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Intel Core i3-2120 & Core i5-2400 LGA1155 Processors Review

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MAC

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Revision B2 chipset flaw aside, Sandy Bridge has been an extremely successful launch for Intel. Unlike the Lynnfield processors, which were singularly overshadowed by the venerable Core i7-920, consumers have been making the switch to the LGA1155 platform in droves. Given how great the Core i5-2500K and i7-2600K perform, it is easy to forget that the current Sandy Bridge LGA1155 processors are part of Intel’s mainstream series, not their high-end one. Therefore, it is more than due time for us to test out some of the lower priced offerings. Although we would love to try them all, the two models that we are reviewing today are the Core i3-2120 and the Core i5-2400, which respectively have $138 and $184 MSRPs.

The budget-oriented and multiplier-locked Core i3-2120 is the chip that has to take the reins from the underrated Core i3-540. It is a dual-core 3.3GHz processor with Hyper-Threading, and thus can process up to four threads at a time. This CPU obviously features an integrated GPU in the form of the Intel HD Graphics 2000. This is the lower-end of the two IGP variants, it features 6 Execution Units (EUs) and a graphics frequency that starts at 850Mhz but can dynamically increase up to 1.1GHz. Also worth noting is the i3-2120’s 65W TDP, courtesy of the modern 32nm manufacturing process, which makes this model very well-suited for a small form factor (SFF) enclosure.

The Core i5-2400 is the spiritual successor to the quite popular Core i5-750. This mainstream quad-core processor features a default clock of 3.1Ghz, but it can Turbo Boost up to 3.4Ghz in lightly-threaded workloads. Much like the i5-2500K it does not support Hyper-Threading. However, unlike the aforementioned K-series chip, it does regrettably feature a locked CPU multiplier. Thankfully, Intel has thrown overclockers a bone, and have unlocked four additional Turbo multipliers above the highest Turbo frequency. As you will see in our overclocking section, this can be used to worthwhile effect in coordination with the base clock (BCLK).

The more eagled-eyed among you will notice that we actually coyly introduced these two processors in the benchmarking charts of our AMD A8-3850 APU article, but this review is where we will get much more in-depth with these two promising CPU’s.

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MAC

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Sandy Bridge: Intel Core i3-2120 & Core i5-2400

Sandy Bridge: Intel Core i3-2120 & Core i5-2400



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Sandy Bridge/Gulftown/Clarkdale/Lynnfield/Bloomfield - Click on image to enlarge

First and foremost, for the purpose of brevity, if you are interested in reading some in-depth information about the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture please check out our original launch article. All Sandy Bridge processors are fundamentally identical, but thanks to the modular design of the chip Intel can very easily add or remove cores, L3 cache, number of memory channels, type of memory supported, power management, and even integrated graphics to create very different models, without having to go to the drawing board and redesigning the whole layout.

As you can see in the table below, Intel have created quite a number of different Sandy Bridge variants, and this is not even taking the low wattage models into account.

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Click on image to enlarge and reveal additional models

The i3-2120 that we are reviewing today is the flagship of the budget-oriented Core i3-series, but the i3-2105 arguably also has a claim to the throne since it features the higher-end HD Graphics 3000 IGP, with twice as many execution units (EUs) as all the non-K-series processors. On a site note, keep in mind that none of the Core i3 models supports the AES New Instructions (AES-NI) instructions that accelerate AES (Advanced Encryption Standard). While the i5-2400 may seem like an incremental update over the i5-2300 series, it is cheapest of the consumer-oriented Sandy Bridge models to feature Intel’s Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d), which improves the performance of I/O devices in a virtualized environment.

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Click on image to enlarge

These two lower-priced models feature the exact same packaging as we saw with the K-series models, albeit without the “Unlocked & Unleashed” print. Processor and heatsink aside, each box also contains a respective instruction guide with a removable sticker on the back.

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Click on image to enlarge

While both CPU coolers might seem quite similar at first glance, there are a few subtle differences between what Intel bundles with their budget and mainstream processors. While both heatsinks feature the same low profile, circular design and plastic push-pins, the Core i5’s cooler has an integrated copper core, slightly denser fin array, and more powerful fan (0.20A vs. 0.60A).

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Click on image to enlarge

Nothing too special here, aside from the laser etching on the integrated heatspreader (IHS) all LGA1155 processors look identical from the front. The i3-2120 was manufactured in the 47th week of 2010, while the i5-2400 was manufactured in the 41st week of 2010. This is about 3 months later than our two K-series engineering samples.

