The Core i3-6100TE: An Unlikely Candidate?

Because of Supermicro’s big story regarding base clock frequency overclocking on non-K processors with non-Z platforms, it was imperative that we also get a non-K processor in to test with it. Typically Intel only seeds the top processors for review, and we had not had a chance to get other processors in to test when this motherboard arrived, so Supermicro also seeded us a Core i3 processor.

The Core i3-6100TE is an unlikely candidate for this testing. It’s not a processor that a user can go out and buy. The TE designation is a variant of Intel’s low power processors, whereby a T processor is typically 45W and the TE models are even lower - in this case 35W. These processors are typically for larger customers only, or the bigger OEMs, so you are more likely to see them in mini-PCs or all-in-ones rather than custom builds. If you are lucky, a big system distributor (think Dell or Lenovo) or even a large system integrator might have access to them and offer them for sale as part of a system. But by and large, aside from eBay, you would be lucky to find one for sale on its own unless you have a distributor nearby that sells OEM parts.

There are several angles to testing the CPU as well. Firstly, as a processor in its own right – where does it sit in the stack and if the price merit the performance and power characteristics. Secondly, as a tool for overclocking, and can we verify that the changes Supermicro have made to the C7H170-M to enable base clock overclocking on processors like this actually works. Then the third angle, which is perhaps the biggest: How well does an overclocked i3 processor actually perform, and why does Intel not offer an i3-K equivalent?

We will be addressing each of these questions as part of this review.

The Market

For those who are not keeping many tabs on the processor market, Intel’s mainstream desktop processor line comes in five flavors:

Flavor   Power Price Notes
Core i7 4 Cores
8 Threads
35W to 95W $300-$340 High performance
2 MB L3 Cache per core
Enthusiast focused
Core i5 4 Cores
4 Threads
65W to 91W $180-$242 More palatable price,
No Hyperthreading,
1.5 MB L3 Cache per core
Still for enthusiasts
Core i3 2 Cores
4 Threads
35W to 54W $117-$150 Mid-range CPU performance
All except -P with HD 530 graphics
No turbo mode.
Pentium 2 Cores
2 Threads
35W to 54W $64-$86 Lower CPU performance.
1.5 MB L3 Cache per core
No turbo mode.
Celeron 2 Cores
2 Threads
35W to 54W $42-$52 Low CPU/GPU performance.
Low-cost option.
1 MB L3 Cache per core
No turbo mode.

Within each of these flavors, processors will have a number that indicates their position in the stack (e.g. i7-6700, i3-6300), and some will also have a letter that indicates the segment they are in. The several types, for Skylake, are:

Type Example Meaning
-K i7-6700K Overclocking processor,
Multiplier unlocked. 91W
no letter i5-6500 Standard processor, locked, 51W-65W
-T i3-6100T Even lower power processor, 35W
-TE i3-6100TE Similar to T but with a lower base frequency.
Aimed at OEMs/embedded. 35W
-P i3-6098P Special part for specific OEMs,
Typically high CPU and low IGP. 54W/65W
Not Currently Used in Skylake
-S (e.g. i5-4690S) i5-4690S Lower power processor, ~65W
-R (e.g. i5-5675R) i5-5675R Uses eDRAM, soldered down
-C (e.g. i5-5675C) i5-5675C Uses eDRAM, socketed CPU

Not all processor segments (C/P/i3/i5/i7) combine with every type (K/S/T/TE), and it mostly ends up being a pick and choose depending on how Intel sees the market. So for example, for desktop processors, Skylake has three Core i7 (one K, one T), five Core i5 (one K, one P), seven Core i3 (two T, one TE, one P), six Pentium (two T, one TE) and four Celeron (one T, one TE) parts.

Choosing the CPU, and the Overclocking Conundrum

When a user, or an OEM/SI, needs a processor, several factors come into play. Assuming that they definitely need a Skylake part, the three things most people focus on are performance, cost and power. Depending on which one is the most vital automatically limits the choices – if a user needs the most performance, then a Core i5 or Core i7 is on the cards, or if the user needs something under $120, then the low-model Core i3 parts are as high as you go.

Most enthusiasts who want to overclock have a different set of requirements. At current, only two Skylake processors allow multiplier overclocking – the Core i5-6600K and Core i7-6700K, which we reviewed and looked into overclocking scaling last year. These are 91W parts that start at $242 for the i5, making entry into this market for mainstream enthusiasts only.

It wasn't always like this. Several generations ago, overclocking (via the base frequency) occurred with every CPU that was on sale, and users would regularly go after the mid-range part with a good cooler and overclock it to be the equivalent of a high-performance processor. It made computing fun, and got me into the world of competitive overclocking which actually ended up with me working for AnandTech, so I’m a nice big advocate for it. To reach back into the nostalgia stakes, back in 2014, with the launch of Haswell’s Devil’s Canyon parts, Intel also launched an overclockable Pentium processor, the Pentium G3258.

