How to Check a PC's Performance

By TS Jordan

Everyone who spends even a moderate amount of money on their home computer wants to know how well it stacks up against the competition. Computing is, by nature, a relatively esoteric medium without many concrete benchmarks of power. You may know that your processor is running at 3.0ghz, but memorizing the raw numbers and having a feel for what those numbers mean are two separate things. You can undertake real-world performance measurements in order to fully grasp just how fast your computer is running.

Step 1

There are two main ways to test your PC's systems - (1) use a prepackaged program designed to stress different components of the PC, or (2) establish and implement your own individual benchmarks.

Step 2

The first method of testing a PC is by using a canned benchmark. The main advantage of this method is that by utilizing an industry-standard benchmark, you will have the ability to compare scores against other individuals using the same program. The disadvantages of the first method are that although the program is designed to stress the computer in particular ways, it might not be testing those benchmarks of performance that you, the user, find most relevant.There are a plethora of programs designed for benchmarking, but we will focus on the following two, which can be found by accessing the links at the bottom of the page. They are 3dMark and PCMark, both designed by the Futuremark Corporation. Download the programs, then install them on your computer by running the file and following the onscreen instructions.

Step 3

Of the two, 3DMark is quicker to use. After downloading and installing 3DMark, launch the program. On the first runthrough, it will take extra time to boot as it scans your system. Skip past the purchase screen, and then just click "Run 3DMark" on the next screen, sit back, and enjoy. At the conclusion of the test, you will receive a total score and can then compare that score to others with similar (or vastly different) hardware.If you are intrigued enough by the benchmarking process, feel free to purchase the full version for additional tests, further functionality and the ability to alter certain testing variables.

Step 4

Now that we have established a baseline for performance through using 3DMark, we will move on to PCMark. PCMark contains a variety of different utilities designed to test all the subsystems of your PC (e.g. RAM speed, data access speed, processor and ability). Launch the program. As with 3DMark, the initial boot will take longer as it collects data about your system. Skip past the purchase screen (unless you are so inclined), and then click the big "Run PC Mark" button in the bottom center. Now just sit back and let it do its thing. After it batters your computer with a bevy of tests, you will receive a final score and the ability to examine others' results online.

Step 5

Of course, aside from using a pre-packaged program to test your computer, another way is to establish your own performance baselines by engineering customized tests. The advantage to not using a standardized program to conduct testing is that you are now free to test your computer by using the subjective elements considered most important by you. The disadvantage is that there is no community with whom to compare results. However, by keeping detailed records of your computer's performance on subjective tests, you can always retest and compare back at a later date to see if time and wear has affected your computer's performance adversely.As this type of testing is individualized, there are really no concrete steps to take. What follows is a list of suggestions for designing your own benchmarks: (1) use the program FRAPS, linked below, to measure framerate in the games that you play regularly. Keep a tally of average framerates so that in the event of future video driver upgrades, you will always be able to compare and see which drivers run your favorite software the best; (2) take a stopwatch and record boot time and shutdown times so you can see how future software installations and hardware changes affect your PC's performance; or (3) use a stopwatch to record startup times for your most regularly used programs, for the same reasons as listed in item 2.

Step 6

Now that you have a handle on the various ways to benchmark a PC, remember not to become excessively fixated on performance numbers. In many cases, a difference of 5-10 frames is largely irrelevant, and will garner no recognizable real-world effect. PC benchmarking is a fine tool for those looking for bragging rights over whose computer is "faster," but so long as you are individually satisfied with the performance of your PC, there is no need to get obsessed over individual benchmarks and throw money into an endless cycle of upgrades.

Tips & Warnings

  • Note that when installing PCMark and 3DMark, untick the boxes asking if you want to install the additional toolbar and change your homepage.
  • Really, don't get fixated on the numbers. It's almost never worth another $500 in upgrades for a few extra 3dmark points.

References & Resources