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The Best Software for Stress Testing a Computer
Overclocking a computer's components, including the processor, video card and RAM, can improve overall performance. Enthusiasts often do this because overclocking is a free boost - the only cost is your time. In exchange, you can sometimes improve your computer's performance between 10 and 20 percent.
The downside to pushing your computer, however, is that you might decrease your computer's stability. In other words, overclocking can cause your computer to crash in spectacular fashion, blue-screening or cold-rebooting without any apparent provocation. This occurs because overclocking is, by definition, the process of pushing a component beyond the limits it has been tested and known to tolerate. Eventually this will cause hardware to malfunction.
Sometimes these malfunctions are constant and obvious. For example, you might overclock your video card only to find that, once you pass a certain point, games no longer play for more than two minutes before crashing. This instability is very obvious. In other instances, however, instability might only appear occasionally. Your computer may crash once every few days or few weeks.
If you're experiencing this problem you can use stress testing to coax out issues. Stress testing programs put your computer under the most demanding load possible. They try to make your computer crash. If your computer crashes during stress testing you know that you need to back off your overclocking a bit - if it doesn't crash, you know that you can demand maximum performance from your computer without being rewarded with a BSOD.
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The video card is often the hottest component in a computer. This is particularly likely if you have a computer with a high-end video card like a Radeon HD 5850 or a Nvidia GTX 480. These graphics cards are cutting-edge and capable of processing huge amounts of data at once. This, of course, requires a lot of power - and that means a lot of heat - and that means a high probability of overheating. Computers don't usually reboot or shut down because of a video card overheating, but your games may begin to display graphical anomalies, or they may crash altogether.
FurMark is a program specifically designed to stress a video card to its absolute limits. The name - "fur"mark - comes from what the benchmark appears to display. The stress test (which is also a benchmark, as it shows FPS) displays a rotating ring of fur. It appears simple, but rendering this ring requires constant effort on the part of your video card, stressing it to its limits. Even the most demanding games are unlikely to exceed the stress that FurMark puts on a graphics card.
The program also includes a temperature gauge that displays while the program is running. This lets you see just how hot your video card is running and helps you decide if you need to increase the fan speed or decrease the clock speed.
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There are many, many ways to stress a computer processor. Games, video/audio transcoding and programs like SuperPi and HyperPi are all examples of programs that can seriously stress a processor. Of them all, however, I prefer using OCCT to check an overclock.
Multiple cores and threads can be an obstacle when trying to stress test a processor because many methods of stress testing don't put a demanding load on all available cores. OCCT does, and it is also programmed to make full use of hyper-threading during stress tests. This ensures that you'll stress your processor to the absolute max.
I also like OCCT because it has a simple interface that lets you set up timed stress tests that you can perform overnight. For example, you can tell OCCT to stress test your computer for eight hours. If you wake up the next morning and the test has run successfully, congrats - you have a very stable computer, and you shouldn't have to worry about it crashing because the processor is clocked too high.
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So far we've looked at two programs. FurMark tests your video card, and OCCT tests your processor. But what if you want to stress test your entire computer at once?
Then you'll want to take a look at PassMark BurnInTest. This comprehensive program is designed to stress test multiple computer components at once in order to give you the complete picture of how your computer will operate under the most demanding conditions. The tests in PassMark BurnInTest include the processor, video card, optical drive, RAM, hard drive, sound card and networking card. BurnInTest can perform all of these tests at once, or you can select only certain tests and run them individually. You can also choose to run each stress test at the maximum level of demand, or you can back off a bit in certain benchmarks.
Once the tests have completed, BurnInTest provides a detailed report on what happened during the stress test. PassMark also provides information about your computer's current configuration, in case you don't already have a program like PC Wizard installed.
The only downside is that BurnInTest is the only paid program on this list. After a thirty day trial period you will have to pay $34 for a BurnInTest license. That's a fairly steep amount, to be honest, but it may be worthwhile if you love to overclock your PC.