Interested in finding out if your machine is up to snuff? Need to stress-test your new hardware or overclocking scheme? Want to find out if your system tweaks are really delivering the results you expected? The easiest way to answer these questions is to benchmark your machine with some of these software tools.
This version updates many of the software tools to their latest versions, removes Dacris benchmark and D3D Gear (due to FRAPS overlap), and includes Maxon's Cinebench and the amusing ALLBenchmark Catzilla.
Before you start your benchmarking, here are a few good habits to keep in mind when testing your machine:
* Control your test environment. Close all extraneous programs and processes in the background so that nothing else can interfere with your system's test runs. When a test is running, don't open new programs and try not to move your mouse around.
* Don't run the test just once. They're called stress tests for a reason. Once you're done with a test, run it again. And again. Repeated runs help eliminate statistical flukes and can expose problems that might not be revealed by an isolated test run.
*Compare results. Good benchmark suites can return a wealth of data, but usually it's up to you to interpret and compare them. This can be as simple as running a "before and after" test when tweaking your system or hardware, or looking up and discussing results in online forums.
First up, we have some generalized benchmarking software.
FutureMark is a big name in the commercial benchmarking software market and their PC and graphics benchmarks are something of a standard. FutureMark's newest iteration of its PCMark software is PCMark 7, which is designed to test machines running Microsoft's Windows 7, with a recent patch incorporating full Windows 8 compatibility. PCMark runs a solid battery of tests including real-world tasks such as video playback and rendering, image manipulation, and more in order to benchmark your machine's performance. The Basic version of PCMark 7 is free to download, with more powerful professional versions requiring a buy-in.
Verdict: A good, general use benchmark, regardless of whether you're a new user or an old hand.
Another powerful commercial suite available in a trimmed-down lite edition is SiSoftware Sandra, which has a slick interface and provides a wealth of feedback and customization options. Test your entire machine, or go after selective components. Be as rigorous or easygoing as you need to be. The post-test comparison graph is a cute feature that gives you a reasonable look at how your system scales up to common benchmarks and configurations, which can go a long way in interpreting your results.
Verdict: Another great all-around testing suite for getting a broad look at your system's performance.
On the opposite end of the complexity scale in commercial software is NovaBench, a simple but robust freeware benchmarking tool. While it lacks the sheer thoroughness possible with Sandra, NovaBench makes up for it in ease of use in testing common standards of CPU and graphics performance. Though not as rigorous and detailed, Novabench nevertheless delivers a fair assessment of your computer's capabilities.
Verdict: While not particularly configurable, NovaBench gives users a fair assesment of your machine's capabilities.
Passmark Performance Test is another good generalized benchmarking tool for examining your machine's performance and comparing it to baseline statistics for common PC packages. A large number of benchmark test types are provided, allowing you to test out as much or as little of your machine as you want. Registered users can download even more baseline statistics for comparison. Performance Test is available for download as a 30-day free trial.
Verdict: A strong series of benchmarking tests as well as the ability to compare results with numerous baseline machines make for a good benchmarking and system information tool.
Wrapping up the generalized system benchmarks is AIDA64, a descendant of Lavalys' Everest benchmarking suite. AIDA64 is able to deliver a plethora of performance information and hardware details and statistics, as well as having customizable stress tests for various components. A great tool for overclockers and hardware junkies, AIDA64 is available for 30-day trial download.
Verdict: AIDA64 Extreme Edition puts tons of system and hardware information at your fingertips, while also providing a good battery of stability tests for your system.
Now, we move on to more specific processing benchmarks that will tax the computational ability of your CPU cores. We'll start off with a little freeware tool called HyperPi. This little program does one simple thing: HyperPi calculates the mathematical constant pi...to an accuracy of thousands, or even millions of digits. Needless to say, this level of precision requires a large amount of number crunching, which allows you to see just how powerful your CPU setup actually is. Hyper Pi allows you to run multiple threads to test multicore CPUs, and simply records the times taken to calculate x digits of pi. HyperPi is most useful for those who tinker with overclocking their processors, allowing you to quickly get an assessment of computation times.
Verdict: Easy to use, fast, and suitably stressful on your CPU, HyperPi is a cnovenient little tool to use.