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Nov
24
2011

How to Benchmark Your Gaming PC

PC gamers, like me, consider our computer's performance to be the primary catalyst for all the fun that we get out of our games. We've become so fixated on performance we try to investigate it from multiple angles and our best gumshoe tools are benchmarks, applications that allow us to numerically measure the performance of our gaming computers and gaming laptops as well.

By benchmarking, we can tell if our computer is underperforming or if a specific component needs to be upgraded. But honestly, more often than not, we post our benchmarks on websites to show-off. Bragging aside, benchmarking is a very useful process that rewards us with a more detailed understanding of our PC's performance. So what? I'm sure that's what you're thinking and to be frank, benchmarking isn't absolutely necessary to make your computer run properly.

However, look at it the same way you look at your annual check-up. You don't want to go to the doctor every year just to hear them say everything is fine, but you still go just in case and to make sure everything is in tip-top shape. More importantly for gamers, benchmarking allows us to really test our computer's overclock and to see the real-world increases in performance while overclocking our systems.  

If you're not convinced that's okay because this article is going to be beneficial for the overall knowledge about your gaming PC, and did I mention that you can post your benchmarks on our forums and compare them with the rest of our customers!

And So It Begins…

The four main elements in your computer that determine its overall performance are the processor, memory, hard drive(s), and video card(s). To get an accurate picture of how well these individual components are performing, we need to run separate benchmarks for each of these components. By doing so we can measure and then compare how well our hardware is performing against other's, but more importantly, if you think your computer is running perfectly, and then what you've created is a baseline for what you consider being good performance.

On the other hand if you are disgusted by your slow computer, then the benchmarks you generate will tell you numerically what that loathing is equal to, I mean that's pretty awesome. How often can you tell you dislike something in exact numbers?

Before we jump-in one caveat; all the benchmarking applications that I am going to be suggesting are free to use. Now, these applications in my opinion are the best free benchmarking applications available and in some case the best application period, but there are some paid applications that are slightly better, but it's up to you.

CINEBENCH Processor Benchmark

The CINEBENCH utility from Maxon is an incredibly powerful real-world processor benchmark for your PC. You can download it from Maxon's website; I've provided the link right here as well: http://www.maxon.net/downloads/cinebench.html

CINEBENCH scores a CPU's performance based on how fast it can render a 3D model. Since this approach is relatively a real-world test for a processor, the CINEBENCH benchmark is an accurate gauge of your processor's performance. CINEBENCH, especially the latest version, accommodates multi-core CPU's with Intel Hyper-Threading as well, so the performance score you receive on your benchmark is actually measuring the performance of your entire processor which some benchmarks lack.

Below is a screenshot of the CINEBENCH benchmark. When you download CINEBENCH 11.529 (latest version as of now) the folder will have two executable files, one labeled 64-bit the other 32-bit, double click on the executable that matches your operating system.

 

You can run either a CPU or video card test (OpenGL), however for our purposes; we are going to run only the CPU test for CINEBENCH. Now I recommend you open up your tasks manager and click on the "Performance" tab.  This will show your CPU cores and their usage level. From the screen shot above you can see that when CINEBENCH was running it was stressing my computer's CPU cores to the max.

After the CINEBENCH test ran, it provided me with a score of 3.60 for my non-overclocked Intel QX9650 CPU, and it showed my score in comparison with other processors. My 3.60 score was nowhere near an 8 core/16 Thread Intel Xeon beast which scored 11.69. But for my purposes, I'm perfectly happy with my 3.60 and on the other hand, if I did a lot of 3D modeling for living and wanted better performance I could see that my CPU would probably need to be upgraded. I also might consider overclocking my processor and then re-running the CINEBENCH benchmark to see if my CPU's performance increased enough so that I wouldn't have to plunk down more money for a new processor down the road.

SiSoft Sandra Memory Benchmark

The best memory benchmark that we've found is the SiSoft Sandra Lite suite which is available to download for free here: http://www.benchmarkhq.ru/english.html?/sandradl_e.html

Sandra Lite measures different facets of your memory's performance: bandwidth, latency, speed vs. bandwidth, and many more. Once you download and install Sandra, click on the benchmarks option and scroll down, you'll see three options for benchmarking under Memory Controller: Memory Bandwidth, Cahce/Memory Latency, and Cache Bandwidth. Your primary focus should be the first two.

When you run either of those benchmarks you'll see a screenshot similar to the one below.

 

SiSoft will provide you with a wealth of information regarding the performance of your memory and then you can compare it against others who have run the benchmark as well.

HD Tune Hard Drive Benchmark

How fast your hard drive transfers data is a critical performance indicator and one that HD Tune benchmarks very well. You can download the free hard drive benchmarking tool here: http://www.hdtune.com/download.html.

Make sure to download HD Tune and not HD Tune Pro, as the first is free while the latter is a free trial. HD Tune will tell you exactly what your hard drives read/write speeds are so that can you can easily identify if your hard drives are performing up to par, or, perhaps may need a defragging to improve performance.

Below is an image of the HD Tune utility:

When you click start the benchmark will run and at the end it will report what the average transfer rate is along with Access Time, Burst Rate, and CPU usage. By keying into these different scores you'll be able to get a much clearer understanding of your hard drive(s) performance.

FRAPS and Graphics Card Benchmarking

This is perhaps the most debated subject in benchmarking and though the debate may not appeal to you, it is important to understand why there is debate especially for the method of benchmarking.

Basically when benchmarking first started there were programs called synthetic benchmarks that would stress the GPU and return back a score, sounds rather mundane. However, overtime video card manufacturers would design their drivers to maximize the scores on these benchmarks making it appear as if they had this incredible performance with frame rates that were eye-popping. But when you dropped that same benchmarked video card into your game it didn't perform like the benchmark said it would.

This was really the downfall of the synthetic benchmarks, so people in the know started using in-game benchmarks. Basically a game, like Crysis 2 provides a demo which benchmarks your graphics performance and of course because you're using an actual game to see how your graphics card performs it should be as close to real world as possible. But of course this again turns out to be not the case as video game makers dialed down the demos so that gamers would get a seemingly favorable benchmark score when in they actually played the game they would experience lower performance.

The only course of action left to truly benchmark your graphics is to install a program called FRAPS. FRAPS allows you to measure the frames per second or FPS that your video card achieves when you play a game.

Essentially go here to download FRAPS: http://www.fraps.com/download.php. When you've finished downloading the file and installed FRAPS, run it and you'll get the following startup screen:

As long as FRAPS is left open it will keep running so that when you're playing a game you can press F11 and FRAPS will begin posting your FPS score. The idea here is that while you play your favorite PC game, you can view the maximum and minimum frame rates per second (FPS) so that you can get an exact in-game evaluation of your video cards performance.

This way if the frame rates that you record with the FRAPS benchmark are not satisfying, you'll know exactly how much FPS you'll need to get the smooth, non-lag performance you want.

Conclusion

Benchmarking can be a very adept tool that can really help you maximize your computer's performance. By illuminating the deficiencies in your computer hardware, you can upgrade smartly. If your processor benchmarks well, but your video card doesn't, than instead of buying a whole new computer, no matter how much Digital Storm may want you too, you may only need to upgrade your video card.

Remember that if you have any questions about the article above please post in the comments section and we'll answer them as promptly as we can.

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