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The truth about your PC: These benchmark tools tell all

Jim Norris | Feb. 7, 2014
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.

The interface is big on splash but also organized logically. Selecting tests is easy, with available benchmarks viewable at a glance.

Even hardware-hungry Catzilla makes some concessions for a mobile world, with a 1024x576 low-resolution mode especially suited for Ultrabooks. That such a performance-focused gaming benchmark takes pains to include modes for mobile graphics chipsets says a lot about where hardware design priorities are headed.

Catzilla has a tiered pricing structure. The lowest of the three levels is free with registration and includes 720p resolution and all of the important options. Custom settings allow adjustments to visual quality, number of threads, API, and audio.

Basic and advanced levels increase the resolution and include online community ranking boards. Best of all, those versions are just a few bucks more than free (think phone-app pricing). The only shocker is reserved for the professional version: It includes scripting and technical support services, and it costs $899. I hope you like cats.

Hyper Pi: Solid stress test, minus some style points
Hyper Pi
is primarily a mathematical test tool to figure the value of pi to a desired number of digits, but it moonlights as a CPU and memory stress test, making it a favorite with system builders.

Using the Super Pi engine to perform calculations, Hyper Pi threads multiple instances, all the better to strain multi-core CPUs to their limits. It also hammers hard on memory access, which makes Hyper Pi the tool of choice when those high-speed DIMMS arrive.

What you won't get with Hyper Pi is style points. Hyper Pi's tiny size and run-anywhere ability make it well suited for laptop use, but the Windows-XP-style interface is stodgy. Feature names tend toward jargon, such as process priority and number of threads. Stopping the tests can take a moment, as the interface doesn't immediately respond to commands while the system is processing at full-tilt.

Like all stress-test-oriented benchmarks, you should take care when you let this code run free. Most CPU and GPU cooling systems aren't designed for the workloads stress-testing places on them. This isn't a problem for short-duration, score-style benchmarks, but longer-cycle stability tests could cause failure if components have inadequate or damaged cooling systems — and that includes a dust-choked fan or blocked case vent!

Phoronix Test Suite: Great for Linux lovers
Phoronix Test Suite
is not a benchmark itself, but a framework that lets you to tap into a library of 130 benchmarks and 60 suites, along with external benchmark programs via an extensible scripting architecture. Third-party software like Unigine's Heaven, for instance, can be leveraged by Phoronix's automated process.

It's also distinctive for being primarily a Linux package (Windows executables are available), brushing off such niceties as an installer, comprehensive GUI or friendly documentation. There's nothing quite like it in Windows, however, so it's worth a peek if you enjoy tinkering with benchmarks or have an affinity with the Unix way.


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