race. The fastest Athlon II and Phenom II X2’s are still trying to keep up with Intel’s previous generation Clarkdale CPUs, and as such they are completely outmatched by their new Sandy Bridge opponents. Not only is the i3-2100 faster, the difference in energy efficiency is massive, and the integrated graphics baked into every Sandy Bridge CPU also outperform AMD’s offerings.
Not content with just dominating the high-end and midrange, Intel is now creeping into the entry level segment of the desktop CPU market with compelling hardware. The Athlon II X2 series still offer good value, but only because Intel has no ultra-cheap alternative. The extra cache provided by the Phenom II X2’s isn’t beneficial enough in most situations; they are only worth purchasing if you’re willing to gamble that the disabled cores are stable/unlockable. At stock settings they don’t bring a whole lot to the party in relation to the extra cost and power draw. AMD still has attractive affordable triple and quad cores, but the overall situation is looking grim. AMD’s next microprocessor architecture, Bulldozer, is supposed to be released sometime this year, and it needs to deliver a monstrous boost in performance if AMD intends to be competitive again.
* * *
Articles of Related Interest
Asus E35M1-M Pro: AMD Fusion Motherboard
Sandy Bridge, Part 4: Core i5-2400, i5-2500K and i7-2600K CPUs
Sandy Bridge, Part 1: Intel GMA HD 3000/2000 Graphics
AMD Athlon II X3: Affordable Compromise
Athlon II X4 610e & Phenom II X4 910e: 45W & 65W Quad Cores
Intel Core i5-661: A 32nm CPU with Integrated Graphics
* * *