Just how fast is your PC? Is your laptop's battery up to snuff? Benchmarking software can tell you this. Once the province of PC builders and tuners, the best packages available today are accessible to mainstream users as well — though it still helps to have some knowledge of your PC's innards to reap the greatest benefits. The free packages reviewed here can get the job done for free, and in many cases, you can get more by upgrading to a paid version.
PCMark 8: The benchmark to beat
PCMark 8 is the mainstream benchmark to beat. The new version (2.0) offers full Windows 8.1 support, and for mobile tech it adds a battery-testing module. This is on top of the gaming, content creation, mobile use, and home and office benchmarks that are also available (depending on the version). More than any other benchmarking suite, PCMark 8 paints a comprehensive picture of your PC.
The free version give you access to the home, work and creative tests, while the $49.95 Pro version opens up the battery, storage and application tests, along with better control over individual testing options.
Both synthetic code and open-source productivity applications are used to derive results, so no matter where you stand on benchmarking methodology, PCMark has you covered. The applications test uses your preinstalled MSOffice and Adobe Creative Suite to perform real-world productivity tests. While this is impressive in terms of realism and relevance, it also means that you'll need to have those pricey packages installed to get a full set of figures. Fortunately, Futuremark allows partial installs to generate usable, if incomplete, results.
Note that big changes to the benchmark code mean that you can't compare results from this version with those of previous versions. A compatibility toggle exists in the paid version for historical comparison.
The two problems Futuremark didn't fix with version 2.0 are download size and run time. PCMark 8 is a whopping 3 GB download. On Wi-Fi-bound systems like Microsoft's Surface Pro, just getting the installation files on the SSD is a time-consuming chore.
At least tests are served up with estimates for the time required to complete them. Take heed: One of PCMark's shortcomings is its leisurely pace. A full run on a slower machine could take up the better part of a workday.
Catzilla: Benchmarking as good, clean fun
Catzilla may seem like a novelty benchmark, but it has an impressive pedigree. The development team sports some heavy hitters, including Platige Image, the studio behind the animation seen in The Witcher. JJ-Abrams-style camera tricks and hipster humor aside, Catzilla goes the extra mile and gives your system an honest workout while also entertaining you. The proceedings can't help but elicit a chuckle.
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