The 5 Best Core i3 Laptops in 2021 (11th & 10th generation)

The whole point of finding the best i3 laptop is to get as much power as possible without having to spend more than 500$.

These days the best i3 laptops can have more than enough speed not only to RUN basic everyday tasks but games at low settings, photo and video editing software ,etc.

Unfortunately…

There are gazillions of core i3 laptops to choose from.

So for most people finding a cheap yet powerful core i3 laptop is going to be harder than looking for a needle in a coal mine.

Why?

Check out all the choices you have. That’s right you have over 1000 results.

Second,  there’s a lot of old and slow good for nothing models that can only tolerate paint and pacman.

Don’t believe me? Check this one out, 4th generation processor? Are you kidding me? We are in the 11th generation now.

Third, even if you weed out the old laptops, the prices of the recent ones can be all over the place despite having the same hardware goodness inside.

Anyways…

We all want to max out on performance without having to spend too much money and that’s exactly what you’ll find in this post.

So, how can I find the best i3 laptops on my own though?

It’s not that difficult, first you need to be aware of the huge discrepancies in powers between generations.

4th,5th have about the same power, 6th and 7th are a lot faster than previous ones but have the same power,etc.

Also, clock speed and #cores vary according to the series ( U series have less cores/less clock speeds compared to H series).

There’s a section at the end of this post going over this in detail, if you want to find those laptops on your own you need to read it.

In this article however…

We’ve already done all of that and these laptops are the best deals and the only worthy ones to be looked at as of early 2021.

Best Core i3 Laptop Specification

Before we get to that I want to quickly go over the basic things you need to know and what specs I recommend getting.

CPU
We are in the 11th generation now. An 8th generation at the very least. No Buts. If you find anything older than that, it better be free . You can check which generation you’re buying by looking at the first number: Ex: i3-8250 or i3-10300. 

Also note that there is a huge difference between  Core i3 laptops with the label “m3” or “y3” and the ones with the  letter  “U” in front  of it. Ex: “i3-7100U” vs “m3-7Y30”. m3/y3 CPUs are designed for portability or  convertible laptops (they fit in very small devices without the need of much ventilation) so they’re a lot weaker than core i3 U processors.

RAM
4GB is enough for Office Work & Programming and even multitasking.
8GB is a must for light gaming otherwise don’t bother buying a laptop.
8GB is also a must for heavy multitasking.

GPU (Graphics Card)
This doesn’t matter. Virtually all Core i3 laptops come with an integrated GPU and they have more or less the same performance.

SSD (Solid State Drive)
Getting an SSD for storage will make your i3 laptop soar through the sky. Most modern i3 laptops come with one just double check you’re getting one. If not, you must upgrade it yourself.

Display
99% of Core i3 laptops come with HD+ or HD resolutions. HD or HD+ resolutions aren’t too bad if you’ve got a 15 screen. A 13” display with an HD resolution is a bad combo, will feel almost like running Windows 95.

Top 5 Best Core i3 Laptops in 2020

Finding an AFFORDABLE Core i3 laptop with a recent processor and all the computer goodness we went over AND a FHD display  is like finding kryptonite in your backyard so it’s not really something your entitled to have. Worst case scenario, you’re going to have to upgrade the RAM or give up something else (we’ll talk about it soon).

Let’s make one thing clear: I will not repeat the specs like most websites do, they are listed next to the picture or on amazon for you to see. I’ll talk about the most important facts to know before buying


1. Acer Aspire 5

Best i3 1005G1 Laptop 

  Core i3-1005G1 

  4GB RAM DDR4

   IntelĀ® UHD Graphics 620

  128GB SSD PCIe NVMe

  15” FHD IPS 1080p

  3.97lbs

  10 hours

   Intel WiFi 6 AX201

Clock Speed Turbo Generation Cores Threads Cache Size
1.2GHz 3.4GHz 10 2 4 4MB

The Acer Aspire 5 has been for the past several years the most budget friendly and fastest laptop with a Core i3 processor in it.

Every new versions released somehow ended up becoming the best selling laptop on Amazon.

Unfortunately, that’s no longer the case for the Core i3 versions. The advent of Ryzen 3 processors have taken that title now. However, it is still one of the best deals for core i3 laptops.

