AMD Ryzen 3 3100 Review - Disrupting Price/Performance 15

AMD Ryzen 3 3100 Review - Disrupting Price/Performance


Value and Conclusion

  • The AMD Ryzen 3 3100 processor retails for $99.
  • Affordable
  • Amazing performance per dollar
  • Multiplier unlocked
  • Great overclocking potential
  • Four cores, eight threads
  • Good low-threaded energy efficiency
  • Low power/cooling requirements
  • Heatsink included
  • PCI-Express gen 4.0
  • Gaming performance held back a bit by CCX configuration/cache
  • No integrated graphics
I really am not a fan of using the word "disruptive," which seems to be the latest buzzword for CEOs, marketers, and analysts, but in this case, I'm convinced it applies. While AMD has enjoyed tremendous success with 3rd generation Ryzen in the high-end and upper midrange, the entry-level desktop market hasn't been able to enjoy the technological marvels of the Zen 2 architecture. Previous desktop APU releases and the Athlon 3000G were only Zen and Zen+ based, but this changes today. AMD has announced the two models a few weeks ago, and today, the review embargo has lifted. Besides the Ryzen 3 3100 in this review, we also have a review of the Ryzen 3 3300X.

While Intel has been disabling HyperThreading on all their recent quad-core processors, AMD has SMT active on both of their new CPUs to offer four cores and eight threads, which will definitely help with with future-proofing the product. The new processors come at competitive price points, have a fully unlocked multiplier, and support PCI-Express 4.0. Since both are "Matisse" based, they lack an integrated GPU, more on that later. Under the hood, the two processors are different beyond just clocks and price—their quad-core configuration is achieved using two CCXs on the Ryzen 3 3100 and one CCX on the 3300X. We talked about this on the architecture page and ran some extra testing in all our benchmarks to investigate performance differences.

In application performance, the Ryzen 3 3100 does very well, beating all the Celerons, Pentiums, and i3 processors Intel has to offer. It roughly matches the Core i5-8400 in performance and ends up 5% behind the 9400F. Compared to AMD's first-generation Ryzen, the 3100 beats the mid-range Ryzen 5 1600 and is almost as fast as the Zen+ based Ryzen 5 2600—pretty impressive for the lowest-priced new member of the Ryzen 3000 family. Of course, there are faster processors on the market, with more cores and threads. For example, the Ryzen 5 3600 is 32% faster, and Intel's Core i5-9600 is 15% quicker. Overall, the Ryzen 3 3100 is an excellent choice for a home or office PC that can handle any consumer or productivity workload you throw at it.

Gaming performance of the Ryzen 3 3100 is very decent, too, considering its price point. Gaming performance at 1080p matches the Ryzen 7 1700X and Ryzen 7 2600—these were powerful processors back in the day, which shows how much progress AMD has made with Zen 2. The fastest processors do gain up to 15% more FPS at 1080p, with the differences getting smaller as you go up in resolution, as the bottleneck shifts from the CPU to the GPU. Ryzen 3 3100 also seems held back a bit in gaming due to its CCX configuration—two groups of two cores are spread over two CCXs, which incurs a latency penalty every time one CCX talks to the other. This split design also affects caches because two cores share a 8 MB L3 cache, whereas with a single CCX, all four cores share a 16 MB L3 cache, which reduces data duplication and gives each core access to more cache. That's why AMD has released the Ryzen 3 3300X—it uses a single CCX to alleviate these limitations.

In this review, we investigated how big the performance difference is between two identically clocked processors—one with four cores spread over two CCXs and the other with all four cores running in a single CCX. These results are highlighted in our "4.0 GHz Fixed" benchmark charts. If you go through them one by one, you'll notice that the differences depend very much on the application. Overall, the difference in apps is around 4%, and 12% at 720p, 7% at 1080p, 5% at 1440p and 1% at 4K for gaming. These differences are significant, and I'm sure AMD is working on improving them for Zen 3. AMD's next-gen architecture reportedly does away with CCX, placing all cores on the CCD sharing a single slab of L3 cache. The Ryzen 3100 and 3300X may not be the CPUs enthusiasts dream of, but their comparison provides powerful pointers as to where Zen 3 will take AMD's performance proposition.

