[SPEED] How Fast Is Your PC?

Category: Hardware

A reader 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 benchmarks show raw CPU speed, but I'm looking for more than that. Can you recommend any free software to measure 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 PC. When you try one of the many tricks to speed up your computer, how do you know whether it worked? A psychological phenomenon called "confirmation bias" makes your gut feeling about a tweak's effect unreliable; after all the work you put into speeding up your computer, you want to confirm that it worked.

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 benchmark 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 Does Your Computer Need More Memory? 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] How Fast Is Your PC?"

Posted by:

James Odneal
11 Feb 2020

UserBenchmark is a website featuring a free download that tests PC's. It will benchmark your CPU,GPU,memory,storage and USB drives and give you an overall rating. Userbenchmark.com

Posted by:

curt mixon
11 Feb 2020

I like PC Pitstop! good stuff Maynard!

Posted by:

11 Feb 2020

Specifically for storage devices: HDTune. It's free.

Posted by:

11 Feb 2020

"Confirmation Bias" aside; all of these metrics you speak of are for the real nerdy peeps and the results would really mean absolutely nothing to anyone else. Unless, they were part of this nerdy group that already has baseline metrics to compare the new results against (pre/post). The nerds-in-the-herd probably know and already possess such technical/complex tools, that are usually ONLY used during the initial setup of a system. Two years ago, I used a few of these tools after configuring/tweaking my new motherboard but I cannot even remember the difference between a 'BCLK Frequency' or the 'CPU Core Ratio' anymore...🤔

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
11 Feb 2020

Boot up a Linux liveCD, open a console and type:
cat /proc/cpuinfo
then look for the line(s) bogomips.
These do not give you a real indication of your computer's speed, but will allow you to compare the speed of two different machines.
If the CPU has several cores, multiply the bogomips by the number of cores.

Posted by:

Chas M
11 Feb 2020

I have used a few of these and hope there is software out there that can make recommendations on how to improve performance for specific hardware within the computer, like how to improve performance for your CPU or RAM. Anyone know of that type of software or where this research can be found?

Posted by:

11 Feb 2020

For those wondering:
BogoMips is a value that can be used to verify whether the processor in question is in the proper range of similar processors, i.e. BogoMips represents a processor's clock frequency as well as the potentially present CPU cache. It is not usable for performance comparisons among different CPUs.

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