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Click on image to enlarge

Like all current Sandy Bridge processors, both of our samples are based on the retail D2 revision. With Enhanced SpeedStep enabled, the chips dropped down to 1600Mhz at idle, but the i3-2120 had a marginally lower CPU voltage. Under load both chips had a vCore in the 1.1V range, but when Turbo Boost is enabled the i5-2400 temporarily spiked up to around 1.22V.
 

MAC

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In-Depth Look at Intel's HD Graphics 2000 & 3000 IGPs

An In-Depth Look at Intel's HD Graphics 2000 & 3000 IGPs


Much like Clarkdale processors they are meant to replace, Sandy Bridge chips will feature dedicated GPU cores integrated onto the CPU die. This Processor Graphics Controller (or PGC as Intel calls it) improves upon the performance of the previous generation while featuring additional instruction sets in order to better integrate into current and emerging digital media trends.

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Being integrated onto the CPU package nets the graphics controller certain resources which were lacking from past iterations of onboard graphics. Along with the memory interface, the 3-6MB (depending on the processor) of on-die L3 cache is shared between the controller and the CPU which should facilitate draw call communication between the two and allow better texture performance than previous generations.

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A simplified block diagram shows us a layout that is similar to modern discrete GPUs but also one which is more focused upon HD media content rather than pushing a massive amount of texture horsepower. At the heat of this architecture lies six to twelve Unified Execution Units which are broadly comparable to the Shader Processors in AMD and NVIDIA cards and are used primarily for processing 3D graphics.

All of these “cores” are separately programmable and perform 128-bit wide executions through every clock cycle with a 4KB register file per thread. The rest of the rendering pipeline from geometry shading, vertex processing, rasterization and so on remains identical to today’s stand-alone graphics cores. There is however a single dedicated texture unit as well as a new mid-level instruction cache layout which is supposed to help with overall performance across a variety of applications.

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Intel’s HD Graphics on Sandy Bridge now feature dynamic frequency adjustments in order to automatically increase the clock speeds of the graphics controller when higher loads are detected. Much like the Turbo Boost technology on the CPU itself, this acts as a way to conserve power when high speeds aren’t needed and yet allows for on-the-call performance in demanding situations.

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The media processing capabilities of this new Gen 6.0 architecture have received a thorough work-over with a massive amount of effort going into true hardware decoding and encoding. There is now a dedicated multi-format hardware assisted encode / decode pipeline which also handles a fair amount of preprocessing which can be accelerated by the onboard controller rather than relying on poorly performing software processing routines.

Additional improvements have been made through the use of a dedicated media engine which now includes support for stereo 3D through multiple video channel outputs and has the ability to simultaneously decode two HD video streams. We will be going into additional media features and the overall performance on this new architecture in a dedicated article.

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Sandy Bridge’s graphics controllers are now broken down into two separate categories: the 2000 and 3000 series. The main differentiating factor between these two HD graphics engines is the number of Execution Units each offers: the 2000-series uses six while the 3000-series uses 12. Both offer a number of improvements over the previous generation but in many ways they are still a far cry from what is available in the DX11 discrete market. Nonetheless, the addition of dedicated media processing, higher clock speeds, DX10.1 / Shader Model 4.1 support, OpenGL 3.0 compatibility and overall higher efficiency Execution Units should give a noticeable improvement over Clarkdale’s somewhat lackluster performance. Unfortunately, DX11 support is still not included here.

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For the time being, the higher end K-series Sandy Bridge chips (2600K and 2500K) will feature the Intel 3000 graphics accelerator while all others will make do with the 2000 controller. Considering the K-series won’t have all their overclocking functions enabled on motherboards which allow the integrated graphics processor to be used, it’s odd to see the 3000 being used exclusively on these chips. The i7 2600 does make use of a maximum graphics core speed increase to 1.35Ghz which should somewhat alleviate the performance hit incurred by its “missing” six EUs.

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The lower-end i5 and i3 processors show us much of the same with only the 2000 graphics processor and its six EUs being used for all of the products.

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While a maximum of twelve execution units may not sound like much when compared to today’s entry level cards, Intel claims the performance from this graphics controller approaches and in some cases surpasses most low end discrete products. Even if this claim doesn’t quite pan out, these new controllers are able to leverage a revised architecture to thoroughly outpace the i5 661; the only processor to be available with an IGP boasting a 900Mhz clock speed. It seems like Intel is making moves in the right direction here but we also have to remember that entry level cards from AMD and NVIDIA are getting better and AMD’s own competing Fusion products are right around the corner as well.

