What are Computer Benchmarks?

Sherry Holetzky

While some people use their computers mainly for surfing or for work, others are more interested in the performance of their systems or various components. They like to test hardware and sometimes software, not only to see if it lives up to its potential, but also to push it to new heights. There are special tests for this purpose, known as benchmarks.

CPU function is one part of a computer system that can be benchmarked.
CPU function is one part of a computer system that can be benchmarked.

Some computer enthusiasts “overclock” or raise the clock speed to see just how far they can push their systems. Benchmarks are a series of tests used to measure the level of performance at both stock and overclocked speeds. When a system is overclocked, it may not be stable at certain levels, so benchmarks are also used to measure stability at various speeds.

Computer hard drives have their own benchmarks.
Computer hard drives have their own benchmarks.

People who build their own high performance systems or do a lot of gaming, sometimes run benchmarks to compare scores, competing to see whose system is superior. However, one doesn’t have to overclock in order to use computer benchmark programs. Benchmarks offer a series of graphics and sound tests as well as standardized options, which can also be used to diagnose problems.

You can also find multi-tasking benchmarks to see how well your computer holds up under stressful situations. There may be several different processes running at any given time aside from those you are using directly. If you are running more than one program, along with the typical processes, you may notice your computer running slow or lagging as you go back and forth between applications. Multi-tasking benchmarks can help you determine which programs demand the most from your system, and help you establish which if any unnecessary processes you may need to turn off while using high drain applications.

There are full system benchmarks as well as those that only test certain parts of a system, such as the memory, CPU function, hard drives, network connections, video cards, and sound cards. You may also be able to purchase plug-in benchmarks for various specialty applications. Benchmark tests can help determine if there is a problem and where it is located. In turn, this may help keep expenses down when having a computer repaired or updated, by establishing that only certain areas require attention.

Be careful where you obtain benchmarking programs. Read reviews and choose those offered by reputable companies, even if you have to spend a few bucks. Look for a benchmark program that is easy to use, comes with complete instructions, and explains what scores mean. While you can find a variety of free downloads, some sites that offer benchmarks warn that they can be harmful to your system, so take your time and choose carefully. Check out some overclocking or gaming sites to see what types of benchmarking programs enthusiasts are using and to read reviews.

Those who build their own computers from various hardware devices may use benchmarks to test performance.
Those who build their own computers from various hardware devices may use benchmarks to test performance.

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Discussion Comments


@Melonlity -- true, but even those programs that aren't great in some areas can be useful if you are using them to compare the performance of different computers. The old "apples to apple" analogy holds true. If a program is a bit off when it comes to measuring graphics performance, it can still tell you whether one graphics chip is faster than another.


A problem with these things is that they spit out wildly varying results and some are better at measuring certain things than others. A benchmarking program, for example, might measure CPU performance very well but be downright horrible when it comes to measuring graphical performance.

Take this article seriously. Don't mess with benchmarking software until you do some research and find out which programs are the most accurate and are used by the pros to test computers under real world conditions.

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