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Are Intel Core i3 CPUs Good for Gaming?

Intel offers a range of processors based on how much performance you’ll need. The Intel Core i3 is the cheapest model in the i-series of Intel processors. In this article, I will explain whether the Intel Core i3 is good for gaming. 

The Intel Core i3 is about the minimum you need for gaming to play games such as Dota 2 and World of Warcraft but is not much better than that. The Intel Core i5 is a better option for gaming because it can provide modest to outstanding performance depending on the other components.

With each number such as i5 to i7 the performance increases. It’s hard to judge how much performance you will need simply based on the specifications. So, below I will explain how good each of the Intel processors is for gaming, exactly how good the Intel Core i3 is for gaming, and whether the generation of processor matters.

Is The Intel Core i3 a Choice for Gaming?

Gamer playing

Intel makes some of the best processors, and they’ve long been one of the biggest and most popular producers of computer components. The i3 is one of the entry-level processors they sell, but will it work for gaming, and will it run them well?

The Intel i3 is OK for playing the most popular games on the lowest graphics setting such as Dota 2. But, it does not perform well in the medium to high-level graphics setting. A better option is the i5 to play the latest games on the medium to high graphics setting.

An Intel i5 processor is not that much different in price but provides a dramatically better level of performance for games. There are a few different versions of the i5, a few are around $180. These can the latest games very well. Whereas, the i3 costs about $120. 

Unless you’re on a really tight budget then you’re best to get the i5. But, even then I would suggest saving up a bit longer because the difference in performance is much different and is worth the extra $60.

The other versions of the i5 that cost about $280 can play the latest games far better. But, isn’t required to provide a smooth gaming experience on medium to high graphics. Here’s a table that shows a breakdown of how well the i3 and i5 perform for playing the latest games based on some qualitative metrics:

Type of Intel ProcessorHow well do they play the latest gamesPrice
Intel Core i3-10100Just barely and on the lowest graphics setting$130
Intel Core i5-10400Well very well provided the other components are decent$180
Intel Core i5-11600You’d be very impressed with the game performance$280
Intel Core i5-12600Amazing game performance$320

With Intel Core i3/i5/i7 processors you do get what you pay for. You’d be perfectly satisfied with the performance of an i5-10400 provided you have a decent graphics card, and a good amount of RAM. Which is in the $180 price range. If you’ve got some money to spare you’re best to get the i5-12600, as there is only a small price difference between it and the i5-11600.

The size of your monitor also matters

Using an i3 to play games also differs based on the size of the monitor. If you use a bigger monitor it will be much worse to play games. Here’s a brief summary of how it is to play games based on the screen size (display resolution):

  • 1600×900 (19.5 inch) monitor – Just playable on the lowest graphics setting 
  • 1920×1080 (23 inch) monitor – Borderline unplayable, barely playable
  • 3840×2160 (28 to 31 inch) monitor – Unplayable

The resolution does not always equal the screen size. For example, a 25-inch screen can be set to have a resolution of 1920×1080 but these are some average screen sizes for these resolutions.

Pros & Cons of Using an i3 for Gaming

The i3 can play very low graphics-intensive games really well. But, any of the latest games that are really popular to play such as Counter-Strike, Fortnite, or Dota 2 will be barely playable. However, they are playable on the lowest graphics setting, as long as the other components are average.

The main pro of using an i3 for gaming is that it is cheaper than the i5 and other processors you could choose from. But, the i5 performs far better and the difference in price is very small – only $30. So, for gaming, it makes much more sense to spend the additional $30 for an i5. 

The disadvantage of using an i3 for gaming is that it doesn’t perform very well for the latest and most popular games on a medium to high graphics setting. But, other than that there are no other known disadvantages. On the lowest graphics settings, it can play the most popular games, and can also play games that are not graphics-intensive very well such as Minecraft.

How The i5 Compares to i3

The i3 is the slowest of the Intel Core i-series processors, and the next model up is the i5. The i5 is on average $30 more expensive than the i5, so here’s how they compare.

The i5 has a 13% better framerate than the i3. But the i5 provides much better playability for games. An i3 has an average framerate of 69 FPS, whereas, the i5 has an average framerate of 91 FPS. The i3 is playable on the lowest graphics setting, but the i5 is competent on medium to high graphics.

Because of the low-cost difference between them, the i5 is well worth the extra price. In my opinion, the i5 is the minimum processor you should get of the Intel i series processors for playing games. The i3 is competent if you’re using your computer for school/university type work such as writing documents, browsing the web, watching Youtube, and sending and receiving emails.

Games have a bit more demand for performance so an i5 is the better choice for the latest/popular games. The one exception is games like Minecraft which have very little demand for graphics.

Does the Generation Really Matter?

Intel uses numbers to identify which generation their CPUs are. For example, an 8th generation i3 processor will have a model number in the product description that says i3-8xxx. The 8 indicates that it is an 8th generation i3, but does the generation of Intel CPUs matter?

The generation of Intel processors does matter. Most newer generation Intel processors offer better performance than the previous generation. For example, the i5 11th generation processor gives significantly better performance than an i5 10th generation processor.

However, it’s important to note that Intel has had some criticism online about their 11th generation processors, and some independent studies that people did showed that it didn’t offer better performance in some cases. 

Therefore, it’s best to read reviews online for the exact model such as the i3, or i5, and the exact generation such as the 8th or 9th to see if there is any known issue with it performing worse than the previous generation. For a more in-depth description of how the Intel generations and model numbers work refer to this page on the Intel website.

What Do the Benchmarks Say

To understand the difference fully, here’s a table that shows how the frames per second differ based on whether the processor is an i3 or i5 when all other components are kept the same:

Intel Core VersionAverage FPS
i369 FPS
i591 FPS

The results were compiled by doing the same short segment of the game Grand Theft Auto.

Conclusion

The i3 just plays the most popular games and only on the very lowest graphics setting. It’s far better to spend a little more and get the lowest-end i5 processor or spend almost double and a higher-end i5 processor or an i7.

Sources

I started building and fixing PCs in high school. After a couple of years of offering consultancy to a PC repair shop, I became the goto guy for all my acquaintances for PC/Laptop related buying advice or troubleshooting.