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MAC

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Test Setups & Methodology

Test Setups & Methodology


For this review, we have prepared four different test setups, representing all the popular platforms at the moment, as well as most of the best-selling processors. As much as possible, the four test setups feature identical components, memory timings, drivers, etc. Aside from manually selecting memory frequencies and timings, every option in the BIOS was at its default setting.

Intel Core i3/i5/i7 LGA1155 Test Setup​

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AMD Llano FM1 Test Setup​

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AMD Phenom II AM3 Test Setup​

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Intel Core i3/i5/i7 LGA1156 Test Setup​

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Intel Core i7 LGA1366 Test Setup​

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*Although Windows Vista SP1 was our principal OS for the majority of benchmarks, we did use Windows 7 (with all the latest updates) when benchmarking AIDA64.*

For all of the benchmarks, appropriate lengths are taken to ensure an equal comparison through methodical setup, installation, and testing. The following outlines our testing methodology:

A) Windows is installed using a full format.

B) Chipset drivers and accessory hardware drivers (audio, network, GPU) are installed followed by a defragment and a reboot.

C)To ensure consistent results, a few tweaks were applied to Windows Vista and the NVIDIA control panel:
  • Sidebar – Disabled
  • UAC – Disabled
  • System Protection/Restore – Disabled
  • Problem & Error Reporting – Disabled
  • Remote Desktop/Assistance - Disabled
  • Windows Security Center Alerts – Disabled
  • Windows Defender – Disabled
  • Windows Search – Disabled
  • Indexing – Disabled
  • Screensaver – Disabled
  • Power Plan - High Performance
  • NVIDIA PhysX – Disabled
  • V-Sync – Off

D) Programs and games are then installed & updated followed by another defragment.

E) Windows updates are then completed installing all available updates followed by a defragment.

F) Benchmarks are each run three times after a clean reboot for every iteration of the benchmark unless otherwise stated, the results are then averaged. If they were any clearly anomalous results, the 3-loop run was repeated. If they remained, we mentioned it in the individual benchmark write-up.

Here is a full list of the applications that we utilized in our benchmarking suite:
  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition v1.50.1200 & v1.80.1459 Beta (Windows 7)
  • ScienceMark 2.0 32-bit
  • MaxxMEM2 Preview
  • wPrime Benchmark v2.03
  • HyperPI 0.99b
  • PCMark Vantage Advanced 64-bit Edition (1.0.2.0)
  • Cinebench R10 64-bit
  • Cinebench R11.5.2.9 64-bit
  • WinRAR 3.94 x64
  • Photoshop CS4 64-bit
  • Lame Front-End 1.0
  • x264 Benchmark HD (2nd pass)
  • 7-Zip 9.20 x64
  • POV-Ray v3.7 beta 40
  • Deep Fritz 12
  • 3DMark06 v1.2.0
  • 3DMark Vantage v1.0.2
  • Crysis v1.21
  • Far Cry 2 1.02
  • Left 4 Dead version 1.0.2.3
  • Valve Particle Simulation Benchmark
  • Word in Conflict v1.0.0.0
  • Resident Evil 5 1.0.0.129
  • X3: Terran Conflict 1.2.0.0


That is about all you need to know methodology wise, so let's get to the good stuff!
 

MAC

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Messages
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Location
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Synthetic Benchmarks: AIDA64 / MaxxMEM²

Synthetic Benchmarks: AIDA64 / MaxxMEM




AIDA64 Extreme Edition 1.50 - CPU & FPU Benchmarks


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AIDA64 Extreme Edition 1.50 - Cache Benchmark


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AIDA64 Extreme Edition 1.50 - Memory Benchmarks


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MaxxMEM² - Memory Benchmarks


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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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Synthetic Benchmarks: SuperPI 32M / wPRIME 1024M

Synthetic Benchmarks: SuperPI 32M / wPRIME 1024M



SuperPi Mod v1.5


When running the SuperPI 32MB benchmark, we are calculating Pi to 32 million digits and timing the process. Obviously more CPU power helps in this intense calculation, but the memory sub-system also plays an important role, as does the operating system. We are running one instance of SuperPi via the HyperPi 0.99b interface. This is therefore a single-thread workload.

