If the AMD Ryzen 3 3300X is the desktop processor that blurs the line between a great budget gaming CPU and a solid budget content-creation engine, the $99 Ryzen 3 3100 is the “lite” version. It’s a chip that shores up the low end of AMD’s Ryzen stack as a solid pick for PC gamers who are just a Jackson short of what you’d spend on a 3300X. Does it need to exist? Maybe not, but it still has its own rare charm, and is a first: an under-$100 four-core/eight-thread processor, which is a great deal no matter which way you slice it. In general, we’re going to recommend you go with the Ryzen 3 3300X instead, but if that $20 difference between the two chips is your difference-maker, the Ryzen 3 3100 is a value-minded little beastie that gets the job done almost as well. Just know that it requires a video card alongside it; it has no integrated graphics, unlike its Intel equivalents.
The New Budget Ryzen Stack
We’ve already done a deep dive on all the various things you need to know about this latest Ryzen launch in our review of the Ryzen 3 3300X, linked above, but here’s a quick breakdown. First, the core specs and where the new Ryzen 3 chips fit in the AMD third-generation Ryzen line…
These third-gen chips all make use of AMD’s 7nm process technology, under the umbrella of the Zen 2 architecture. Not listed here are two other 3000-series chips we’ve tested, the $99 Ryzen 3 3200G and the $149 Ryzen 5 3400G. The “G” is for integrated graphics; the reason they are not in the third-generation family, technically, is that the CPUs are based on older process technology. But don’t ignore them; they are the ones to look at if a dedicated graphics card is just not in the…well, cards for you.
The Ryzen 3 3100, like the rest in the family, slots into the AMD AM4 socket, which has been in use since the first generation of Ryzen. It should work with any AM4 motherboard that has a BIOS update that specifically accommodates it. (Not every vendor will offer such compatibility on every old board, so check first.)
Alongside the launch of Ryzen 3, AMD is also announcing its next motherboard chipset upgrade: the AMD B550 (a tick up from the mainstream-priced B450), due out in new boards starting on June 16. The new Ryzen 3s support the much discussed PCI Express 4.0 (PCIe 4.0) bus standard (when used with a compatible late-model motherboard), but this is of interest mainly to performance hounds at the high end, concerned about maximum sustained speeds with specialized PCIe 4.0-compatible SSDs. For budget buyers, a previous-gen AM4 motherboard without PCIe 4.0 support, but supporting the CPU, should suffice in most cases.
To read the full explanation of what this launch means for budget creators and gamers alike, head on over to our Ryzen 3 3300X review to find out more. We’ve broken down lots more about the platform nuances there.
Intel vs. AMD Comparison
In its press materials, AMD has been pressing the advantage that the Ryzen 3 3100 has over Intel’s currently sold competing processor in the same price bracket, the four-core/four-thread Core i3-9100. Here’s a look at the current state of play in that tight budget space around $100. Note: The Core i3-10100, not tested here, is the closest price match to the Ryzen 3 3100 in Intel’s pending 10th Generation “Comet Lake-S” line, expected to hit the street later this month.
At the moment of this writing, Intel’s closest match for the Ryzen 3 3100 is the Core i3-9100, a four-core and (crucially) only four-thread CPU, which we ran some CPU tests on alongside this Ryzen 3 model. In both gaming and content creation, AMD believes it has the upper hand in certain games and applications, but will this ring true once we throw the chip in our testbed and start putting it through its paces? Let’s find out…
Performance Testing: CPU
For our test setup, we installed the AMD Ryzen 3 3100 into an MSI MEG Godlike X570 AM4 motherboard, and populated two of the DIMM slots with 16GB of memory set at 3,000MHz. An Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti handled video output during the CPU tests, clocked to Founders Edition specs. (Like other Ryzen chips not ending in “G,” these Zen 2-based Ryzens do not have on-chip graphics, so a video card is necessary.) We used AMD’s stock Wraith Stealth CPU cooler and installed the components into an ADATA XPG Invader chassis.
