Is Intel Core i3 Good for Gaming?

Intel Core i3 CPUs are considered the stepping stone into the world of performance computing. They are neither as weak as the Celeron or the Pentiums nor as strong as their more powerful Intel Core i5 or i7 cousins. So this begs the question, “is Intel Core i3 good for gaming or not.”

Well the simple answer to that is question is yes, in majority of the instances, a Core i3 is good for gaming. This is particularly true if you are building a light gaming rig.

Basically, when building a gaming PC with an Intel Core i3, you have to make sure that you pair it with mid range gaming graphics card at best. Top of the line graphics card are not recommended.

There are cases where you may see the Intel Core i3 causing bottlenecks if a powerful graphics card is installed.

Therefore, there must be a parity of hardware when building a custom PC.

In the following article, I will explore the Intel Core i3 further and also talk about how it performs in various games. I will also touch base on whether an i3 can bottleneck your GPU or not.

Where Does Intel Core i3 Stand in Performance?

Compared to the rest of the Intel series, the Intel Core i3 sits somewhere in the middle. The following is the Intel Performance hierarchy for commercial PCs.

  • Intel Celeron – The Weakest
  • Intel Pentium
  • Intel Core i3
  • Intel Core i5
  • Intel Core i7
  • Intel Core i9 – The Strongest

You can see that the Intel Core i3 lies in the lower half of the performance hierarchy.

But as far as the architecture goes, it uses the same powerful cores as its more expensive i5, i7, or even the i9 cousins.

Also Read: 

How Many Cores Does an i3 Have?

While not the definitive measure of a CPU’s speed, the amount of core counts a CPU has can give you an idea about where it stands compared to the rest of the CPUs WITHIN the same generation.

The following tables shows the highest core count in a given generation for their flagship CPUs. The exact core count for a processor depends upon the model though.

12th Gen
11th Gen
10th Gen
Intel Celeron2/2NA2/2
Intel Pentium2/4NA2/4
Intel Core i34/8NA4/8
Intel Core i510/166/126/12
Intel Core i712/208/168/16
Intel Core i916/248/1610/20

A few things to note from this table:

Firstly, there was no 11th Gen Core i3 CPUs for desktops.

The 12th Gen and the older 10th Gen Core i3 CPUs have the same number of cores and threads i.e 4/8. 

This is far lower than the 16 cores and 24 threads that the top of the line 12th Gen Intel Core i9 offers.

Of course, the advantage of the an Intel Core i3 is that they are far cheaper.

Also Read: How is Processor Speed Measured?

Latest and Popular Intel Core i3 Models for Desktop and Laptops

The following table shows some of the popular desktop and laptop grade core i3 CPUs available out there.

I have also included their corresponding Passmark benchmark score so that you can gauge how they compare with each other.

CPU Passmark Score
Intel Pentium G6400
(2c/4t) | 4.0 GHz
4155 Desktop Popular; desktop based Intel Pentium CPU.
Intel Pentium Gold G6600
(2c/4t) | 4.2 GHz
4396 Desktop Flagship; desktop based Pentium CPU.
Intel Core i3 10100
(4c/8t) | 3.6-4.3 GHz
8825 Desktop Popular; 10th Gen desktop based Core i3 CPU.
Intel Core i3 1125G4
(4c/8t) | 3.6-4.3 GHz
9945 Laptop/Mobile Flagship; 11th Gen Laptop Based Core i3 CPU.
Intel Core i3 1215U
(6c/8t) | upto 4.4 GHz
12874 Laptop/Mobile Flagship; 12th Gen Laptop Based Core i3 CPU.
Intel Core i3 12300
(4c/8t) | 3.5-4.4 GHz
14955 Desktop Flagship; 12th Gen desktop Based Core i3 CPU.
Intel Core i5 12600K
(10c/16t) | 3.5-4.4 GHz
27398 Desktop Flagship; 12th Gen desktop Based Core i5 CPU.

Is Intel Core i3 good for gaming passmark 2

The table and graph above also shows how the popular and the flagship Intel Core i3 CPUs compare with the Intel Pentium and Intel Core i5 CPUs.

You can see that the the newer Intel Core i3 12300 processor has made a significant jump in performance as compared to the previous Intel Core i3 10100 desktop variants.

Also Read: Is a 2GB Graphics Card Good for Gaming?

The Generation of the i3 Processor Matters

When benchmarking the performance, the generation of the processor matters.

It isn’t always about the clock speed or the the core count, the architecture of the CPU matters which changes with every generation.

Hence, while the newer Gen i3 CPUs would perform well with even the best games out there, the same cannot be said about the older gen Core i3 CPUs. 

CPU Specs Passmark
Intel Core i3-12300
12th Gen (Alder Lake)
4/8 (c/t)
3.5-4.4 GHz
Intel Core i3-10320
10th Gen (Cypress Cove)
4/8 (c/t)
3.8-4.6 GHz
Intel Core i3-9350K
9th Gen (Comet Lake)
4/4 (c/t)
4.0-4.6 GHz
Intel Core i3-8350K
8th Gen (Coffee Lake)
4/4 (c/t)
4.0 GHz
Intel Core i3-7350K
7th Gen (Coffee Lake)
2/4 (c/t)
4.2 GHz

Benchmarking is Important

Instead of relying on the specs of a CPU, you must benchmark its performance.

Benchmarking helps in determining whether a CPU can meet the minimum or the recommended requirements of a certain game.

There are three popular benchmarks I recommend:

  • Passmark: For gauging the overall performance of a CPU
  • Cinebench R20 Single Core: For analyzing how well a single core performs – the important parameter for gaming
  • Cinebench R20 Multi Core: For analyzing how well the CPU performs with all cores working – great for applications like video editing and for streaming.

