Benchmarking PCs is nothing new, since the days of the Pentium 2 and beyond people have been curious enough about performance to push their hardware to the limit. These days PC benchmarking is at a whole other level with people going to insane extremes to crank as much juice from their machine as possible. Sometimes with more elaborate methods than a science-fiction movie.
I do think however that some of this has gotten way out of hand and more than borders on the obsessive. When you spend thousands of dollars on a PC for gaming, probably the last thing you should be thinking of is pushing the hardware further than it was intended. Although in saying that a lot of PC components are sold with the promise of overclocking capabilities. Usually though, it will be somewhat vague as to your warranty covering damage done from overclocking too much. Personally I’ve done some damage to cards over the years trying get the temperatures down a bit or whatever the reason.
Either way people have made a hobby (albeit an expensive one) out of overclocking. What I mean by obsessive is visiting forums and seeing people sporting their hardware specs and benchmark results in their signature profile. It almost smacks of locker-room male posturing, of a digital sort. For me at least, benchmark results mean almost less than nothing beside how well the PC performs in the games I want to play. A high score in 3Dmark might give some a digital boner but it may not mean all that much depending on what game they’re playing.
One thing I never understood was the use of things like liquid nitrogen in order to push a processor past 5ghz speed. The constraints of the setup are so crude as to never be an accessible games platform. It’s merely for show, and most people don’t have chemicals of this sort lying around nor would I recommend they bring their PC anywhere near them, at least not without a chemistry degree. But I guess they achieve their showman-like goal and are fun to watch. I’m just a bit concerned they detract from the PC experience somewhat. If people start to become only concerned with how high they can score in a benchmark and always trying to squeeze an extra digit or two, they may lose out on just enjoying a PC and having fun gaming.
There are lots of benchmark programs out there now to make you feel happy or sad, to justify your two-thousand dollar PC or convince you that you’re in serious need of an upgrade. Directx 11 is where the wind is blowing right now – Windows 7 and Windows Vista are the only operating systems any serious gamer should be using. Going on the assumption you’re using Vista or 7 and you care to put your PC through the rigors of high-end benchmarks, below are some of the more demanding programs, with links to download free versions.
Futurmark is a Finnish company founded in 1997. They have been at the forefront of gaming PC benchmark software for the last 13 years. Their 3Dmark and PCmark software suites are downloaded and used by millions of PC gamers and hardware reviewers.
3Dmark is the most popular gaming benchmark out there and the one most gamers are familiar with, even though it’s a little outdated at this stage with its lack of Directx 11 support. 3Dmark Vantage is still a decent gauge of Directx 10 performance from your PC and let’s face it there aren’t a whole lot of Directx 11 based games right now. Futurmark has promised an updated dx11 version sometime this year but as of yet have still to give a concrete release date. 3Dmark is free to try but if you want to avail of all the features you’ll need to purchase a license. Hey, it’s pretty cheap anyway.
These guys have been around since 2002. They are more commonly known as the creators of the Unigine Heaven Benchmark. This is different from 3Dmark as it promotes all the new features of Directx 11 such as Hardware Tessellation, Shader Model 5.0 and so on.
Heaven is the new kid on the block for humbling your PC hardware whatever megahertz your persuasion is. Whether you’re running a dual HD 5970 rig or a quad-GTX 480 setup, this benchmark is sure to bring you back to reality with one foul swoop. Heaven is at version 2.1 right now and is free for personal use. It looks pretty awe-inspiring I will give it that – just don’t expect decent frames-per-second unless you have a pretty beefy setup.
You don’t always need professional benchmark suites to find out how good or bad your PC is. Crysis is a PC game that still causes migraine for all but the the most extreme machines. 3 years on and the Crytek first-person shooter is used to gauge a PC’s performance. One thing is clear, if you can run this game on the highest enthusiast settings at a decent screen resolution (1680×1050 or higher) you should be able to handle just about anything out there right now.
Unfortunately Crysis is not free, but at this stage it can be had for fairly cheap. You can snag it from Amazon for less than $15. I enjoyed Crysis personally (especially the first half of the game), even though I played it on a laptop and the settings were pretty low. It’s a fun shooter, but it does have quite a few bugs so you’ve been warned.
Metro 2033 is another example of hardware requirements on steroids. This game puts the H in heartbreak for anyone who has a less than stellar rig. Metro 2033 chews up and spits out high-end PCs then asks for the dessert menu. Even more-so than Crysis, this is the game right now to benchmark your PC on. It includes all the dx11 eye-candy and is harder to run at acceptable frame-rates than anything else on the market.
I’ve seen a Radeon HD 5970 struggle at 1920×1200. If your machine can tame this beast, I think it’s safe to say you have a pretty decent and future-proof rig. You can find Metro 2033 on Amazon for under $47.
So there you have it folks, there’s no shortage of benchmarks for any PC out there. Whether you’re on the cutting edge of the gaming world, or trailing behind in dx10 land, you can find what you need to assess your hardware’s maximum output. Just don’t get caught up in figures and forum signatures. The most important thing is decent eye-candy at playable frame-rates and resolution. Anything else is superfluous.
In a few weeks I’ll be running all these benchmarks on my upcoming gaming rig. I’m still in the process of building it but I should have all the components in less than a fortnight’s time. So watch this space if you want to see how to get a high-end gaming rig on a shoe-string budget …well, maybe boot-string.
29/09/10: This article sparked a heated discussion over on HardOCP, but after going over to defend my piece, the Editor in Chief was less than helpful and banned my account, deleting my defense of this article. After being banned from HardOCP for no apparent reason other than shining a light on the immature behavior of its Editor in Chief, I was forced to defend my position here, as Kyle Bennett is not interested in civil discussion as much as he is in stoking the flames of hatred.
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