Intel Pentium vs Core i3: Which should you choose in 2021?

Intel’s Pentium and i3 lines have always been neck-to-neck with each other. They’re both light processors for casual everyday use. And they’re both cost-effective. But some minor differences aren’t apparent to everyone. So, in this comparison, we will put these processors side by side and decide which processor is best for what application. 

Pentium vs i3

Intel is the world’s leading manufacturer of microprocessors. Intel chips are present in many laptops and PCs. 

Two of their microprocessors, the Pentium and the i3, stand out as the most popular CPUs. Intel’s Pentium series is a vast line of processors, ranging from low-power to high-power. In contrast, Intel’s Core i3 is mostly targeted towards those with a lower budget. 

FeaturesIntel PentiumIntel Core i3
Cores2 and 42 and 4
Threads2 and 44 and 8
CacheL2 and L3L2
Highest Base Frequency4.30 GHz4.40 GHz
TDP range5-58 W15-65 W
Max memory size128 GB128 GB
GraphicsHD and UHD GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics

Intel Pentium

Intel Pentium G4560
Intel Pentium G4560

Pros

  • Lower heat production
  • Suitable for light browsing
  • Best for light gaming
  • More affordable

Cons

  • Not for higher-power applications
  • Cannot handle basic programming

Intel i3

Intel Core i3 7100
Intel Core i3 7100

Pros

  • Good for basic programming
  • Made for light use in homes and offices
  • Better architecture
  • Features hyperthreading

Cons

  • Higher heat production
  • More expensive than the Pentium

Key Specifications

Cores

You may have heard the terms “quad-core” and “octa-core”. But what does that mean? Cores are like the building blocks of microprocessors. Each core works independently to handle various applications. 

Microprocessors can be found in single-core, dual-core, quad-core, Hexa-core, octa-core, and deca-core. Generally, the more cores there are the more processing power and tasks the processor can handle. 

Intel Pentium’s Gold Series can only be bought with 2 cores, which is suitable considering it’s only for general-purpose everyday use. Pentium’s Silver Series, on the other hand, is mostly available as quad-core processors, save for the A1030, which has 2 cores. But, again, the choice is suitable since the Silver series is designed to handle heavier applications. 

The Intel Core i3, however, is available as both dual-core and quad-core processors. The core choices on both processors (Pentium and Core i3) are quite useful for most applications. However, some heavier applications will require an octa-core processor. And neither of these series provides that. 

Clock Speed

Every computer has an internal clock. This clock controls how fast the processor runs and how long it takes to execute instructions. Clock speeds are getting faster day by day, and both of these processors have kept up in that regard. The higher the clock speed, the better. But that entirely depends on your application. 

The Intel Pentium Gold Series offers a wide range of clock speed choices, ranging from 1.10 GHz to 4.30 GHz. Intel’s Pentium Silver Series, however, does not allow for a lot of choices. The lowest clock speed choice is 1.10 GHz, and the highest is 2.00 GHz. It’s good for less “needy” applications, but for anything remotely CPU intensive, consider a different series. 

If you want a wide range of processors with higher clock speeds, then the Core i3 series is best for you. It offers a clock speed range of 3.50 GHz to 4.40 GHz. 

Threads

Threads are the virtual CPU cores that enable the processor to execute multiple tasks at once. Each CPU core can have a maximum of two threads. So a quad-core processor can have 4 to 8 threads. And an octa-core processor can have 8 to 16 threads. The more threads you have, the more tasks the CPU can execute at one time. 

Since Intel’s Pentium Gold uses 2 cores, it has 4 threads with 2 threads on each core. However, the Intel Pentium Silver series only uses 1 thread on each core. This reduces its efficiency, but the actual effect of that depends on how you intend to use the processor.

Moreover, the Intel Core i3 series of microprocessors has both 4 and 8 thread options. All processors have 2 threads on each core. Threads and cores go hand in hand, so you can get an idea of which processor has more processing power. 

Socket

When you’re connecting a microprocessor to the motherboard, you don’t want to have to solder it. Soldering would likely damage the CPU (if done incorrectly) and make the connection semi-permanent. Therefore, a socket is used instead and it sits atop the motherboard. 

Technically, the socket is not a big deal. However, you need to know what type of socket the processor uses to avoid buying the wrong one. For example, most Pentium processors use Socket 478. 