The idea behind the G3258 was to offer a cheaper processor (~$72) that could be overclocked and offer a low cost entry into the world of overclocking. As with every review website, we tested the Pentium G3258 in both default and overclocked mode. There were two main conclusions. Firstly, the single core performance at 4.2 GHz was great and it felt like a high-end processor for day-to-day tasks like browsing the web and email. Secondly, because it was physically still a dual-core Pentium processor, overclocking it did not elevate it to the status of a coveted Core i5 at a third of the cost. So despite the price, enthusiasts looking at some interesting cheap overclocking and performance were not impressed, and went back to the Core i5/i7 processors because of the fundamental performance difference.

Intel did not release a Pentium G3258 equivalent for Skylake, so we cannot probe that segment. But one thing that did come out of the G3258 testing was a question on a lot of people’s lips: would an overclockable Core i3 provide enough performance to go after some of the big guns?

Intel has never expressed much interest in an unlocked Core i3. Some users might argue that the G3258 felt more of a forced part because it was never given a name with the ‘K’ unlocked designation, such as the G3240K (the base processor was a G3240 underneath). Despite Intel’s PR enthusiasm for overclocking, it seems they only want it at the high end of their product stack. An astute observer might point out that offering a cheaper part might cut into sales, especially average selling price, and Intel has no competition beyond an i3 right now so it makes sense they do not want to talk about it. But everyone wants to know ‘if’ an i3 can branch out in performance.

So this is where Supermicro’s C7H170-M motherboard, our Core i3-6100TE sample, and this review comes in.

It also makes the story regarding base clock overclocking being enabled, then removed, then kind of enabled again interesting to follow.

Results then Overclocking

The next few pages will showcase our usual CPU benchmark suite. Alongside the Core i3-6100TE at stock frequencies, we will also put in our overclocked numbers for our 135% stable overclock (moving from 2.7 GHz to 3.645 GHz) as well as results from processors in that range to which we have data for. After the results, we will discuss the actual process of overclocking, and the results of scaling the base frequency from 100 MHz to 145 MHz. Then we will take a page to answer the question: is overclocking a Core i3 actually worth it?

All of our benchmark results can also be found in our benchmark engine, Bench.

Motherboard Gaming Performance Core i3-6100TE Office and Web Performance
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  • C.C. - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    First! Great Article Ian..I really wish Intel hadn't decided to stop the Mobo work around's allowing i3 overclocking.. Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Friday, March 18, 2016 - link

    Yeah, fantastic article. I loved how he ran benchmarks at various overclocks. Reply
  • edlee - Friday, March 18, 2016 - link

    This was really a shame that this article was not testing a regular i3 with a normal tdp, it would have shown a definate overclock to 4.5ghz and beating stock i5 by a good margin.

    It would become the celeron 300a of this generation
    Reply
  • ImSpartacus - Saturday, March 19, 2016 - link

    Yeah, is there a section that explains why a 6100 wasn't used?

    I admittedly still haven't read the whole article, I found the part that states that a 6100te is a very unusual oem-only part.
    Reply
  • RobATiOyP - Saturday, March 19, 2016 - link

    Hardly the 300a was a guaranteed 50% oc affecting both cpu, FSB and memory on a socket giving a clean & supported widely deployed set of frequencies, without any drawbacks. It meant a relatively cheap Celeron could compete with top of the line PII's using slower cache memory on Slot riser cards.

    The skylake BCLK oc, seems to come withdrawbacks slow downs have shown up in some benchmarks, probably due to the complexity of multiple timing domains in modern chips.
    Reply
  • cobrax5 - Monday, March 21, 2016 - link

    The awesome thing with the 300A was the 128KB of full speed cache. I beleive the PII's had double the cache but at half the speed. I loved the 300A - possibly my favorite processor of all time because of when I got it, etc. I had a friend who did the hack to go dual socket 300A's. I remember this whole problem of wanting to run 98SE, but only the NT kernel supported multiple CPU's/sockets/cores (all the same back then...memories).

    Anyone remember the Voodoo 1/2 add-in cards? Those things were pretty sweet for what they did for 3D games, despite the funny VGA passthru cable...
    Reply
  • 0ldman79 - Monday, April 04, 2016 - link

    Voodoo 2 and the 300A. The good old days.

    I didn't get to play with the 300A, but I got the Celeron 500 and 533, they'd hit 700+ if done right. I got to play with dozens of them and find a good one. It was fun overclocking a Dell.
    Reply
  • RobATiOyP - Sunday, March 20, 2016 - link

    The point is that CPUs get thermally limitted, increasing volts can increase Watts in a very small area. Therefore there's some sense in trying out a power efficient chip, which has headroom.

    What the benchmarks really seem to show, is to do well on multi-threaded you need.. 4+ cores. In single thread the cheap Pentium and this i3, do well against the more expensive stock chips.
    Reply
  • Flunk - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    Interesting article, although it is a little bit skewed to compare the stock performance of that i5 6600 vs the overclocked i3 without including overclocked numbers for the i5, which you could have gotten using the same motherboard you tested the i3 on. Reply
  • Ian Cutress - Thursday, March 17, 2016 - link

    That might be in a future piece. Depending on how open base clock overclocking is going to be, at this point I'm wondering if each Skylake CPU I get in should have the overclock treatment given how so few motherboards enable it. Reply

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