Also Read: Is AMD Athlon Good for Gaming?

So Is Intel Core i3 Good for Gaming?

The short answer is yes! An Intel Core i3 IS good for gaming. However, the more comprehensive answer depends upon many factors such as:

  • What model of Intel Core i3 you have?
  • What generation of the Intel Core i3 CPU you have?
  • What type of games do you intend to play?
  • Do you plan to stream or not?

Let us explore this a bit further.

Does Intel Core i3 Have Sufficient Core Count for Gaming?

As far as gaming support goes, the strongest CPU or the one with the highest cores isn’t always the best.

The vast majority of the games use about 4-6 cores and hence having an Intel Core i9 with its 16 cores can give you diminishing returns. 

Do Games Use Multiple Cores
God of War CPU Core Count Requirement Benchmarks. Source: DSOGaming
Halo Infinite Core count benchmark
Halo Infinite Core Count Requirement benchmark. Source: DSOGaming

Read in Detail: How Many Cores You Need for Gaming?

But in order to truly gauge how well an i3 performs for gaming, you have to look at the requirements for the popular online and AAA titles.

AAA tiles have a more robust system requirements, whereas, online titles do not.

Here are the system requirements for some of the popular titles:

Popular Games and Their CPUs Requirements

CPU Requirements by Popular Online / Esports Titles

Online or Esports titles are very light and thus do not require a robust system.

Pay attention to the corresponding Passmark score for each processor.

Minecraft Intel Core i3-3210
(2 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 2061
Intel Core i5-4690
(4 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 5583
Roblox Single Core Single Core
Rocket League 2.5 GHz Dual Core 3.0+ GHz Quad Core
Fortnite Intel Core i3-3225
(2 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 2187
Intel Core i5-7300U
(2 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 3746
CS:GO Intel Core 2 Duo E6600
(2 Core / 2 Threads)
Passmark: 873
League of Legends 3.0 GHz 3.0 GHz Dual Core

For Popular Online Games Core i3 is Way Too Powerful 

For online titles, the latest Intel Core i3 are an overkill. 

The 12th Gen Intel Core i3 has a Passmark score of 14955, which is way higher than those stipulated in the minimum and recommended titles.

CPU Requirement by AAA Titles

AAA titles require a robust system.

Cyberpunk 2077 Intel Core i5-3570K
(4 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 4915
Intel Core i7-4790
(4 Cores / 8 Threads)
Passmark: 7213
Resident Evil Village Intel Core i5-7500
(4 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 6061
Intel Core i7-8700
(6 Cores / 12 Threads)
Passmark: 13080
Watch Dog Legions Intel Core i5-4460
(4 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 4796
Intel Core i7-7700
(4 Cores / 8 Threads)
Passmark: 8621
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Intel Core i5-4460
(4 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 4796
Intel Core i7-6700
(4 Cores / 8 Threads)
Passmark: 8056
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 Intel Core i5-4460
(4 Cores / 4 Threads)
Passmark: 4796
Intel Core i5-8400
(6 Cores / 6 Threads)
Passmark: 9216 Ideal Spec Requirements: Intel Core i7-9800X (8c/16t) (Passmark: 18366)
Elden Ring Intel Core i5-8400
(6 Cores / 6 Threads)
Passmark: 9220
Intel Core i7-8700K
(6 Cores / 12 Threads)
Passmark: 13867

Intel Core i3 is Great for Most AAA Titles As Well

You can see here that the Intel Core i3, particularly from the newer generation, is great for most AAA titles as well.

It does have a fewer core count than recommended, but in majority of the cases, as mentioned earlier, most games do not use more than 4-6 cores anyways.

The following video shows how core count can affect performance.

You can see that on a CPU with a core count of lower than 6, the performance drop gets a lot more pronounced.

Hence while the recommended way to go for is the Intel Core i5 or the Ryzen 5 CPUs for a gaming build, you can get away with an Intel Core i3 if you are on a budget.

The newer Gen i3  CPUs are particularly great for gaming though since they exceed the requirements for most AAA titles.

Does Core i3 Bottleneck a GPU?

Yes, there is a good chance that an Intel Core i3 could bottleneck your GPU, particularly with CPU intensive games.

Optimum Tech has conducted a great study on this whereby they tested a 12th Gen Intel Core i3 with 12th Gen i5, i7 and i9 CPUs on various games using the NVIDIA RTX 3090.

As expected, CPU intensive games such as Cyberpunk 2077 saw greater performance bottlenecks as compared to non-CPU intensive games such Doom Eternal.

Cyberpunk Intel COre i3 CPU
Cyberpunk 2077 FPS on Intel Core i3 and i5.

There is a simple way to know if your CPU is bottlenecking your GPU and that is through the CPU overall usage.

If your CPU is coming close to a 100% usage, that indicates that it is going to bottleneck your GPU.

You can check your CPU usage (in-game) using an application called MSI-Afterburner

Watch the entire case study here:

Also Read: Is 1TB SSD Enough for Gaming?

Final Words

So is Intel Core i3 good for gaming? well the simple answer is yes. It is good for gaming.

It is not the best choice (i5 and Ryzen 5 are recommended) but if you are on a budget and if you PARTICULARLY choose to go for the newer generation Core i3 CPUs, then your gaming system should perform fairly well.

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Atif Qazi
Atif Qazi is the founder of PCGuide101 and an expert in the computer peripheral industry with over two decades of experience. He has worked as a consultant for major companies and has a deep understanding of the inner workings of computer peripherals. He has a degree in Electrical Engineering and has served as a product manager and technical consultant. He is passionate about testing and evaluating the latest products to provide readers with reliable information.

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