What I mean by this is that you’re getting a pretty good bang for your buck as you’ll see soon.

However, let me just say that the Ryzen 3 version of the Acer Aspire is a much more budget friendly and has more stuff packed into it. If you don’t mind ditching Intel, you should check it out.

Anyways I just wanted to let you all know that, this post is about Core i3 laptops so let’s talk about this model. 

  Performance

Despite the lack of a 11th Core i3 gen processor, performance still is high. That’s because 8th and 10th gen processors hover around 3.5-4GHz for clock speed which is plenty to run even the most popular 3D games like OW, WoW,Sims,etc, all at low settings of course. Low graphic games like MC, LoL, CS GO, Dota 2 will run at medium settings though.

You might need to upgrade the RAM though, 4GB is plenty for Windows 10 S home but not enough for the full version of Windows 10 Home.

Which brings me to the main issue with this laptop and most “affordable” core i3 laptops below 450$: they don’t have the full version of Windows 10, which means you’ll be limited to run software that’s available on the app store.

This isn’t an issue if you’re just after the most popular software and apps used by most people: Zoom,MS Office, Word, Excel, Chrome, FireFox, Adobe Reader, Code editors, Paint, Photo & Video editing apps are all available on the Windows Store which means you can use them with Windows 10 S.

You won’t be able to run third party unknown software or games (although several of them have released a Win 10 S version) unless you install Windows 10 home on this laptop which is only one button away but it costs 100$.

Other workarounds include:

There are a few workarounds though:

– Using the same windows license from your old rig.
– Ask a friend for his license key
– Get a discount for Windows 10 (if you are a student)

  Display

You are probably wondering why go through?

Well you don’t have go to through that if you’re not going to run very specific software that isn’t available on the Windows S store.

But if you do need Windows 10 Home and find laptops with about the same price and Windows 10 home, beware of the display!

Most laptops at this price range have an HD or HD+ resolution which is very limiting for having multiple windows next to each other.

This one not only has a FHD resolution (1920*1080) but also an IPS display which makes colors look more vibrant and makes the screen tolerate high viewing angles with no distortion.

Upgrades:

Just like most laptops, it is easy upgradeable. I recommend you upgrade RAM and perhaps storage ONLY if you plan on using Windows 10 Home.

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2. Dell Inspiron 14 5000

Best Core i3 Laptop – 11th generation

  Core i3-1115G4 4.1GHz

  4GB RAM DDR4

   Intel UHD Graphics 620

  128GB PCIe NVMe SSD

  FHD

  4.9lb

  10 hours

  None

Clock Speed Turbo Generation Cores Threads Cache Size
2.1GHz 4.1GHz 10 2 4 4MB

  2x USB 3.1 Gen1, 1x USB 2.0, 1x Combo Headphone/Microphone Jack, 1x HDMI, 1x RJ-45, Media card reader, Backlit Keyboard, 802.11AC, Bluetooth

This laptop has almost the exact same specs: same FHD display, RAM , Storage, WiFi Cards, Weight except for one thing.

11th Gen Processors:

A Core i3 11th generation processor has a huge lead in clock speed over its predecessors. A 10th generation processor can turbo boost to 3.4GHz but an 11th gen processor to 4.1GHz which approaches high end gaming processors and workstation clock speeds(4.5-5GHz).

This isn’t necessarily going to make a huge difference with everyday tasks, in fact, you will notice no difference with basic apps like MS Office or a web browser.

You will definitely see a difference when doing Photo Editing/Video Editing and playing games though.

I suppose it is a worthy investment if you plan on doing any of those heavy tasks with a Core i3 laptop.

Just remember to upgrade the RAM, 4GB is only enough for Windows 10 S. Not enough for Windows 10 Home.

