[SPEED] Is Your PC Fast Enough?

Category: Hardware , Software

An AskBob reader with a need for speed asks: “I'm shopping for a new PC, and it's difficult to get an overall rating for how fast a computer is, under real world conditions. Some listings show raw CPU speed, but I'm looking for more than that. Can you recommend any free software to measure overall system performance?” Yes, that and more! Read on...

How To Measure PC Speed and Performance

It's true, computer vendors like to throw around numbers to dazzle you, when describing how fast their systems are. But after comparing CPU clock speeds, graphics adapter frame rates, motherboard bus capacity, hard drive data transfer, RAM speeds, and other arcane stats, your head starts to spin. And then there's the problem of comparing Intel versus AMD, and one brand versus another, when they use differing units of measurement.

Or perhaps you're one who likes to tinker or overclock your CPU. When you try one of the many tricks to speed up your computer, how do you know whether or not it actually worked? A psychological phenomenon called "confirmation bias" makes your gut feeling about the effect of a tweak (or an expenditure) unreliable; after all the work (or money) you put into speeding up your computer, you want to confirm that it worked as hoped.

Fortunately, we have tools to measure system performance more accurately than "Yeah, it seems a bit faster now." That's where free performance benchmarking software comes in. Benchmarking is simply a matter of measuring the performance of your system before you start tweaking it, so you have a set of numbers to which you can compare post-tweak measurements. Benchmarking is an objective way to see how much, or how little, your computer's performance changes over time.

Computer Speed and Performance Testing

Free Benchmarking Software

SuperPi is a free benchmark test program designed to measure the speed of your CPU. It calculates pi to over 4.2 billion decimal places, a very processor-intensive task. SuperPi tracks how quickly your processor performs the operation. Overclockers consider SuperPi a favorite free benchmark because it is processor-specific and helps them see how successful they are at getting their CPUs to run at faster than rated top clock speeds. But SuperPi won't tell you anything about the performance of other parts of your computer system.

Keeping your hard drive in optimal shape can help to improve overall system performance. My article FREE Tools to Tune and Optimize Your Hard Drive. Or maybe you're ready to replace your hard drive with a faster SSD model. See Here's How to Upgrade or Replace Your Hard Drive.

Another factor that can make a difference is insufficient RAM memory. My article [SILVER BULLET] Add Memory to Speed Up Your Computer? will help you determine if a RAM upgrade is warranted.

FutureMark was for many years a well-known developer of a broad range of computer benchmark programs. In 2018, the company was folded into Underwriters Laboratories, but fortunately, 3D Mark and PC Mark live on. 3D Mark measures the performance of graphics subsystems, while PC Mark delivers a benchmark metric of overall system performance. Both are available in basic editions which are free and can be used an unlimited number of times.

Novabench is a free software suite incorporating multiple benchmark tests. It is especially well suited for home and small office computer systems. It includes a hard drive performance test; processor speed benchmark; and graphics tests. After running the banchmarks, you can compare your results with similar systems, and see how your system stacks up. Novabench offers advice to improve your overall performance.

SiSoft's SANDRA is a full-featured benchmark suite that is geared towards IT professionals who need detailed analysis of multiple computers. In addition to standard benchmark tests of CPU, hard drive, and graphics, SANDRA (System Analyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant) will also test your memory's bandwidth (speed), network performance, power efficiency, and a whole lot more. It also includes a database of reference products. So, for example, after benchmarking your CPU, SANDRA will show you up to five other similar processors to help you decide if an upgrade might be useful.

Depending on your actual or intended usage, choose the benchmarking tests that will provide you with the information you need. If you're buying a new computer, ask the vendor to run one of these tests before you buy. Many benchmark suites have paid versions that allow you to compare your benchmark results against those of other users worldwide. That way, you not only know how your system is doing relative to itself before and after tweaks, but also how it compares to similar systems.

Do you have something to say about measuring the speed of a personal computer? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[SPEED] Is Your PC Fast Enough?"

Posted by:

29 Oct 2021

Super helpful and complete article, Bob!!!
Keep 'em coming.
Thank you.

Posted by:

Hugh Gautier
29 Oct 2021

In the "Super PI software note, it clearly says: "Super PI retrieves most hardware information thanks to "CPUz". It retrieves CPU information such as clock speed, code name, cache size, voltage, etc. It retrieves the motherboard model and the amount, speed, and timings of your memory." [The spelling within their documentation is atrocious, my spell checker caught several errors in their spelling within the direct quote from their documentation.] With that said you missed the mark on this software. We'd have been better off getting CPUz than SUPER PI.
FutureMark IS NOT A FREE SOFTWARE as you are touting, when I went to download the software they wanted $$$ for it, therefore it isn't a FREE SOFTWARE PROGRAM.
Novabench on the other hand is a FREE download. It seems to be a fairly in-depth piece of software.
Si Sandra Only the first choice is free, the rest of the testing software costs.

Posted by:

29 Oct 2021

Hugh: "PC Mark 10 Basic" is free, I'd download it from Major Geeks.

Posted by:

Tom C.
29 Oct 2021

I tried to download SuperPi a couple of times today (10/29/2021) and the download link is not working. I have sent them an email notifying them that the link is blank.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
29 Oct 2021

I was able to download PC Mark 10, and NovaBench with no trouble. To get the free version of PC Mark 10 Basic, rather than go through the rig-a-ma-role of downloading via Steam, I searched 'PC Mark free' in my web browser. I also got it from the MajorGeeks website.

I have run both benchmarks multiple times, making a small change in my UEFI firmware configuration after each run. These are the results of my efforts so far:
PC Mark result NovaBench result Notes
3649 1805 Pre-Tweak
3953 1906 Enabled Game Boost
4019 1914 Enabled A-XMP Profile 1
4030 1935 Switched to A-XMP Profile 2

As you can see from these scores, I did not get the latest and greatest hardware available to build my new-to-me system, but I did get the best hardware I can afford. With that said, my tweaks so far have returned some performance improvements, and I can notice a small difference, though not an earth-shattering one :). This is beginning to look like the start of a new adventure in learning with my PC :).

Posted by:

01 Nov 2021

My browsers, Firefox & Safari claim that SuperPi is not a secure website.

EDITOR'S NOTE: False positive, try this link: https://download.cnet.com/Super-PI/3000-2086_4-75869197.html

Posted by:

03 Nov 2021

Thank you BobRankin and Thank you Hugh Gautier.
I bought an Intel NUC10i7 to use mostly as a part of the HomeTheatrePC(HTPC). Using a native 4K UHD content is about the BEST means of testing the graphics subsystem which are now part of most Intel CPUs. Mine is a KabyLake (10th gen) 6-core i7-10710U CPU. Shared RAM was 16MB (DDR4/2666) and NVMe M.2 is a 500GB drive. Movies would start stuttering and 'tear'. Upgraded to 32MB RAM and now it works but just...
I know this because when same content is 1080p; problems disappear. NovaBench reports no problems.

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