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wPRIME 2.03


wPrime is a leading multithreaded benchmark for x86 processors that tests your processor performance by calculating square roots with a recursive call of Newton's method for estimating functions, with f(x)=x2-k, where k is the number we're sqrting, until Sgn(f(x)/f'(x)) does not equal that of the previous iteration, starting with an estimation of k/2. It then uses an iterative calling of the estimation method a set amount of times to increase the accuracy of the results. It then confirms that n(k)2=k to ensure the calculation was correct. It repeats this for all numbers from 1 to the requested maximum. This is a highly multi-threaded workload.

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Messages
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Location
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System Benchmarks: Cinebench R10 / Cinebench R11.5

System Benchmarks: Cinebench R10 / Cinebench R11.5



Cinebench R10


Cinebench R10 64-bit
Test1: Single CPU Image Render
Test2: Multi CPU Image Render
Comparison: Generated Score


Developed by MAXON, creators of Cinema 4D, Cinebench 10 is designed using the popular Cinema software and created to compare system performance in 3D Animation and Photo applications. There are two parts to the test; the first stresses only the primary CPU or Core, the second, makes use of up to 16 CPUs/Cores. Both are done rendering a realistic photo while utilizing various CPU-intensive features such as reflection, ambient occlusion, area lights and procedural shaders

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Cinebench R11.5


Cinebench R11.5 64-bit
Test1: CPU Image Render
Comparison: Generated Score


The latest benchmark from MAXON, Cinebench R11.5 makes use of all your system's processing power to render a photorealistic 3D scene using various different algorithms to stress all available processor cores. The test scene contains approximately 2,000 objects containing more than 300,000 total polygons and uses sharp and blurred reflections, area lights and shadows, procedural shaders, antialiasing, and much more. This particular benchmarking can measure systems with up to 64 processor threads. The result is given in points (pts). The higher the number, the faster your processor.

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MAC

Associate Review Editor
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System Benchmarks: Deep Fritz 12 / POV-Ray 3.73

System Benchmarks: Deep Fritz 12 / POV-Ray 3.73



Deep Fritz 12 - Chess Benchmark


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POV-Ray 3.73 beta 40


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MAC

Associate Review Editor
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1,086
Location
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System Benchmarks: LFE / Photoshop CS4 / x264 HD

System Benchmarks: LFE / Photoshop CS4 / x264 HD



Lame Front End


Lame Front End v1.0 is a single-threaded application, which means that it only utilizes a single processor core. This will obviously limit performance but it will allow us to gauge a processor's single-threaded performance as well as test any turbo feature that it might have. We will be encoding a WAV rip of Santana’s Supernatural album and converting it to MP3 using the highest fidelity VBR 0 quality preset.

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Photoshop CS4


For the image editing portion of this review, we will use Photoshop CS4 in coordination with Driver Heaven’s Photoshop Benchmark V3, which is an excellent test of CPU power and memory bandwidth. This is a scripted benchmark that individually applies 15 different filters to a 109MB JPEG, and uses Photoshop’s built-in timing feature to provide a result at each test stage. Then it’s simply a matter of adding up the 15 results to reach the final figure.

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x264 HD Benchmark


x264 HD Benchmark v1.0
Test: MPEG-2 HD 720P Video Clip Conversion to x264
DVD Video Length: 30 Seconds
Comparison: FPS of Second Pass

x264 is quickly becoming the new codec of choice for encoding a growing number of H.264/MPEG-4 AVC videos. Think of it as the new Divx of HD and you can understand why we felt it critical to include. Tech Arp's recent development of the x264 HD Benchmark takes a 30 second HD video clip and encodes it into the x264 codec with the intention of little to no quality loss. The test is measured using the average frames per second achieved during encoding, which scales with processor speed and efficiency. The benchmark also allows the use of multi-core processors so it gives a very accurate depiction of what to expect when using encoding application on a typical full length video.


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MAC

Associate Review Editor
Joined
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Location
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System Benchmarks: WinRAR / 7-Zip

System Benchmarks: WinRAR / 7-Zip



WinRAR


WinRAR 3.93 x64
Test: Compression of 1GB of Assorted Files
Comparison: Time to Finish

One of the most popular file compression/decompresion tools, we use WinRAR to compress a 1GB batch of files and archive them, timing the task until completion.


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7-Zip


9.20 x64
Test: Compression/Extraction of 1GB of Assorted Files, with AES-256 encryption
Comparison: Time to Finish


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