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3. Newest Lenovo IdeaPad 3

Best Lenovo i3 Laptop

  Core i3-8145U 3.4GHz

  8GB RAM DDR4

   Intel UHD 620

  128GB SSD NVMe

  15”  FHD  TN

  3.96lb 

  7 hours

  None

 

Clock Speed Turbo Generation Cores Threads Cache Size
1.2GHz 3.4GHz 10 2 4 4MB

  2 x USB Type-A (USB 3 1 Gen 1) 1 x USB 3 1 Gen 1 1 x HDMI 1 4b 1 x 1/8″ / 3 5 mm Headphone/Microphone Output and 1 x SDXC/MMCplus Hybrid

This is not more powerful than the 11th Gen Dell Laptop not even faster than the Acer Aspire but…

It has the full version of Windows on it and it’s only 50$ dollars more expensive than the Acer Aspire 5 and about the same as the 11th gen Dell laptop.

  Performance

It has a 10th gen processor so it will have the same performance as the Acer Aspire 5.

Actually it will be more powerful than the Acer Aspire 5 because RAM is already upgraded to 8GB. 

The storage has x2 the capacity of the Dell & Acer Aspire.

 Display 

It still has a FHD display . So multitasking with several windows next to each other will be possible.

I really don’t see any cons about this laptop other than the fact that it will probably run out of stock by the time you read this. Even the price is decent.

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4. Lenovo Chromebook Flex 5

Best i3 ChromeBook

  Core i3-10100U

  4GB RAM

   Intel HD Graphics 615

  64GB Flash Memory

  13” full HD TN TouchScreen

  3lbs

  10 hours

  No DVD

Clock Speed Turbo Generation Cores Threads Cache Size
2.1 4.1 GHz 10 2 4 4MB

  2 x USB-C, 1 x Headphone/microphone combo jack, 1 x USB 3.0

I know this is a chromebook and you probably know that chromebooks won’t allow you to run software as you would with a Windows machine.

But actually…that’s not entirely true. Chrome OS (ChromeBook’s Operating System) works just like Windows 10 S. 

 Performance

So it doesn’t need a full blown OS like MacOSX or Windows 10 Home.

There are gazillions of software available in the play store that you can run as Apps or Extensions .

You can install these apps  or you can do most things a regular computer can do by using Web Services/Cloud along . 

You wouldn’t be limited in anyway whatsoever for most  tasks including programming, light photo editing & office work.

Most of us actually do all of these things using web services with laptops that have Windows 10 anyways.

I myself can’t afford MS Office so I use Google Docs and GoogleSheets. You can also use Apple iCloud Apps on it.

The storage space (64GB) will not limit the amount of apps or work you can do. Apps/docs  are almost never saved in your ChromeBook. They’re saved on the Cloud & retrieved from the Cloud.

Programming:

Actually, if you are a web developer or a programmer, then you’ll find that ChromeOS and a ChromeBook will provide you with everything you need. You can save your code using GitHub, Cloud9 as your terminal and use AWS services when you want to deploy or run extremely heavy code. You can also use Cloud9 for a collaborative development of a project just like people can share Google Docs to work on a single document.

Basic Tasks:

Despite having 4GB of RAM you can run ~20 web browsing tabs on it with no slow downs. This is because ChromeOS and apps do not use a lot of memory like Windows 10 would. 4GB should be enough and 8GB will be optional with ChromeBooks.

Gaming:

There’s not question about it, there’s no way to install or run any hardcore games on it. You can however run any games you find on the app store, from Android apps or from the web without issues.

Settings:

What I don’t like about ChromeBooks is the fact that you don’t have much control to computer settings like you do with Windows Machine and Control Panel. Mouse & Trackpad & short cut keys settings  can’t be modified. 

One last thing to note about ChromeOS (all ChromeBooks) is that whatever configuration settings are stored (your favorite websites, bookmarks, toolbar, extensions and so on) are stored in the Cloud. So as long as you log into your proper gmail account all of them will load up on any other ChromeBook you happen to use.

 Hardware


The only real issue is the storage space: 64GB is pretty low for this day and age. However since everything is run on the Cloud and there’s not much data to install one ChromeBook anyways for most people this will be plenty. 

If it isn’t, keep in mind that most chromebooks (including this one) have a SD Card Reader so you can always stick a permanent SD Card in it (32GB or 64GB) to make it 100GB or 128GB.

 Design

The design is actually pretty close to ultrabooks  like the MacBook Air, Surface Pro, New MacBook and Asus ZenBook.

Chasis is made of full aluminum and the clicklet keyboard is both responsive and snappy with a backlit illuminated keyboard. The TouchPad is firm, large, smooth & responsive as well.

