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Core i3 CPUs are still a solid choice for gaming on a budget. If you want to get an Intel Core i3 processor for gaming, here are your best i3 CPU choices.
Years ago, Intel’s Core i3 series was the best choice for budget gaming setups. The combination of 2 cores with hyper-threading was enough to run every single game on max settings at 1080p. That era ended with the arrival of Ryzen CPUs from AMD in 2017. Once Ryzen came and offered four cores along with hyper-threading for the price of 2 cores/4 threads Core i3 CPUs, the market changed forever. These days, gaming CPUs need to have at least four cores with hyper-threading to be competitive.
Intel had to respond to AMD’s blow, and they did by increasing core count in every CPU category. We received four-core/four-thread Core i3 CPUs, which were more than a solid choice for most gamers who were on a budget. Want to find out the best i3 CPU for gaming you can get right now? Read on.
Core i3 CPUs are a pretty solid option for SFF builds, so we recommend visiting our guide for the best Mini-ITX cases. While you’re here, you could also check our recommendation for the best gaming PC under $500. It features one of the i3 models shown below.
1. Intel Core i3-10100: Best overall i3 for gaming
If you want to buy an i3 CPU for gaming, you have two choices. Either get a new Core i3-10100 or look for a used 9100F.
The Core i3-10100 is the best Core i3 CPU for gaming at the moment. It offers solid gaming performance, a bit below the Ryzen 3 3300X and Core i7-7700K. You can expect all games to run with minimum frames above 60 frames per second if you have the right graphics card.
The CPU can be used for both 1080p and 1440p resolution; just forget about high refresh rate gaming. And don’t waste money on getting a Z490 motherboard. Get a B460 or a B560 board instead.
If you can find a killer deal (such as a sub $50 deal) for a used Core i3-9100F on eBay, the 9100F may be worth a purchase. Get a new CPU only if you find prices of used parts to be almost as high as for new CPUs.
i3 CPUs are still a solid choice for budget gamers
When it comes to gaming performance, 8th and 9th gen Core i3 CPUs can still offer a lot, especially if your main gaming dishes are esports titles. Sure, you won’t be able to reach three-digit frame rates, and there could be some stuttering. But, in most cases, you can expect more than solid gaming performance with a recent Core i3 model.
We’re talking about 60 frames and higher performance when combined with a graphics card that’s up to the task. .1 percent cutoffs can dip at or below 30 fps in games that are especially heavy on the CPU, such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins, Battlefield V, or Shadow of the Tomb Raider.
Do note that most recent games, even if they’re not CPU-intensive, such as Metro Exodus, Rage 2, or Hitman 2, can also induce some occasional stuttering during gameplay. Not quite noticeable but present when running benchmarks or in case you have MSI Afterburner turned on during gameplay.
Finally, we noticed that Kingdom Come: Deliverance simply melted any Core i3 CPU thrown at it. The poor performance is tied to the fact the game was run on max settings, which you shouldn’t do even if you have a beast of a PC.
When it comes to eSports titles, 8th and 9th gen Core i3 CPUs are an excellent choice. Every game, be it CS: GO, League of Legends, Rocket League, Warframe, Apex Legends, World of Tanks, Fortnite, or Overwatch, should run flawlessly. You won’t reach 200 fps plus level of performance, but 100 plus FPS experience is guaranteed, with some settings toned down.
The only exemption is PUBG, but that game is still poorly optimized. By tweaking settings, you will be able to reach rock-solid 60fps with a Core i3 CPU. Do mind that the CPU is targeted at 1080p gaming. Sure, it can be used for 1440p gaming. But, pairing it with a graphics card capable of running games at 60fps on max details will induce some stuttering.
With the arrival of the 10th Gen Intel CPUs, we’ve finally received Core i3 CPUs that feature hyperthreading. With four cores and eight threads, the Core i3 10100 is trading blows with the Ryzen 3 3300X and the old favorite in the form of the Core i7 7700K. The Core i3 10100 is about five percent slower than the two aforementioned CPUs in games, which is pretty good.
The CPU can provide minimum performance higher than 60 frames per second even in CPU demanding titles such as Shadow of the Tomb Raider and Battlefield 5. This is a much better performance than what the i3 9100/9100F achieved, mostly thanks to hyper-threading found in the latest i3 CPU.
Overall, the Core i3 10100 is a solid budget gaming CPU that can be used for 1080p and 1440p 60fps gaming. When it comes to high refresh gaming, forget about it unless you play esports titles such as CS: GO or RS: Siege.