We test CPUs using a variety of synthetic benchmarks that offer proprietary scores, as well as real-world tests using consumer apps like 7-Zip and 3D games like Far Cry 5.
One of the most widely used predictors of a CPU’s relative performance is the Cinebench R15 benchmark, which offers a good overview of performance on many different types of demanding apps. It’s a CPU-centric test that gauges both the single-core performance and the multicore performance of a processor when it is stressed. The resulting scores are proprietary numbers that represent the CPU’s capabilities while rendering a complex 3D image.
Straight off the bench, the Ryzen 3 3100 proves itself to be a superior content-creation engine, on the basis of its eight-thread support, to the 9th Generation Intel Core i3. Note: Intel’s next-gen “Comet Lake-S” Core i3 CPUs, expected later this month, will employ four-core/eight-thread designs as well, and start at $122. Intel’s parallel 9th Generation chip may be a few steps behind, but the low-end landscape may change soon.
For a real-world look at single-core performance, we use a, shall we say, vintage version of Apple’s iTunes to encode a series of music tracks. This is representative of the isolated legacy software we all keep around for one reason or another, in this case not optimized for modern many-core CPUs.
No surprises here. While the Ryzen 3 3100 does offer improvements in performance and speed gains off the AMD Ryzen 3200G, it trails the previous-gen Intel Core i3-9100. Intel is often swifter, head to head, in single-threaded tasks than equivalently positioned AMD silicon.
The POV-Ray benchmark is a synthetic, highly threaded rendering test that offers a second opinion on the Cinebench results. This test uses ray tracing to render a three-dimensional image. (Note that it doesn’t use the ray tracing features of Nvidia’s RTX-class GPUs; this is purely CPU grunt at play here.)
POV-Ray testing confirms this disparity, with the 3100’s single-core results behind those of the Core i3-9100, but on the multi-core test, the Ryzen 3 beating the Core i3 by a nontrivial amount (more than 30 seconds).
Handbrake & Blender
As an all-core rendering benchmark, the Handbrake test is a great indicator of generally how well a processor will handle tasks like video editing, video rendering, and video conversion. These kinds of apps tend to munch on all the cores and threads they can get in their teeth.
Here the Ryzen 3 3100 is around 20 percent faster than the Intel Core i3-9100, more evidence that the multi-core rendering capabilities of the 3100 outpace anything Intel has on offer in the budget space. Still, adding Hyper-Threading to a parallel Core i3 in the 10th Gen could be difference maker on this test for Intel. Meanwhile, the also-under-$100 Pentium and Celeron entrants here are recent-enough examples of their kind, but they cannot compete at all with the Ryzen 3, having just two native cores.
The Blender test, as run with our test file, is useful mostly for highlighting the vast differences between low-end and high-end chips, and the similarities between chips within these two categories. But the numbers here are nonetheless telling…
While we wouldn’t expressly recommend the Ryzen 3 3100 as an ideal content-creation engine, it still shows that it knows how to handle itself, with its placing here between the Intel Core i3-9100 and the six-core/12-thread Ryzen 5 3600.
Last up, we have our 7-Zip compression-utility benchmark…
On simplistic multi-threaded tasks like decompressing or compressing files, the Ryzen 3 3100 is clearly ahead of the Core i3-9100 by a wide enough margin that it’s hardly a contest. Those 10th Generation Core i3 chips with four cores and eight threads need to get here, stat.
Should You Overclock the Ryzen 3 3100?
Sure, you could. AMD’s Ryzens are all unlocked. But we recommend against it from both a market-positioning and a common-sense point of view.