The 2-in-1 flip in feature basically transforms this laptop into an Android Tablet. While it’s in that mode, the device still has a rock solid feel and it doesn’t have any wobble on the screen when using it.

The number of ports is bad but this has be done  to keep it light & slim with an overall small factor  

Despite the IPS display and the full HD resolution, the battery life is decent: 10 hours.

 Programming

You can actually turn this thing into a full blown windows-like laptop by installing a Linux OS on it. You can find tons of guides on how to do it and what to install using reddit or google groups. Entire communities are dedicated just to play around with the “Developer Mode”. This is very useful if you are a programmer or a web developer since you still get the power, portability & design of a premium MacBook for coding for just 650$.

  Accesories

If you still have any cash remaining, there are a few accessories worth considering:

Skins: I’m assuming you are considering this ChromeBook because of portability. If you want it to remain scratch-free and shiny for 10 years, consider vinyl skins to protect the screen cover, keyboard face/palm rest and bezels.

Anti-Glare Screen protector: If you work outdoors a lot or you get a lot of stray light from the office’s windows, you can attach a anti-glare protector which also protect your screen from fingerprinting it with those oily fingers you are eating french fries with.

USB-C Expansion Dongle: As mentioned before, there’s only two USB-type C ports. This expansion dongle does offer you with almost all the ports all thick and heavy windows laptops  have.

Blue-Tooth Mouse: If you need precision when working note that ChromeBooks do support Bluetooth devices. Consider a BlueTooth mouse if you want to use the other ports for something else.

Micro SD Card: The 64GB can be limiting to many people storing docs, photos or large spreadsheets and using tons of apps on a ChromeBook so I repeat: you can stick an SD Card reader to act as a permanent additional storage device. You can also attach a 256GB SD Card reader but that’s not only expensive but way too much storage for the avg. joe.

TouchPen: This device is a touchScreen laptop but does not come with a TouchPen for you to interact with. The pin point precision of a TouchPen is helpful when you are dealin with UI interfaces that have tons of minuscule buttons for which a finger will not accurately register which one you pressed on.

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5. 2021 Newest Dell Inspiron 3000

Best i3 Laptop – 17” FHD Display

  Core i3-1005G1 3.4GHz 

  8GB RAM DDR4 RAM

   Intel UHD 620

  128GB SSD

  14” HD TN Display

  6.16lbs

  6 hours

  None

Clock Speed Turbo Generation Cores Threads Cache Size
1.2GHz 3.4GHz 10 2 4 4MB


This is an odd ball but it can be a great investment.

What makes this laptop special is the 17” display with FHD resolution, this is going to be make a huge difference to your workflow because there will be an insane amount of screen space available for some serious multitasking.

Obviously this makes it heavy and not suitable to carry around. However, if you’re still staying at home these days, it’s going to be a huge plus to your producitivty.

Hardware wise, it’s just as powerful as any laptop on the list and it’s got the full version of Windows 10 HOME on it too.

The only real down side is the price but you’ll be hard pressed to find a 17” laptop with a FHD resolution even at much higher prices! It’s that rare to find.

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How to Find The Best i3 Laptops

If you want to find the best i3 laptops yourself you are gonna have to learn quite a bit about Intel core processors and how to read the numbers and letters on their labels.

I will keep all the details about the entire line of processors to a different article and focus this section only on Core i3 processors since you already made the decision to roll with them.

Alternatively you can watch this video for a general and quick understanding or read my other two articles which deal with Intel Core i5 and Intel Core i7 laptops to find more details about the entire line of Intel processors on laptops.

However I think this section is enough if you just want to stick with core i3 laptops.

Processor

There are three things to look at when choosing a core i3 processor  out of a bunch of Intel’s sneaky and misleading labels: the generation (gen indicator), the series (line suffix U or Y) and the model number (the numbers after the generation number or the SKU Numeric Digits as shown below).

There’s actually a fourth thing to know now that we are in the 10th generation, but we don’t want to complicate things for now and leave that aside.

intel core i3 processor label

U vs. M Lines: Warning!

Core i3 processors come in two flavors: M-processors and U-processors.

