One problem which occurs whenever you try to optimize or speed up your computer
is measuring how much of an effect your efforts have made. Confirmation bias can make it very, very hard to simply 'eyeball' your computer's speed because you'll usually want to confirm that your efforts made an impact. This can be a problem as your computer ages. If you have no objective way of knowing how fast your computer is you won't be able to figure out which optimizations work and which don't.
That is where free benchmark testing software
comes in. Downloading a free benchmark will give you a firm, objective way of judging the perform of your computer. As you make adjustments to your computer you can see just how much, or how little, your computer's performance has changed.
While your computer may pack more computing power than the rocket which sent men to the moon, it is still possible to choke a computer processor
using simple math, and that is what SuperPi
does. SuperPi is capable of calculating Pi up to 32 million digits after the decimal point. This complex math significantly tasks your computer's processor, and SuperPi keeps track of how quickly it takes for your computer to complete the calculation.
SuperPi is focused on your processor's speed, not the speed of other components, so it only useful when judging changes to your computer's processors. For example, overclockers consider SuperPi to be one of the best
free benchmarks around because it provides a processor-focused test which can help them judge how much extra performance their overclocking has gained them.
3DMark 06 / PCMark 05
Futuremark is a software company which offers a wide variety of computer benchmarks which are considered among the best in the world. Chances are that any review of a desktop or laptop computer you've ever read has, at some point, quoted 3DMark or PCMark figures in the performance section of the review.
The latest versions of 3DMark and PCMark aren't free, but older versions with limited options can be used an unlimited number of times without charge. While these benchmarks are over four years old, they are still among the best free benchmarks available. Futuremark's benchmarks are very demanding, and there are many modern computers which will achieve very low scores when running these benchmarks.
3DMark focuses on gamers, has it only tests the power of your video card. PCMark is for more general use and tests numerous computer components. Both can be downloaded directly from the Futuremark
is a free benchmark testing software suite. Unlike many benchmark suites, Novabench isn't a trial version or an older version released for free. The free version is the only version available, and it gauges multiple aspects of your computer's performance.
The Novabench benchmark tests processing speed, 2D graphics performance and hard drive read/write performance, making this a very well-rounded benchmark. It is particularly well suited for computers which are meant for a home office, as the hard drive read/write speed benchmark can help you find out if your productivity is being hurt by a hard drive which takes a long time to spin up and transfer data. Novabench does not include any 3D or video benchmarks, so multimedia users and gamers will want to try a different free benchmark.
Sandra stands for System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. It is a fully-featured benchmark suite which is aimed at users who are very well informed about the inner workings of their computers and for businesses which need to perform a detailed analysis on multiple computers. SiSoft Sandra kindly offers a free version of the software.
The benchmark tests available in SiSoft Sandra
are jaw-dropping. Want to test your computer's memory bandwidth? No problem. Want to benchmark network performance? Sure. Want to benchmark your computer's power efficiency? Yes, SiSoft Sandra does that as well. Chances are that you'll come across one or two benchmarks in SiSoft Sandra which benchmark hardware you didn't even know existed.
Another useful feature of SiSoft Sandra is the inclusion of references. Let's say, for example, that you decide to benchmark your processor. SiSoft Sandra will benchmark your processor and then compare your performance to five other similar processors to give you a better idea of how an upgrade may or may not help you. This is something that only SiSoft Sandra offers, and it is incredibly useful.
One of the most popular free gaming benchmarks in existence, FRAPS
is different from all of the other free benchmark software on this list because it is the only non-synthetic benchmark. Rather than putting your computer through a series of tests which are designed to judge its overall performance, FRAPS records how your computer actually performs.
FRAPS does this by capturing information about how many frames per second your computer is producing while in games. A higher number of frames per second is always preferable and results in smoother gameplay. FRAPS will work with any game, from World of Warcraft to Call of Duty 4, and it is capable of both displaying your current frame rates in real-time on your screen and recording the frame rate data to a log file.
FRAPS's benchmarking functionality is completely free. FRAPS does have a paid version, but the features unlocked in the paid version of FRAPS have nothing to do with benchmarking your computer.
Which to choose?
The benchmark you use will depend on what you want to benchmark. FRAPS and 3D Mark06 are certainly the ones to use if you're interested in gaming performance. NovaBench and Sandra focus more on general performance, such as processor and hard drive speed. SuperPi taxes only your processor, and is a good choice if you want to isolate your processor's performance from all other factors.
However, if you intend to benchmark everything in your computer, from processor to video card to hard drives and more, you'll want to use all of these programs. They all provide different data which is useful in determining your computer's overall performance.
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