To summarize, as of July 2020, The Core i3-10100 is the best Core i3 CPU for gaming. It comes with four cores and eight threads and is capable of reaching similar gaming performance to the Ryzen 3 3300X and the Core i7-7700K. As for the Core i3-9100F, it’s not as attractive a proposition as it was during early 2020. If you can get a used one on eBay for a price that’s noticeably lower than the price of a new CPU on Amazon, that’s great.
Graphics cards and the amount of RAM to pair with
As we already said, Core i3 CPUs are meant for 1080p gaming. You can pair them with 1440p monitors but expect occasional stutters no matter how powerful your GPU is. Further, if you’re into ultrawide gaming, 1080p ultrawide resolution (2560 x 1080) should work fine.
When it comes to the upper limit of the graphics card power, we wouldn’t go above RTX 2060 or the recently published RX 5600 XT. The only more powerful option is RX 5700, but that’s a stretch. Every other card is designed for 1440p gaming or higher and shouldn’t be considered. Unless you plan on upgrading the CPU in the next year or so.
The GTX 1660Ti and GTX 1600 Super are the sweet spots to couple with a Core i3 processor. Both cards are superb for 1080p gaming, sport affordable prices, and aren’t overkill for the CPU. When it comes to AMD cards, we would recommend RX 580/590 cards. They both provide more than solid power for 1080p gaming at high settings.
When it comes to older models from Nvidia and AMD, you can use GTX 1070/1070Ti, and RX Vega 56. Cards such as RX Vega 64 and GTX 1080 are, like the RX 5700, placed at the upper limit of what Core i3 can deliver.
Be aware that any card more powerful than a GTX 1660Ti/RX Vega 56 will deliver a higher average frame rate, but minimum FPS will stay on the level of the two aforementioned cards. In other words, the CPU will start bottlenecking your GPU when using anything more powerful than GTX 1660Ti/RX Vega 56.
The amount of RAM should be 16GB. Ram is pretty cheap at the moment, and you should go for 16 gigs; it can’t hurt. Some games are hungry when it comes to RAM, and 16 gigs is the standard today. You shouldn’t worry about the RAM speed. Any DDR4 2666 RAM will be fine. Faster RAM can account for a 5 to 8 percent gain in performance. For a budget build, performance gain that low isn’t worth the price difference.
Finally, when it comes to the motherboard, we recommend getting a solid B460 or even a B560 motherboard. But to be honest, for a bit more cash, a B560 board is a better choice. Especially if you plan on upgrading the CPU later with an i5 or i7 model. With a B460 board, you’re limited to DDR4 2666, but even when paired with faster memory, the CPU has pretty much the same gaming performance.
When it comes to recommendations, any board should run this CPU just fine. But, if you’re planning on upgrading later to the 10700 or even 10900, get a board with a quality VRM.
Are i3 CPUs future-proof enough to run next-gen games?
Now, the most worrisome question about Core i3 CPUs: are they future-proof? Well, to be honest, four cores and four threads aren’t future-proof at the moment. More and more games are built to prefer more cores, not higher clocks. On the other hand, Core i3 processors are still solid for playing current AAA games and Esports titles.
And don’t worry, future multiplayer-focused games will be more than playable on four cores. But, starting with 2021 and the arrival of next-gen consoles, AAA games will demand more than four cores. You will be able to play them at 60 FPS without stuttering with lower details, but if you want a proper future-proof budget build, look at AMD.
Getting the 10100 and pairing it with a quality B460 or B560 board could make you a future-proof gaming machine. Once four cores and eight threads stop being enough for new games, just replace the Core i3 CPU with a non-K Core i7 or i9, and you’ll be fine for years to come.
Frequently asked questions
Is an i3 good for gaming?
Yes, an i3 is decent enough to run a lot of modern games at 60 frames per second when equipped with a proper graphics card. Just don’t expect triple-digit frame rates at high-end settings.
Which i3 is best for gaming?
The best Core i3 CPU for gaming is the Core i3-10100. The 10300 is too expensive while offering only 100MHz higher clocks, which translates into a one or two percent performance gain. If you’re willing to search eBay for a killer pre-owned deal the Core i3-9100F could be a good choice. But if you’re looking for a pre-owned CPU, it’s better to get something like the Ryzen 5 2600. You can find excellent deals with prices similar to used 9100F CPUs, but the 2600 comes with 6 cores and 12 threads, which is a much more horsepower both for current and future games.