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!
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!
Stress-testing the CPU (Critical)
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).
Stress-testing RAM (Critical)
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.
Stress-testing the hard drive (Optional)
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.
Stress-testing the GPU (Optional except for gaming systems)
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!
Stress-testing the battery (Optional)
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.
Stress testing the DVD burner (Optional)
Commercial stress-testing software
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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