Most Pentium Gold CPUs use the FCLGA1200 Socket. And most Pentium Silver processors use the FCBGA1090 Socket. As for the Intel Core i3, most processors use the FCBGA1449 Socket, though some use the FCBGA1598 Socket. The type of socket used is specific to the CPU, so be sure to compare the official datasheet with the motherboard you intend to use. 

Cache

Your CPU has many types of memories, including RAM and cache. RAM is the memory that temporarily holds information and is readily available. But when the CPU needs information immediately, it uses the cache memory. The cache is what helps websites and pictures load faster. 

Most Intel Pentium Gold CPUs have 4 MBs of cache memory, though a few have 2 MB. Additionally, some of the CPUs use Intel Smart Cache. In this, there is an individual cache for one core and a shared cache for the other. It’s also called L2 cache.

Intel’s Pentium Silver CPUs all have 4 MBs of cache. And some use the L3 technology, which features 3 caches instead of the inferior 2. Despite this, the L2 cache is faster than the L3 cache. 

The Intel Core i3 CPUs make a bigger leap. They use 8 MBs of cache instead of just 4. And the Intel Core i3-11100B even uses 12 MBs of cache. Moreover, they use L2 cache.

Integrated Graphics

Intel’s CPUs feature integrated graphics. This lets you view images, render 3D pictures and games, and stream videos. Of course, you can replace the graphics with a discrete GPU of your own choice if you like. But having an integrated graphics option means you don’t necessarily have to buy a separate GPU. That’s especially useful if you need the computer for day-to-day use. 

Pentium Gold uses UHD Graphics 610, 615, and 630. These are the most commonly found on this line of processors, but some also use the Intel HD Graphics 610 and 615. Moreover, most of these have a max dynamic frequency of 1.10 GHz, with the highest being 1.25 GHz. In addition to that, all of them support 4K graphics. 

Pentium’s Silver series uses a lower-powered graphics technology. Most of these processors use Intel Graphics UHD 605. And the highest burst frequency you can find in this range is 900 MHz, a far cry from the Gold’s 1.25 GHz. Additionally, the dedicated video memory is only 8 GB. All of them support 4K graphics.

As for the Intel Core i3 processors, all of them have integrated graphics for 11th Gen Intel Processors. It’s a lot faster and more advanced than the other graphics processors. Additionally, the max dynamic frequency ranges from 1.20 GHz to up to 1.40 GHz. And all the processors support 4K graphics. 

In a nutshell, in order of inferior to superior graphics, we have the Pentium Silver, Pentium Gold, and Core i3. 

Ram Compatibility

Typically, higher RAM is desirable for more advanced games and applications. And this is especially so for those that feature 3D models. 

In that respect, the Intel Pentium Gold has a max memory size ranging from 16 GB to 128 GB. This is only the max memory that it can support. Also, the actual amount of memory you can implement depends on the motherboard. Furthermore, most of the RAM is available as DDR4, though some do support DDR3 variants. 

The Intel Pentium Silver has a lower max memory support of 8 GB, with two processors supporting up to 16 GB. However, all of the processors only work with DDR4 memory or variants of it.

Finally, the Intel Core i3 has a max memory capability ranging from 16 GB to 128 GB. And almost all of the processors support DDR4 memory or its variants.

In conclusion, both the Intel Pentium Gold and the Intel Core i3 are perfect for high-RAM applications. But if you don’t need a lot of RAM, Pentium Silver may be right for you. It even supports DDR4 technology for all of its processors. 

TDP

CPUs generate heat, and to dissipate that heat, the CPU has Thermal Design Power (TDP). It’s a measure of the maximum amount of heat dissipated through the CPU. Ideally, we want this number to be as low as possible. This is because heat kills electronic components and can lead to performance issues. However, it should be noted that this is the maximum amount of heat generated during normal use. 

Since the Pentium Gold has 27 processors in its line, the TDP range is quite wide. Typical values range from 35 W to up to 58 Watts. However, a select few processors have a lower TDP of only 5-6 Watts. In contrast to that, the Pentium Silver processors have a lower TDP, ranging from 6 to 15 Watts. Most Intel Core i3 processors have a TDP of 65 W, except two, which are rated at 15 Watts. 

As stated earlier, lower TDP is generally better. However, how manufacturers measure the TDP for their processors is inconsistent. And hence, TDP values that are not too far off can never truly be compared. 

