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AMD Or Intel: Which Offers Better Gaming Performance?

Picking A Sub-£160 Gaming CPU: FX, An APU, Or A Pentium?
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That’s a lot of data to digest, so let’s distil it down by averaging out performance in all benchmarks relative to AMD's A4-3400. Again, we sort by minimum frame rate because we're calling that statistic more important than the average. It's the best way to quantify the benefit of a powerful-enough processor, representing its ability to stand up to a worse-case scenario.

If the above chart presents any surprises, they'd be the dual-core Pentium G630 and G860, which perform incredibly well, matching up to AMD's former Phenom II X4 955 flagship. At £60 and £70 respectively, both Sandy Bridge-based Pentiums boldly snatch the budget gaming CPU recommendation from the Athlon II CPUs we’re used to seeing dominate this segment. Granted, AMD's lowest-priced models are starting to go extinct as the company's APUs gain prominence anyway.

To that end, we were hoping to see the Llano-based APUs succeed the inexpensive Athlons under £100, impressing gamers with discrete graphics cards on strict budgets. Unfortunately, the results don't reflect a net gain. Even the multiplier-unlocked A8-3870K is unable to distinguish itself overclocked to 3.6 GHz.

With the sub-£80 Pentiums performing so well, Intel's £90 Core i3-2100 easily beats more expensive Phenom II and FX models. And the £150 Core i5-2400 dominates the sub-£160 landscape without challenge, really. As such, we're almost-shockingly left without an AMD CPU to recommend at any price point.

While it’s true that AMD’s multiplier-unlocked models appeal to tweak-happy power users, the company's overclocked game performance manages to either hang close to or fall just behind Intel's stock Core i3-2100. Pumping up voltage, multipliers, and, consequently, power usage seems like a futile exercise just to keep pace with an efficient £90 budget-oriented chip running at its default settings.

The biggest flaw with Intel's low-end offerings is that the Pentium family limits you to dual-core configurations. Our concern is that, outside of a game, you're going to find situations where the two cores hurt performance in other applications. Having said that, the Pentium G630- and G860-based machines were snappy throughout testing, and their lack of Hyper-Threading didn't negatively impact our experience.

AMD’s Phenom II X4 955 and FX-4100 could certainly appeal to buyers who insist on the ability to handle four threads at a time. At their £120 and £90 respective price points, however, they’re too close to the Hyper-Threaded Core i3-2100 to earn a distinguished recommendation. In our last gaming CPU round-up in this price range, we showed that the Core i3-2100 can match AMD's Phenom II X4 955, even while background tasks run in parallel with a game. So, we couldn't even speculate that Intel's Core-i3 2100 might disappoint in a real-world environment with applications running in the background.

Interestingly, the best gaming value in AMD's FX family is its affordable FX-4100. Neither the FX-6100 nor the FX-8120 offer an advantage over the £90 model. Otherwise, things look bleak for AMD enthusiasts hunting for a new gaming rig. You can make the argument that the frame rates offered by FX and Phenom II processors are sufficient, but that's a tough stand to take in light of the competitive benchmarks. Let's be clear; in GPU-bound games, you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But, to be perfectly frank, Intel's processors are the more obvious choice in titles that do demonstrate reliance on host processing power. It simply doesn’t make sense to spend more for less. And, in many games, high-end AMD processors demonstrate a quantifiable performance deficit compared to the Core i3-2100. For £150, a stock Core i5-2400 gets you more gaming prowess than any AMD CPU can hope to deliver right now, even overclocked.

We have our fingers crossed that the upcoming Trinity-based APUs and Piledriver-based FX CPUs will augment IPC and, consequently, improve AMD's gaming performance story. At the same time, it'll have to contend with Intel's soon-to-be-released Ivy Bridge-based processors.

