How to: Stress test your new PC to shake out any faults

Summary:How to stress-test all the major components in your PC.

There's nothing more annoying than buying (or building) a new PC and just when you've got it all set up and ready to go, something fails and you have to send it back for repair (or take it back to the lab). I can tell you from experience that this is a real pain in the rear!

To prevent this sort of headache, I always recommend giving new systems a thorough stress-test to shake out the bugs before you spend too much time on the system. Yes, it takes some time and effort, but it is well worth it in the long run as you can usually identify (or even push over the edge) components that were likely to give you problems in the short to medium term.

Note: Most of these tests apply to Windows-based systems only ... sorry!

Image credit: cibomahto

I'm going to cover how to stress-test a number of components, so it's going to be an exhaustive test. Given that you might not want to spend too long on testing a system, I'm going to label some component testing critical and others optional. I suggest that you carry out testing on all the critical components.

Let's kick off by testing the CPU!

CPU stress-testing -->

Stress-testing the CPU (Critical)

The CPU is one of the most important components to test because overheating here can lead to all sorts of problems, from crashes to total system death.

The best and easiest tool to use for this job is Prime95. While the main purpose of this tool is to seek out new prime numbers, but it can also do an awesome job of stress testing any system it is run on. Not only will this test the CPU, but also the cooler and also RAM. Oh, and it's also free.

This tool is easy to use - just download, unpack, run the executable you're ready to go. I suggest choosing the 'Blend' test and running it for several hours (overnight is preferable).

RAM stress-testing -->

Stress-testing RAM (Critical)

Another critical component that needs thorough testing in a new PC is the RAM. Bad RAM can cause all sorts of annoying problems, from application crashes to random system restarts.

The best tool for testing RAM is Memtest86+ (another free tool). You download this tool and run it from a CD/DVD or USB flash drive (or floppy disk if you still have one ... I'm assuming you don't!).

Like testing the CPU, testing the RAM will take a long time (patience is a virtue) and I suggest that you allow it a good 8-hours.

Note: This test can be run on Linux systems too.

Hard drive stress-testing -->

Stress-testing the hard drive (Optional)

Stress testing hard drives is, in my opinion, optional. If you have a good backup then losing a hard drive isn't that big of a deal. It's still a pain to have to deal with a dead drive though, so any test that places it under load early on is a good idea.

Note: This testing is for hard disk drives (HDDs) which have moving part, and not solid state drives (SSDs).

I recommend a scan through with HD Tune (commercial, but there is a free trial). Run a benchmark test, then a random access test and finally an error scan.

Note: You can also test some aspects of your hard drive using tools made available by the manufacturer. Check out the manufacturer's website for more details of the tools they offer.

GPU stress-testing -->

Stress-testing the GPU (Optional except for gaming systems)

On normal office systems the GPU is not going to be taxed that heavily so this test is not a critical one. However, for a gaming system it is vital that you give the GPU a thorough test to make sure that it is not going to fail on you down the line.

An awesome test for hammering at the GPU is Furmark (free). However, be careful when running this test in 'Burn-in' or 'Xtreme Burn-in' mode as it will cause the temperature of your GPU to spike rapidly and I have known this test destroy graphics cards! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Battery stress-testing -->

Stress-testing the battery (Optional)

As more devices become portable, we are more reliant on batteries than ever which is why I always like to take the battery on any portable system through a discharge/charge cycle.

A simple ghetto way to test the battery is to stick a DVD into the system and let it play and see how long you get. Alternatively, you can use the 10-hour Nyan Cat video on YouTube that someone sent me a few weeks ago. Once your discharged the battery down to about 10% (at which point Windows will shut down the system), recharge the battery and once at 100% disconnect from the power for 15 minutes and see how much battery is drained in that time (just leave Windows running ... not other applications). Under 10% discharge is fine, anything over 15% and that might indicate a problem.

DVD burner stress-testing -->

Stress testing the DVD burner (Optional)

For this test I download ImgBurn (free) and then I use that to rip a DVD (preferably software, not games or movies because copy protection might get in the way) to a .ISO file and then burn that image onto a disc, making sure than the verify option is enabled.

Commercial stress-testing software -->

Commercial stress-testing software

Rather than having to download and use multiple test tools, you might prefer to have a single suite of test tools at your disposal. A tool that I've used many times in the past and can thoroughly recommend is PassMark's BurnInTest. There's a 30-day trial available and if you choose to use it beyond that it costs $39 for the standard edition and $79.

For battery testing PassMark have BatteryMon. This tool will give you detailed information about your batteries than you probably want. You can also use BatteryMon to test cells in UPS units.

Another great tool for system testing offered (for free) by PassMark is called Sleeper. This simple tool allows you to test a system's ability to enter and recover from sleep and hibernation.

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Topics: Hardware

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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