Additionally, consider that lower TDP usually signifies a CPU with lower specs. If you want a higher-spec CPU, you will almost always have to deal with a higher TDP. It’s better to implement a good cooling system instead of trying to find a high-spec low-TDP processor.

Manufacturing Process

The process of manufacturing a microprocessor is highly rigorous. And as such, keeping in mind the design process of the processor is highly important. The architecture and fabrication method can change the game with microprocessors. 

Intel’s Pentium Gold and Silver microprocessors use a low-power microarchitecture. They are used on two of Intel’s most famous architectures, Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake. 

Without getting too technical, the Coffee Lake architecture is better than Kaby Lake. It has higher Turbo frequencies, more cores, and can support DDR4-2666 memory. However, there is one major drawback in that it’s slightly slower than the Kaby Lake architecture due to the higher number of cores. But the Turbo Boost feature allows one core to run faster than the others, which prevents the other cores from needing to be overclocked.

Moving on to the Intel Core i3 processors, they are also available in Kaby Lake and Coffee Lake architectures. However, the 10th Gen processors use a newer architecture, called Comet Lake. It has more cores, more threads, better overclocking management, and higher clock frequencies. 

Unique Features

The Pentium and i3 processors differ in many aspects. But are there some technologies that are absent in the Pentium and vice versa? Yes, and these are just a few of them.

Overclocking

One of the most significant leaps that the Core i3 processors take is concerning overclocking. If you don’t know, each CPU has two frequencies– the base frequency and the max frequency. Most low-demand processes run on the base frequency. However, when hardware requires higher performance, the CPU will start running at a higher frequency. The absolute limit to this is the max frequency. 

Now, overclocking is not an ideal situation. For example, it can occur during gaming or when running high-power applications. And it generates a lot of heat, which can be detrimental to the CPU. 

But Intel’s Core i3 processors use a special technology called Turbo Boost. Turbo Boost allows only one core to run at max frequency at a time, which means lesser heat production. This means that you can safely overclock the system without worrying about overheating.

Cache Memory

Most people don’t bother to check the type of cache used on the CPU. But it’s crucial to faster loading and time efficiency. Unfortunately, Intel’s processors only have 2 levels of cache. The first level is the primary cache, which is fast but small. And the second is the secondary or L2 cache, which is a bit more capacious. 

That’s all well and good, but some of the Pentium processors use a third level, called the L3 cache. This improves the performance of the lower levels since it can be shared across cores. The result? Faster loading and better performance. 

Cooling

Most of Intel’s Core i3 processors produce a lot of heat and use as much as 65 watts. On the other hand, Pentium’s processors, at the highest TDP, only produce 58 W. Now, the difference may not seem significant. But it means you don’t have to put as much work into a cooling system with the Core i3 as with a Pentium. 

Example Comparison: Intel Core i3-7100 vs Intel Pentium G4560

Comparing two CPUs wouldn’t be justified without taking an example comparison. So, here we will compare the Intel Core i3-7100 vs the Intel Pentium G4560. 

The Intel Core i3-7100 is a 7th Gen processor that has been designed for use on desktops. It features 2 cores with 4 threads and a base frequency of 3.90 GHz. Additionally, it has a maximum memory size of 64 GB with 3 MBs of two-level cache. And the TDP is around 51 W. 

Compare that with the Pentium G4560. It’s a dual-core 4-thread processor from the Pentium G collection, which has now been discontinued. It too features a max RAM of 64 GB and a 3 MB cache. However, the cache on this CPU is merely single-level and not as fast or efficient as the dual-level cache used on the i3-7100. 

Additionally, it has a slightly lower base speed of 3.50 GHz. And since it’s from the older Pentium series, it does not feature Turbo Boost, which makes overclocking processor-safe. The TDP, however, is similar to that of the i3-7100 at 54 W. 

As you can see, the two processors are very similar but differ in performance. One has a faster cache while the other is of inferior performance. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, whether you should use the Intel Pentium vs i3 is entirely up to what your requirements are. 

The Core i3 is one of the best for web development, programming, and it runs a lot cooler. 

If you don’t need all of that and need a CPU for light office work, the Intel Pentium should suffice.

About Alex

Hello, I'm Alex and this is my website, Spacehop. I started the site as a way to talk about myself, and a few years later we're now a team of 6! I still work full time at a major PC retailer in the UK, and I'm a bit of a tech whizz (self-proclaimed, unfortunately!).

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