Display all 13 comments.
  • 0 Hide
    13thmonkey , 30 January 2012 15:16
    why stop the 2500K at 4Ghz in the OC's tests?
    It would have been good (but difficult) to have some older CPUs in their, i.e. some of the core 2 duos/quads that people (me included) are considering for an upgrade, looking on another site's Bench tool for instance I can see that a Q9550 is similar to a I3-2100, but having that here would have been useful, although your suppliers might not like it if it doesn't show much of a change.
  • 2 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 15:51
    Why the i3-2100 rather than the i3-2120? Was this to avoid rubbing AMD's nose in it?
    I'm thinking of going with an i3-2125 to allow some light gaming in an HTPC (when I get around to upgrading) as I don't see anything from AMD coming close at the moment :-(
  • 2 Hide
    EDVINASM , 30 January 2012 17:12
    aje21Why the i3-2100 rather than the i3-2120? Was this to avoid rubbing AMD's nose in it?I'm thinking of going with an i3-2125 to allow some light gaming in an HTPC (when I get around to upgrading) as I don't see anything from AMD coming close at the moment :-(


    Because i3 2100 is better value for money than 2125 one. No increase whatsoever in games, just 30 in notes down the drain.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , 30 January 2012 17:33
    Why no overclock on the 1090t? At around 4-4.2Ghz I would expect it to be up around the i3 2100 on the charts perhaps higher in some benches.
  • 2 Hide
    Dandalf , 30 January 2012 20:32
    Thanks Don, an enlightening if depressing series of benchmarks! I was hunting for a lower powered micro-atx machine and was considering the new Pentium G630, mostly because (unlike FM1) 1155 has a clear upgrade path all the way to i7, but this article seals the deal!

    Such a shame about AMD's processors... still hoping to see an improvement with Piledriver for when my next gaming upgrade comes around! At least the red team can count on my custom for one of their shiny new GPUs ;) 
  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 22:38
    edvinasmBecause i3 2100 is better value for money than 2125 one. No increase whatsoever in games, just 30 in notes down the drain.

    I think you missed my point, I was thinking of a 2125 for myself (i.e. no discrete GPU) so I can use QuickSync for transcoding, plus a vague chance of casual gaming in older titles. Just a shame that the platform (with HDMI and 2125) comes to so much :-( If the APUs from AMD were better priced and performed better then they might be of interest.
    For the comparison I was thinking that the 2120 is £5 more than the 2100 for 200MHz higher clock. Perhaps that small increase in performance isn't worth the extra dosh, but it might have given the i3 a bit more of a lead in the charts.
  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 22:44
    Juk3syWhy no overclock on the 1090t? At around 4-4.2Ghz I would expect it to be up around the i3 2100 on the charts perhaps higher in some benches.

    Sad for AMD that a processor which can just make it into the comparison based on U.S. pricing (it's nearly 2.5 times more expensive in the U.K.) would need such an overclock to catch a £90 part from Intel.
  • 1 Hide
    aje21 , 30 January 2012 22:46
    Shame there is no "value" chart which plots relative performance against relative price.
  • 2 Hide
    bobbyp86 , 30 January 2012 23:02
    It's about time that all games were developed with quad core processors in mind if you ask me. I'm not upgrading from my OC 955 to play games that cba to use the other half of the processor.
  • 2 Hide
    diellur , 31 January 2012 03:30
    Intel are storming along as both the budget and mid-to-high range CPU of choice for a gaming system...I can't see the lack of competition being a good thing at all. :( 
  • 0 Hide
    Brett928S2 , 31 January 2012 03:42
    Hi :) 

    Where is the 1100T ?

    Was there a particular reason it was missed out ?

    All the best Brett :) 
  • 0 Hide
    HEXiT , 3 February 2012 17:14
    diellurIntel are storming along as both the budget and mid-to-high range CPU of choice for a gaming system...I can't see the lack of competition being a good thing at all.

    your not wrong there. if this keeps up intel will have no good reason to stay competitive on prices. which means we dont get good performance for reasonable outlay...
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 7 December 2012 19:57
    I got a new ready built PC really cheap with a FX6100. Got a geforce 570 in it and SSD. Probably very cheap cos no-one wants it after reading the reviews!!! Got a bigger cooler for it and overclocked it. Well what can I say, it runs all my games at 1080p and full details and no stuttering. So I can't ask for more. Very happy.
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