The M letter stands for mobile and the U letter stands for ultra low power.

All you need to know about these two is the fact that the M-series does not offer any advantage over the U series and it’s actually worse both in performance and battery life. M core i3 processors have been designed to fit in into very small devices, hence the name “M” for “mobile”. They are suitable for ultra lightweight and small laptops like the new MacBook.

They’ve still got plenty of power for the avg user  but  it’s nowhere near as fast or powerful as any processor from the U line.

Which one should I pick M or U line?

If you care about performance and high speeds : U series. If portability is an issue and you really want a the smallest and most silent laptop that won’t even feel warm when doing basic tasks(email, word editing and web surfing) the M series is for you.

Features

All processors be it from Intel or AMD have the following features: multiple cores, hyper-threading & turbo-boost.

Number of Cores

All i3 core processors have two cores. Each core can be considered a different CPU.

So the workload can be shared between two CPUs instead of one making some tasks faster (though not all of them, check here for a compelte list).

Ex: If you are playing a game, using discord or Skype and lightning to a song. One core can take care of two programs (Skype and a music playlist) while the other core can be devoted to solely run your game.

Hyper Threading

If you have a single core processor but you still need to have two cores, hyper-threading will allow you to artificially have “two cores”. They are “virtual cores” because in reality you only have one physical core.

So out of cores you will have “two virtual cores” to handle and share the all the tasks you’re running between those two virtual cores. You can read how hyper-threading works here.

Likewise if you have two physical cores, hyper-threading will get you “four virtual cores”.

Turbo Boost: warning !

Turbo boost simply means your processor (or rather each “physical core”) will increase its clock speed on its own (therefore making your computer run things faster) only when there’s a need to do so and  when the computer is cool enough to handle the forthcoming increase in temperature.

Turbo boosting with a computer that’s already hot will damage it because the circuitry will start melting.

Generations: 5th, 6th and 7th ,8th,10th

There are huge differences between 5th 6th generation processors and 7th 8th and 10th. We’ll just show a few examples so you get the idea of their differences and what upcoming generations might bring:

  • There isn’t much difference in battery life and performance between a 7th and 6th generation processor and may not worth paying more money.So if either is okay if you’re on a budget or buying a second hand laptop.
  •  The increase in performance and battery life, especially performance, is significant going from 5th to 8th, 10th generation
  • 2nd, 3th and 4th generation processors are not worth looking at even if they are offered for free. Their performance is extremely poor for today’s games and software. 
  • The higher the SKU number by each generation, the better the increase in performance. The difference is significant going from 6000 to 6100. However if the only the last two digits start changing, the difference is usually insignificant.
  • There is little difference between 8th generation and 10th generation processors from the Intel Core i3 family. 10th generation processors are smaller but have less base clock speeds.

You can reach the same conclusions by following the rating numbers next to each processor here.

Here’s a nice table that’ll give you an idea of the differences between generations. 

You should really only worry about which CPU you have after you’ve got a decent RAM and Storage . Avoid 5th 6th 4th and older generations. 7th,8th,10th are best. Avoid most Y/M series if speed and running far more than basic tasks is what you’re after.

Do I need a i3 core processor ? Which should pick ? The M line or the U line series?

Nearly all core i3 processors will give you a fast performance (even the Y/M line series) for basic tasks. Going beyond basic tasks such as “light photo editing” , some “gaming” and other more intensive apps or a lot more multitasking will require a core i3 processor with the U label.

Battery life is much better with the U line.

How do I increase the performance beyond to what I already have?

Even if you have the slowest CPU out of the entire i3 family, you can still have a great performance if you focus on other features (RAM and Storage for example) rather than spending all your money on more “powerful core i3 processors”.

RAM

Aim to have at least 4GB RAM so your processor isn’t bottleneck by it.

8GB RAM is actually the sweet spot and it will allow an older processor to get up from the grave and making runnig basic tasks snappy

8GB is also recommended if you’re using heavy software for photo or video editing.

If you ever find a core i3 laptop with 16GB RAM . I suggest you really don’t bother with it even if it’s cheap because you won’t see much improvement in performance if any with apps or even multitasking unless you step into heavy photo editing and stuff like that.

