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AMD's New $100 Processors Are Magnificent Little Beasts Worth Every Penny

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Photo: Joanna Nelius (Gizmodo)

What exactly will just a $100 get you in a desktop CPU? A lot. If I wanted to build a new rig on a budget, and I wanted to do it sooner rather than later, I could buy either AMD’s Ryzen 3 3100 or Ryzen 3 3300X and know I’m getting a solid deal. They perform flawlessly out of the box and pack a surprising amount of power for the lowest end of Ryzen desktop CPUs. AMD has finally taken the Ryzen 3 out of budget purgatory.

Just look at its last generation of budget processors. For $110 at launch, the Ryzen 3 2100 had 4-cores/4-threads and a 3.1GHz base clock (3.4GHz boost). The Ryzen 3 2300X wasn’t much better, either. It cost over $130 with the same core and thread count, but a base/boost of 3.5GHz/4.0GHz. This time around things are different. The Ryzen 3 3000s are faster, cheaper, and now have eight threads.


If you missed it before, here’s a quick rundown of the specs for AMD’s Ryzen 3 3000 series desktop CPUs:

  • Ryzen 3 3100: 3.6GHz base (3.9GHz boost), 4-core/8-thread, 65W TDP ($100)
  • Ryzen 3 3300X: 3.8GHz base (4.3GHz boost), 4-core/8-thread, 65W TDP ($120)

AMD has finally added what it calls Simultaneous Multi-Threading (SMT) to both these new CPUs, which works like Intel’s hyper-threading: splitting the physical cores into virtual ones so each core can run two instruction streams at once. Previous Ryzen 3s did not have SMT, so they were stuck with 4-cores/4-threads, but with SMT, AMD was able to increase the count to eight threads from four cores and offer the most processing power possible at the cheapest price possible—enough to where it can rival some aspects of Intel’s Core i7-7700K, a top of the line processor three years ago.


We, unfortunately, don’t have the latest comparable Intel processors, but in our briefing with AMD they referenced the i7-7700K, which we’ve tested previously. So it seemed as good a comparison as any we have on hand. Our testbed included: GTX 1080 Ti, Asus ROG Crosshair VIII Hero, G.Skill Trident Z Royal 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-3600, Samsung 970 Evo NVMe M.2 SSD 500GB, Corsair RM750X, and an AMD Wraith Prism LED RGB for cooling. For benchmarking, I looked at raw core processing speed with Geekbench 4, transcoding speed with Handbreak, and rendering speed with Blender. For gaming, I ran in-game benchmarks with Civilization VI, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Far Cry 5, Total War: Warhammer II, and Metro Exodus.

But here’s some of that in cold, hard numbers:

If you’re willing to spend $20 more for the 3300X, you get a good multi-core performance boost, 19903 verses 19002, and better single core performance, 5279 versus 5133, respectively. The 3300X performs slightly better in Handbrake when transcoding a 4K video file at the 1080p30 preset, but only by 10 seconds. However, it shines much more when rendering images using the cycle render engine with the CPU in Blender and is faster than the 3100 by a full minute.

There’s also a slight fps increase across a host of different games, but it’s really negligible between the two processors. I’m talking a difference of one or two frames. Yet despite the minor difference, I’m still suggesting the more expensive part. What you get for that $20 extra is the bragging power of having a $120 CPU that can overclock up to 4.3GHz instead of the 3100's 3.9GHz boost speed, and overclocking does make a decent difference. (4.3GHz for just over $100? That’s damn good.)


Although I would not recommend using the included stock air cooler. The 3300X gets toasty and easily reaches into the high 70s (Celsius), while the 3100 tops out in the low 70s (Celsius). I had the cooler fan running in turbo mode on the 3300X, which kicks the fan into high gear when the CPU is processing a lot of information at once, and it still got that hot. A better cooler would let either CPU run longer at its high clock speeds.


But back to the benchmarks—if you wanted to build a budget rig for gaming at 1080p, you can’t go wrong with either of these two processors. A game like Overwatch can get about 100 fps on 4K ultra, but in general, 4K was too much for the GTX 1080 Ti and Ryzen 3 3100/3300X combo to handle, averaging 43 and 37 fps on Shadow of the Tomb Raider (highest graphical setting) and Metro Exodus (ultra). 1440p was hit and miss, but both the 3100 and 3300X can easily handle anything on 1080p ultra and average over 60 fps every time.

Here’s the average of both Ryzen CPUs perform at 1080p at the highest graphical setting:

  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider: 98 fps
  • Metro Exodus: 72 fps
  • Total War: Warhammer II: 93 fps
  • Far Cry 5: 94 fps

Numbers will vary depending on the graphics card, and since the GTX 10-series has been out of production for a while, you’re probably better off sticking with the GTX 16-series or RTX 20-series, if you want to get close to or the same performance as the above games. The RTX 2060 Super should do the trick, but if you need to go cheaper, the GTX 1660 Ti should still perform admirably with either of these Ryzen processors. I also wouldn’t recommend pricier or faster GPUs as you’ll likely find the 3100/3300X bottlenecking performance.


As I mentioned earlier, AMD claims that these CPUs can get slightly better gaming performance than one of Intel’s 7th-gen processors, the Core i7-7700K. Unfortunately, I did not have an i7-7700K on-hand to test against the Ryzen 3 3100 and 3300X with our spread of games, but Gizmodo has tested it previously using a similar set up so I could compare numbers. Performance will depend on the overall configuration of your rig and whether or not you’ve done any overclocking, but out of the box, AMD’s new budget CPUs win some and lose some. The Core i7-7700K’s multi-core processing speed is slower than both the 3100 and 3300X (18121 verses 19903 in Geekbench 4), yet they cannot beat the i7-7700K’s single-core power (5435 verses 5133/5279). The Ryzen processors are also slightly slower in Handbrake than the i7-7700K, by 10 to 20 seconds, and 2-3 minutes slower in Blender.

However, AMD’s new budget Ryzen 3 crushed the i7-7700K in the Civ VI benchmarks. Where Intel’s GPU/CPU speeds were 18.0/21.5, the Ryzen 3 3300X was the fastest at 11.3/7.20, with the 3100 barely trailing behind at 11.4/7.31. That’s not awful for budget CPUs going up against a processor that retailed for well over $400 in 2017, and is still listed on Newegg at $560.


At their base clocks, AMD’s new Ryzen 3 processors still pack a lot of power for budget CPUs, and either is a fine choice for a budget build. If you plan on overclocking, the 3300X is the better choice; the price difference is minimal for a higher boost clock, plus its rendering speed is faster. Though I’d caution waiting a little while longer to tuck into the budget PC build. I’m looking forward to seeing how Intel’s recently announced 10th-gen Core i3-10100 stacks up, specifically compared to the Ryzen 3 3300X since it’s not overclockable for a minor $2 price difference. But if you can’t wait to see what Intel will pull off, these are damn good processors.


  • So so so good, and so so so cheap!
  • There’s no real difference between the two in terms of gaming performance.
  • For $20 more, you get faster rendering times and higher boost clock with the 3300X.