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Intel Core i3 2120
The 'Core i3 2120' is a computer CPU produced by Intel. It runs on the LGA1155 socket (otherwise known as the 'Sandy Bridge' socket), runs at 3.3GHz and is geared more towards the budget market than the high-price market.
Ease of Installation
Happily, the Intel Core i3 – and for that matter any of the Sandy Bridge processors, is very easy to fit into the motherboard. For the most part, many agree (including myself) that inserting this CPU into the motherboard was the easiest part of their build.
To insert the CPU into the motherboard, you simply remove a cap on the motherboard, allowing the slot to open up (removing the retraction arm first, which helps keep whatever's in the CPU socket in the CPU socket) then you place the CPU onto it, pins facing downwards. You then pull the retraction arm down over the socket, sealing the CPU in place. After this, you fit either the included heatsink or custom heatsink on top of the CPU. This is done by hovering the heatsink over the four holes and securing the heatsink to the motherboard and CPU by turning four knobs clockwise.
From here, the installation is actually complete, making for one of the easiest CPU installations I have ever attempted. If this made you sound even a tiny bit worried, you needn’t be, since most motherboards come with a picture-based guide on how to insert your CPU. Some even come with a video, making it even easier to fit!
While the Intel Core i3 2120 is amongst the 'budget' end of the Intel CPU market, it still delivers a fair bit of 'oomph' for the price-tag. I've been using my one for fairly high-end gaming, and for a fairly large amount of CPU heavy applications, such as 3D Modelling software and several game development engines.
--Cores and Threads--
The Intel Core i3 2120 has two physical cores, and these use a technology called 'hyperthreading', which basically means that they double up into four 'logical' cores, allowing the processor to work more like a quad core than a dual core. This is a useful feature for applications which are multithreaded (this means they can use multiple 'threads' for different operations within the program), as it means that performance is pretty drastically increased.
As for the usages of the CPU, a particularly impressive one has been gaming – even in the majority of CPU-dependant games, the CPU has not actually been the limiting factor, it has nearly always been my graphics card, acting as such a bottleneck that it usually leaves about 50% of my CPU free to do other things in the background while still running the game at an incredibly speedy framerate (usually around 60fps, which is as fast as my monitor can display properly). For gaming I think that the i3 2120 is a pretty future-proof budget option, especially since the majority of games are not utilizing it now, leaving some leeway for the future.
--'CPU Intensive' Applications--
For the heavier applications, such as 3D Modelling and Game Development, the whole CPU was utilised. Each of these applications regularly had the CPU running at 100%. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the performance of this CPU in 3D Modelling software and other such things, as it produces incredibly quick results, especially when compared against my previous main development machine, a Core 2 Duo E6600 @ 2.2GHz, which had frankly began to degrade and become unusable for high-impact needs. For the price, the heavier applications around were performing more than acceptably for a CPU of this calibre.
They were performing extraordinarily.
If we dump the idea of 'real-world' benchmarks and go to the world of strictly performance benchmarks, ranking tiny increments of performance through varied and strenuous test, we can see that on a Passmark benchmark (Passmark is a benchmark specifically designed to rank computer components), that the i3 2120 receives a score of '4,193', which is relatively high, especially for a budget CPU.
Compared to the nearest priced AMD CPU, the 'AMD Phenom II x4 965', it performs roughly equally (the AMD Phenom receives a score of '4,199', only six points higher than the i3), but for a lower price (across the vast majority of retailers, the i3 2120 ranges from minutely to massively cheaper, increasing it's value for money).
It also beats the majority of the AMD FX series of CPUs, which were released as a direct competitor (albeit a more expensive one) to the Sandy Bridge CPUs in general.
Power Consumption is one of the things on every-ones mind, right? I mean, why wouldn't it be, power is expensive, and the more power you use, the more is added onto your electricity bill at the end of the month, and nobody wants that to be any higher than it needs to be, so if you regularly use a computer for long periods of time, it makes sense that power consumption will make masses of difference to you.
Luckily, this is pretty much THE area where Intel beats the AMD competitor. The main priced AMD competitor (the aforementioned AMD Phenom II x4 965) can use up to a whopping 125W of power on the CPU alone. The i3 2120 should use up to 65w. Assuming you've got the CPUs maxed out at all times, that's a 48% reduction in power usage by using the i3. However, if you're not using the CPU maxed out the whole time, surely the power usage will go down?
Correct! The power usage does go down when not in use. I've built and used both the i3 2120 and the AMD Phenom II x4 before, and the Phenom usually uses about 65w near idle, which is a lot compared to the i3 2120, which is using a whole 7w as I type this review. This is a massive ~90% reduction in power usage by using the i3, and something that nearly every user should take into direct consideration when purchasing a new CPU.
When power's involved. Intel comes out on top.
The Intel-bundled heatsinks and processor fans are generally known for being a bit on the junky side, but with the i3 2120, the stock cooler is more than enough. Of course, if you were using – say – an i5, it would probably be time to buy a third party cooler, because they are chips that are so much faster, and work much harder than the i3's, which are coincidentally fine under stock cooling.
With the pre-applied thermal paste on the heatsink, the processor rarely reaches over 50c under stress, where the maximum temperature for the processor is 69.1c, leaving plenty of headroom even when performing the most demanding of tasks (even Prime95 doesn't yield temperate results).
These tests were conducted in a Novatech Prowler Mid-tower case with two accompanying case fans, these additional fans may have affected the outcome of this test slightly.
The Integrated Graphics
The Integrated Graphics in the i3 2120 are Intel HD 2000 series graphics. They are not all that accustomed to gaming, but can provide playable gameplay (30fps) on DiRT 2 at medium settings, and can also decode 1080p video without any slowdown, making it ideal for simple home use.
The integrated graphics are not required to be used, and are turned off automatically (disabling all of the video outputs on the board) with the presence of a discrete video card. If you plan to do any serious gaming, a discreet video card is recommended, as the Intel HD graphics, while good, can't really hold their own against even a 'AMD HD Radeon 6570', a ~£45 budget card.
Value for Money
I purchased my Intel Core i3 2120 for £89.99, and I can tell you that for the price, there is practically no competitor that could possibly deliver the same level of performance, with the AMD Phenom equivalent performance sitting at about £130 on the majority of websites.
The processor is also pretty future proof, and I doubt it will need replacing any time soon, but even if it does, the architecture (LGA1155) is compatible with the upcoming Ivy Bridge processors, so if you find that the i3 is not fast enough for your needs, you can replace it with a faster i3 processor that comes with the Ivy Bridge architecture, or an Ivy Bridge i5 – that is if you really need a step up.
I really doubt you'll need to upgrade this processor any time soon though. I expect it'll be good for gaming, multitasking and general use for a good few years to come.
The Intel Core i3 2120 is a super-worthy processor, especially for the incredibly cheap price that you can usually find it for. It's a cool-running chip, that is capable of a fairly high clock speed and some phenomenally high-end things, including gaming and 3D editing without slowdown. This is a processor that is fine in both general home-use situations, and even some of the most demanding of applications.
This is a seriously good processor for the price. I highly recommend it, even if the integrated graphics aren't the greatest.
I give this processor four out of five!
(Also posted on my DooYoo)
Pictures of Intel Core i3 2120 / 3.3 GHz processor
Here is an image of CPU-Z, a CPU diagnostic software showing the advanced specs of the i3 2120 in my system.