No matter what kind of computer you're running--a brand new dual-core Alienware model or your aunt's old Dell laptop--it's hard to gauge the performance of your machine by factory specs alone. Especially with all the versions of Windows PCs out there using any number of hardware configurations; it's tough to really know how your computer measures up to today's fastest systems.
Finding complete system specs is especially important to gamers of course, but they're not alone in their need for system speed. Today's release of the graphics-intensive specs for Crytek's Crysis (from Crave, CNET's gadget blog) surely has many gamers praying their computers have what it takes to really bring the long-awaited game to life. But even if you're not a gamer, you might want to know, for example, whether your computer can handle the latest image- or video-editing software. Fortunately, you can find out in advance using a good benchmarking app. This category of software runs several diagnostic tests which check everything from processor speed and drive efficiency to the output of your graphics and sound cards.
Using one of these downloadable diagnostic tools, you'll be able to see how your computer stacks up with gaming or other software requirements and you can also make informed decisions about upgrading your hardware (cross your fingers you don't have to!). Here are three benchmarking programs I have used for putting my various computers through their paces.
PerformanceTest runs several different tests resulting in bar charts for reviewing your results. This one covers all the bases including processing power, graphics, and your network connections. One great feature is you can compare your computer with other baseline systems to see how you stack up against other machines. Performance Test is a 30-day trial with a $24 price tag.
CPU-Z is a free benchmarking program I've recommended before, but I couldn't write this column without including it. Not only will you get your processing speed, RAM, and graphics specs; this app helps out those who are attempting to over-clock their machines, with the type of information you can use to squeeze every last bit of power out of your computer. Of course, it should go without saying I don't recommend you tinker with your computer's inner workings unless you really know what you're doing. Though CPU-Z doesn't offer the baseline system comparisons Performance Test does, you can still upload your values to an online database if you want to compare your specs with others.
Auslogics System Information, from the makers of the popular Auslogics Disk Defrag, is a solid free benchmarking app to get your system specs. It offers a huge list of ways to view system component values as well as RAM, connected devices, and detailed video and graphics specs. I particularly like the Performance tab which lets you view an animated graph of CPU load, memory usage, and page file usage history. You also can create a comprehensive system information report to get your full specs in a printout or online.
If you're thinking about buying one of the latest graphic-intensive games or want to take a precise look at what's really under your computer's hood, download one of these Killer Downloads and put your computer to the test.