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How to benchmark your computer: DT’s no-nonsense guide

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Curious just how good your new PC setup is? Maybe you’re looking to keep tabs on your system’s performance over time, or maybe you just want to compare your system to your friend’s in a bit of geeky competition. Whatever your reasoning may be, we’re here to help. We test a lot of computers here at DT, and we know a thing or two about benchmarking. So to give you some guidance, we’ve put together this no-nonsense tutorial on doing it yourself.

Step One

Figure out what you’d like to benchmark. There are different benchmarks for different parts of your PC, and before you go out and download any benchmark software, you need to know what you’re trying to test. That being said, there’s no reason to run tests for performance data you don’t care about. Those who use their PCs primarily for gaming, for example, might want to benchmark their GPUs but not necessarily their hard drive read/write speeds. So, in order to pinpoint the right benchmark software for your needs, you first need a general idea of what you’re looking to test.

Your options are pretty broad here. You can test just about every component in your computer – your CPU, GPU, HDD, battery, and more – but most real-world tasks will require your computer to use multiple components in tandem. For this reason, testing each component individually isn’t always necessary. 

Synthetic benchmarks vs. real-world benchmarks

Each part of your PC can be tested with a number of benchmarks, but, generally speaking, all benchmarks can be put into two categories: synthetic or real-world. We’re paraphrasing here, but in a nutshell, synthetic benchmarks can be understood as software programs whose sole purpose is to return specific performance numbers but have no practical use outside of that. In contrast, real world benchmarks are programs that started life for other reasons, but turned out to be great testing tools for certain aspects of computer performance. 7zip, for example, is a file compression utility that’s also great for gauging how processors perform under pressure. In this tutorial we cover benchmark suites that use a mixture of synthetic and real-world tests, as well as a few programs that test a specific part of your PC. Keep in mind that these are just suggestions though, and they’re by no means the only ones you have to use.

Step Two

Once you know what performance metrics you’re after, the next step is to find an appropriate benchmarking software to test your system with. There are two options here: you can either go with a comprehensive benchmarking suite, or you can get specific tests for each aspect of your system you’re tying to benchmark. Below, we’ve listed a few popular benchmarking software solutions in various categories.

For general purpose benchmarking, we recommend using Futuremark’s PCMark software. The most basic versions of these software products will likely suit the needs of most users, but there are also more comprehensive tests available to those willing to shell out a few bucks.

Another rock-solid general purpose benchmarking suite is SiSoft’s Sandra. Short for System Analyzer Diagnostics Reporting Assistant, Sandra is without question one of the best full-service benchmarking programs out there – and best of all, it’s free. Need to test your memory bandwidth? There’s a test for that. Need to perform a Whetstone benchmark? Sandra’s got it covered. 

For gaming-related benchmarking, we suggest using Futuremark’s 3DMark software. You’ll need a different suite depending on which version of DirectX your video card runs on. Find out which version of DirectX you have by doing the following: Open DirectX Diagnostic Tool by clicking the Start button, typing dxdiag in the search box, and then pressing Enter.  Click the System tab, and then, under System Information, check the DirectX version number.

These suites are great for testing everything from GPU performance to how your CPU handles physics, and also offers a combined GPU/CPU test to help you get a more rounded picture of your system’s gaming performance. Other good options are Maxon’s Cinebench software, and the Furmark GPU stress test.

Other benchmarks and stress tests that we like include:

  • CyrstalDiskMark – a super easy to use hard drive benchmarking tool.
  • 7zip – a file compression utility that’s great for benchmarking your CPU.
  • Prime95 – a simple stress test that pushes the limits of your CPU by looking for Mersenne prime numbers.
  • SuperPi – a CPU stress test that calculates pi to one million digits.
  • AIDA64 Extreme Edition – great software for all kinds of CPU, memory and disk performance tests.

Step Three

Now that you’ve found the right software for the job, there are a few things you should do before running any tests. Ideally, you want to make sure that your computer won’t do anything that’ll hinder the performance of the components you’re benchmarking and skew the results. Here’s a quick checklist of things you can do ensure that everything goes swimmingly:

  • Disconnect from the Internet. Unplug the Ethernet cable, or turn off your Wi-Fi receiver.
  • Disable your screensaver.
  • Turn off power saving mode.
  • Disable any antivirus apps.
  • Turn off anything that does automatic updates.
  • Defrag your hard drive (unless you have a solid-state drive, of course).
  • Reboot.
  • Wait a while for your PC to fully complete the boot process.
  • Once your system is fully booted, run your benchmarking software.

Step Four

Rinse and repeat. At the very least, you’ll want to perform any given benchmark two times – preferably more. Why? You need to know if your computer can replicate the results you got on the first test. If you run a test twice and it returns different results, something is awry.  

Decipher the numbers. Now that you’ve run your benchmark test(s), you’re left with numbers that don’t mean very much by themselves, so in order to get a sense of what your PC’s benchmark scores mean, you need something to compare them to. Certain suites, such as Sandra and PCMark, will offer up comparison data collected from other users, but not all programs include such features. In most cases, the best way to see how your benchmark results stack up against others is to Google it. Enter in the name of the benchmark test you used, followed by “benchmark comparison chart” or something to that effect.

 You’re done! if everything went smoothly, you’ll  have a pretty good idea of how your system performs. Let us know if you ran into any trouble, or if you know of any good benchmarking software that we left out!