There are many tools that promise to optimize or speed up your Windows computer, but how can you make sure the software did what it promised? 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.
Downloading free benchmark testing software will give you a firm, objective way of judging the performance of your computer. As you make adjustments to your computer you can see how much, or how little, impact the changes have had.
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, 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 its online reference database. 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.
Futuremark’s Suite: 3DMark / PCMark / Peacekeeper
Futuremark is a software company which offers a wide variety of computer benchmarks 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.
The latest versions of 3DMark and PCMark are available for free use on a limited basis. Downloading the free version won’t let you custom-tailor any of the benchmark parameters, but that functionality is unnecessary to test your personal computer’s performance after a tweak. 3DMark focuses on gaming, while PCMark focuses on all elements of a computer’s performance.
Another, newer bench worth mention is Peacekeeper. This is a browser benchmark rather than a downloadable app, and it’s mostly used to compare the speed of various browsers. But it can also be used to see if tweaks to a browser, like add-ons, improve or hinder performance.
Unigine is a commercial game engine designed to make multi-platform development easy. The company offers free benchmarks rendered in its game engine as a way to promote its product. Currently there are four benchmarks, all of which are entirely free or have a free version.
The most well-known among the four is Heaven, a benchmark that taxes video cards through the use of DirectX 11 techniques and extensive tessellation. Many professional reviewers use the Heaven benchmark as the standard for judging tessellation performance, so there are many online results that provide perspective for those reached by your own computer.
Also of interest is the newer Valley benchmark, a GPU stress-test that uses state-of-the-art graphics to push video cards to their limits. It looks beautiful and also provides excellent hardware feedback via per-frame GPU temperature and clock speed monitoring.
One of the most popular free gaming benchmarks in existence, FRAPS is different from all of the other free benchmark testing 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 Crysis 3, 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 are not needed to judge performance of your personal computer and mostly focus on recording in-game action.
Hard drive performance has become an important part of overall system performance. The latest solid state drives vastly outperform their mechanical predecessors, and there are significant performance gaps between different types and brands of SSD.
HD Tune is designed to tease out these differences through a simulated read/write cycle that measured maximum, average and minimum transfer rates along with access times and burst data rates. The tool provides an objective measurement that can be used to compare different drives, and the benchmark generally needs just a couple minutes to do its work.
As with many other free benchmark testing software programs, a paid version is available, but isn’t needed for the simple before-and-after testing you’d perform to judge your own system.
Which To Choose?
The benchmark you use will depend on what you want to benchmark. The Peacekeeper benchmark is perfect for judging a browser, but not great for judging a system’s overall performance. 3DMark is awesome for graphics, but won’t help if you want to test one specific game. All of these benchmarks have use because they provide different data.
What results did you see when you ran these benchmarks? Let us know in the comments.