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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.

This package takes itself seriously, and the feature list reflects that commitment. Full batch processing is the name of the game.

Phononix can see the writing on the wall, however, and mobile support is coming with version 5. Both iOS and Android variants will follow. Also coming with 5.0 (according to leaked screenshots) is an HTML5 web management interface that brings a bit of GUI goodness to a largely command-line package.

Phoronoix provides system-monitoring tools. A syntax of 80 commands allows complex, multi tiered benchmark scripts to be run across several networks simultaneously, and the results can boil down to a single set of reports. Visual and numerical results are supported for graphics tests. Just don't expect much handholding. Until version 5, you're pretty much on your own.

Passmark Performance Test: Mobile is missing
Passmark's Performance Test has come a long way from its prior version. It now has a more sophisticated interface, streamlined code, and a few new tests to keep up with the times, including full DirectX 11 and OpenCL compute benchmarks.

Old tests return with refined algorithms, and bugs from previous versions have been quashed. A rotating 3D motherboard displays a representational view of your components. Clicking on one produces a screen with the relevant information about the part.

Tests run quickly and reflect hardware changes well, making this a good tuning tool. Comparison data is diverse. Benchmarking modules cover the same areas as version 7, with most new additions in the 3D-graphics module.

While some other benchmarks here look toward a mobile future, however, Passmark resolutely remains a desktop-oriented application. This leaves laptop users in the dark about battery life, voltages, and other issues — limiting the appeal of Passmark's offering.

Performance Test 8 retains value as a jack-of-all-trades utility and a supplemental source of benchmarking data. Passmark just needs to put some laptop love into the next version.

CPU-M: Free isn't always cheap enough
Sometimes when you tweak and tune, a quick, simple number is all you need for a performance reference. There are several good tools on the PC that work admirably in this role, but all share one problem: None of them is free.

CPU-M attempts to horn in on this turf with its own lightweight tool, perfect for systems of all sizes and sporting the lowest price of all: free.

In attempting to recreate the lean, simple benchmarks of yore, CPU-M presents the user with a few easy access tabs and a one-click, CPU-dominated benchmark test. The vibe is right, but it fades fast. Button and interface glitches abound, and the sparse documentation feels like neglect rather than simplicity.

Moreover, access to that lone benchmark number sits behind no fewer than seven attempts at ad-ware and toolbar-style installation during initial setup. That was a record for me, hopefully one I won't see broken. For that alone, this one is a pass. How can you trust software that tries to rip you off before you even install it?


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