Benchmarking is a time-honored tradition among computer enthusiasts. It is supposed to allow a fair, unbiased means of comparing a piece of hardware or a system of hardware components to determine which one is the best in real-world applications. This can also be important if you’re trying to improve your system and you want to compare one component to another and judge if an upgrade is worthwhile. Benchmarking removes manufacturer bias and provides a common ground for comparing and learning more about your hardware. In this article, I’m going to touch base on a number of free benchmarking tools that might be useful to you. You can find out more about your CPU, GPU, hard drives, sound system, the entire system, and more.
CPU-Z is a free utility to read all the information that your processor provides about itself in the CPUID. You can quickly and easily see the clock speed, multiplier, voltage, cache size, and more. You can also switch tabs to learn about the motherboard and the RAM details. Whether you need to verify that you got the hardware you paid for or learn about a machine you’re just sitting down to, CPU-Z fits right in with a light executable at less than 2 MB.
GPU-Z mimics CPU-Z but provides in-depth information about your video card and GPU. You can learn about the clock speeds, memory speeds, size, and type, and much more. You can also monitor temperature and fan speed or maybe log them to a file while you put it through its paces. This stand-alone executable is less than 500 KB and a quick way to learn more about your graphics capability.
Fraps is another utility for clocking your video. This shows your framerate in a corner of the screen while an OpenGL or DirectX application is running full screen. This is a good way to benchmark your system while running your favorite game or troubleshoot what’s making your computer choke if it’s having performance problems by watching the number of frames per second and when it’s dropping.
Another great feature of Fraps is its ability to record your screen while you’re playing a game. Unfortunately the video capturing at high settings can negatively affect the video framerate for your game if your machine isn’t quite up to par. Fraps uses simple hotkeys (like F12) to activate and change settings for the framerate ticker, take screenshots, and start/stop video recording. Fraps is a free utility with some limitations. If you buy it, you’ll be able to record video longer than 30 seconds and capture screenshots directly to common picture formats.
Futuremark’s 3DMark and PCMark are pretty much the standard in complete system benchmarking. This is the one you’ll often see in PC and gaming magazines. Unfortunately it’s also pretty commercial. I decided to include it for completion’s sake and for it being the big name in benchmarking. You can download their benchmarking tools and run it once to benchmark your system, but if you’re hoping to swap out components and test it again, you’ll need to buy the final product.
Also, the 3DMark program measures in at a hefty 423 MB download, so for only a single run this is a bit hefty. The size is explained during the benchmarking by several beautiful videos that run on your machine to test your video capability.
Since 3DMark is so well known, they are able to collect information from a good number of computers and configurations and then use that information to compare your system and the fastest system they’ve seen. This is all very informative and worth checking out before you start building that next gaming rig.
Another utility from Futuremark comes in the form of PeaceKeeper. This completely free utility runs inside your browser and benchmarks it for the sake of the browser wars. Whether you want to see if the latest updates improved performance or perhaps an extension is hampering it, Peacekeeper can compare browsers, their speed, and how fast they render Java all through real-world simulated web browsing behavior.
Here you can see how IE7 compared to Firefox 3.0.7:
System Information for Windows is a very complete utility designed to bring a comprehensive summary of a computer into one simple interface. This gathers information from everything like the motherboard, RAM, CPU, OS, Network, installed applications, and much more. The simple interface of SIW’s 1.5 MB executable is great for the non-technical and technical alike.
PC Wizard is another free utility from the same people that make CPU-Z. Like SIW, PC Wizard provides a simple summary of a computer, hardware and software, in one interface.
PC Wizard also implements benchmarking and you can use it to test the entire system or just single components.
OpenSourceMark is a complete system benchmark like 3DMark, but is completely open-source and free and found on the popular project site SourceForge. OpenSourceMark is just as comprehensive as the commercial competition with a little less pretty of an interface. It shows different videos during its benchmarking to test your machine and provides a lot of the nitty-gritty information that results from the benchmarking test instead of abstracting it away in just the final numbers.
CrystalDiskMark is a simple way to test the performance of your hard drive. You can test your hard drive and see how quickly it can read and write with different characteristics.
HD Speed similarly tests your hard drive but it shows the speed throughout the transfer with a nifty graph. This can be used to test USB jump drives along with traditional hard drives.
RightMark Audio Analyzer is a means of benchmarking and finding out in-depth information about your audio system. You can find out the range and other capabilities by expanding the other options in RMAA and running the tests.
You can see the results from the test within the program:
From the same site, RightMark 3DSound helps you test the 3d capabilities of your sound system. You can see how well the sound card and speakers can generate an environment. You can control the source of the sound by dragging the little black dot around the human standing in the big circle (You are looking top-down and he is facing the top.). As you move the dot, you should hear the sound become louder from one side and quieter as it goes further away. You can also set the height source of the sound by controlling if it’s over the representative guy’s head or at his feet and anywhere in between. You can also just set it to run circles and vary the height automatically so the test runs on autopilot and you can focus on checking individual speakers.
You can also see an analysis on CPU usage during the 3DSound.
Windows Vista incorporates some benchmarking of its own by evaluating your computer performance and the capabilities of your hardware. They then give a Windows Experience Index rating to your machine. They’ve implemented this in hopes of simplifying the long list of Minimum System Requirements to just a number system. The higher you score on this index (and with all the other benchmarking we’ve seen so far) the more capable your hardware should be. This has brought benchmarking to the masses in a simplified form.
SpeedFan allows you to get some more info on the fans in your case. Why not? Everything else has been given a closer look and put up to metrics. You can use SpeedFan to read the temperature of your CPU, GPU, voltages, and RPM speeds of different fans. The amount of information you can get with SpeedFan all depends on how smart your motherboard is and your configuration. A lot of fans just plug into a standard molex connection (like what IDE hard drives use) so you won’t get any information out of those, but (and a good reason to) if your fans plug into your motherboard you should be able to read their current speed. You can use SpeedFan to control fan speed based on temperature so they’re never louder than they need to be and you machine is as cool as it can.
If you know of any other great utilities or want to post your benchmarking score for comparison, leave it in the comments.