On a side note, these two new processors not only make Ryzen more attractive for consumers, they also help AMD with "harvesting." This process is the reason why we have so many CPU and GPU variants on the market, which are built using the exact same silicon, but with wildly different specs. AMD is now able to make processors using dies that have minor defects, making them unfit for higher-end CPUs in terms of maximum frequency or because of defects in one CCX, for example.

Thanks to its 7 nanometer production process, all Ryzen Zen 2 processors are highly energy efficient, and the Ryzen 3 3100 is no exception. With around 100 W, whole system usage in multi-threaded workloads isn't very demanding in terms of energy and power supply requirements. Single-threaded energy usage is a little bit behind other Zen 2 CPUs, probably due to the low clock frequency, but still better than older Ryzens.

While there was some controversy in the past over which boost speeds Zen 2 should achieve, and whether "up to" is a reasonable excuse, things are different on the Ryzen 3 3100. We expanded our clock frequency analysis to test not only one load, but floating point, SSE SIMD, and AVX Vector. In all those tests, the CPU runs at its maximum boost frequency of 3900 MHz—all the time, no matter how many cores are loaded. While there are stress-test scenarios where the clock can drop below maximum boost, it's still a great result, and a clear improvement over earlier Ryzen processors.

Overclocking definitely surprised me. In my previous Zen 2 processor reviews I came to the conclusion that manual overclocking isn't worth it because it yields very little gains, in some cases even a loss in performance. The underlying reason is that AMD is running highly optimized boost algorithms on their Zen 2 CPUs, which can dynamically adjust the processor frequency based on multiple variables—something fixed-multiplier overclocking cannot. With manual overclocking, you must ensure that one frequency and voltage fits it all: light loads, heavy loads, and stress tests, with some even using AVX instructions. Things are different on the Ryzen 3 3100 because out of the box, it runs at relatively low frequency. This opens up headroom for manual overclocking as the silicon powering the CPU is identical to those on higher-end processors, which means they can most probably handle much higher clocks. Our manual overclocking yielded a stable frequency of 4.35 GHz, +450 MHz or 11% higher than maximum boost, which is probably helped by the fact that the CPU cores are spread out over a larger area because they reside in separate CCXes. This translates into 10% real-life performance gained in applications, and up to 5% gained in gaming—definitely worth it, especially since overclocking is so easy because of AMD's BIOS support and the Ryzen Master software.

With a price of $100, the AMD Ryzen 3 3100 has effectively abolished all Intel Pentiums and most of their Core i3 lineup. The Celerons can still be a viable choice for people looking for the absolute cheapest way to get a system up and running, with performance being only secondary. Pentiums are priced between $50 and $100 and come with just two cores plus HyperThreading—just buy the Ryzen 3 3100 instead, performance will be so much better in both applications and gaming. The only decent Intel choice left that I currently see is the Core i3-9100F, which is priced very competitively at just $75. It is slower than the Ryzen 3 3100, but cheaper, too. Both processors lack integrated graphics, which I think is the only real weakness of the Ryzen 3 3100. Many people want a decent computer for non-gaming tasks, so they have no use for a graphics card, and aren't willing to spend the money. Even the most basic IGP chip with no significant gaming capability, connected via Infinity Fabric, would make a huge difference for the versatility of Ryzen 3 3100. It's good to see that AMD is bundling a heatsink with their CPU, though. The Wraith Stealth is a perfectly sufficient solution for this 65 W CPU. It'll be interesting to see what happens next in this market segment because Intel's Comet Lake lineup has just been announced, and it looks like we'll finally see some action, both in terms of performance and pricing.
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