Storage

Upgrading the storage with an SSD will actually have a greater impact on performance than buying a laptop with a better and more recent processor. So if you’re here because you want to replace and old laptop that’s been running slow you should try upgrading yours with an SSD if it doesn’t have one already and it might be everything you need.

Storage capacities were an issue in the past with SSDs but today high capacity SSDs aren’t that expensive. You can actually swap your HDD for an SSD and use your HDD as a secondary drive so you get the best out of both worlds: the speeds  of SSDs and the large storage capacities of HDDs..

Graphics

If you want to get the best graphics card from your core i3 laptop, even if its integrated, then aim for the latest generation processor you can  afford. Graphics cards (integrated) are always improved with every model even though there may not be much improvement with the processor itself.

How to Read Graphics Cards Labels

Reading graphics cards can be frustrating and mind boggling even for experts. But here’s a good guideline to follow:

Generally we would think that : Intel Iris Pro > Intel Iris > Intel HD

However that depends on the processor more than the card “label” and number.

Let’s take for example. An Intel HD 520, Intel Iris 550, Intel HD 530 and Intel Iris Pro 580. You would think that

Intel Iris Pro 580> Intel Iris 550 > Intel HD 530 > Intel HD 520. 

In reality is more like this:              

Intel Iris Pro 580>  Intel  HD 530 > Intel Iris 550> Intel HD 520

How do you deal with this? Just focus on the processor and not the graphics card, the more recent processor will have a better graphics card. 

Battery Life

The faster a processor is the more power it’ll consume (and the shorter the battery life they’ll have). 

Unlike Core i5 Core i7 processors, Core i3 processors have pretty low base clock speeds and they don’t turbo boost that much so they consume far less power than the other two processors.

Even within core i3 family, their processors all have nearly the same clock speeds and number of cores/threads so you’ll basically be getting about the same battery life from all of them.

But the 7th,8th and 10th generation are more power efficient. Having an SSD with them will increase your battery life further, they also consume less power than HDDs.

Games & Software

MineCraft & Other games

I’ve noticed a lot of people who want to play MineCraft end up reading this article.

So let me just say that minecraft will run on almost any computer as long as you set appropiate graphic settings.

Although several laptops out there are extremely slow and don’t even have a late generation processor,  there are several optimization software like OptiFine which can bring your FPS back up to acceptable numbers.

If you want to hit highest FPS, you can always set lightining, textures, rendering distance to the lowest settings and getting rid of the mods and plug ins you probably have installed.

4GB of RAM will make the game playable but the best performance for MineCraft will be with a nice 8GB RAM stick

Other games & Software

The same rule applies to other games. You’ll be fine with a Core i3 laptop as long as you adjust the settings to the lowest mode as long as you have 8GB of RAM. SSD might help a bit too but not as much as having 8GIGs of RAM.

Ergonomics: keyboard, trackpad, design

There are not many reviews for i3 core laptops but they do review their counterparts with higher models, this should be enough for you to find out what they’re really like without stepping into the store and look at them yourself.

Benchmarks

You can use the following benchmark tests if you are unsure which core i3 processor offers the best bang for your buck:

Note Book check

Geek Bench

CPU Boss.

Just ignore all the jargon and go right straight into the final rating after you plugged their names or found them using the scrolling list. You can also use CTRL+F to  find your processor .

For example:

Take the i3-7100U processor…

If you use benchmark studies, you will find this processor generation brings significantly faster performance than the previous Skylake 6th generation processor: i3-6100U. If you do compare it with other i3 6000 models, higher within the 6th generation: 6100 6200… you may find that they’re just as fast as 7th gen processors.

The same thing actually happens for some 10th generation and 8th generation processors.

Bottom Line

  1. The best core i3 laptop isn’t necessarily the one with the higher numbers and the latest generation (though this is a good rule to follow).
  2. If you stay away from core m3 series, Core i3 processors (U-line) from all the most recent generations have more or less the same performance.
  3. Maxing out on RAM and never picking up one less than 8GB RAM is the way to go
  4. Going for 16GB RAM is pointless , money will be better spend on having an SSD which will give you a much more significant boost.
  5. After maxing out on RAM and getting an SSD, you can then be picky about Core i3 processors and their integrated GPUs.