Given its modest included cooling, and the small price gap between it and the Ryzen 3 3300X, it’s our recommendation that instead of shelling out for a liquid loop (heaven forbid!) or a premium aircooler fan/heatsink to keep your overclocked Ryzen 3 3100 cool, just spend the extra $20 and upgrade to a Ryzen 3 3300X instead. (The 3300X also comes with the same perfectly adequate Wraith Stealth stock fan.) That’s a guaranteed performance boost that won’t violate your warranty or potentially make your system unstable.
Plus, we wouldn’t want to overstress a stock Wraith Stealth air cooler for long periods, simply for reasons of sanity. We ran ours at 100 percent for a while as we experimented with overclocking these Ryzen 3s in AMD’s Ryzen Master utility, and it sounded like a small vacuum cleaner at speed.
How Does the Ryzen 3 3100 Game?
To find out, we paired the chip with a crazy partner: the Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, clocked at Founders Edition speeds. That’s a $1,000-plus GPU to go with your $99 CPU, but paired up for a reason: It shows, at the extremes, the limits that the CPU might put on a GPU’s potential performance, as well as the CPU’s effect on games that are sensitive to cores and clocks.
As you can see from the results above, while the Ryzen 3 3100 is a solid gaming chip, the Ryzen 3 3300X outperforms it, in many cases, by bigger percentages than its 20 percent price premium. It’s our recommendation, in this case, that if the difference between a 200fps and 240fps frame rate at 1080p means the difference between buying a 165Hz versus a 240Hz monitor for you, it’s better to spring for the Ryzen 3 3300X and save yourself the headache of trying to overclock to get the frame limit you’re striving for, to match that monitor.
Most budget shoppers, however, aren’t looking at high-refresh monitors and are gaming on a GPU much more modest than an RTX 2080 Ti. So the absolute frame rate differences will be a lot smaller, and thus matter less. If the $20 difference between the Ryzen 3 3100 and the 3300X is the difference between a given GPU and the next best one, kick down to the 3100 and get the better GPU. Otherwise, the Ryzen 3 3300X remains the better-value gaming-PC buy.
Very Good…But the Ryzen 3 3300X Does Exist
The AMD Ryzen 3 3100 is a CPU that fills a very notable niche: credible under-$100 processors, if only by a dollar. In that category are quite a few contenders (low-end CPUs are the ones purchased in most volume), but with the launch of both the Ryzen 3 3100 and the Ryzen 3 3300X happening at the same time, in almost every case AMD continues to compete against its biggest rival of 2020: itself.
If you want a solid gaming CPU and need that extra $20 to make the difference between a GeForce GTX 1660 and a GeForce GTX 1660 Super video card, then the Ryzen 3 3100 is the pick for you. Otherwise, if you can spare just a bit of extra geld on your budget build, we highly recommend sticking with the Editors’ Choice Ryzen 3 3300X instead.
Shoppers who don’t need the extra oomph of a video card, but who still want four cores at their disposal, can also consider the AMD Ryzen 3 3200G, which has decent built-in Radeon RX Vega graphics, or consider holding out for one of Intel’s 10th Generation Core i3 chips, which will have four cores/eight threads and modest integrated graphics. Just know that those new Intel chips demand a new motherboard, too. Sometimes, being on a long-running platform is the decisive factor: You may already have an AMD AM4 motherboard that works with these new Ryzens with a BIOS update. You definitely don’t have an Intel LGA 1200-socket one, because at this writing, you couldn’t buy one yet.
Either way, AMD has made it a great time to be a budget builder in the first half of 2020, and if you’re looking to squeak every possible CPU cycle out of your bucks alongside a dedicated GPU, the Ryzen 3 3100 is an extra-special value under $100.
AMD Ryzen 3 3100 Specs
|Base Clock Frequency||3.6 GHz|
|Maximum Boost Clock||3.9 GHz|
|Socket Compatibility||AMD AM4|
|L3 Cache Amount||16 MB|
|Thermal Design Power (TDP) Rating||65 watts|
|Bundled Cooler||AMD Wraith Stealth|