testing, testing 1,2,1,2
3DMark is the latest benchmarking program from the geniuses at Futuremark. The goal of the software is to provide a stable and challenging piece of code that will push graphics hardware to its limits, from smartphones all the way up to the highest end gaming rigs. Here’s how it could help you as a gamer.
Getting the best out of your machine is 90% of the reason a lot of people don’t play games on PC. Games on PC are cheaper, easier to get ( thanks to Steam and Origin) and run much better than on consoles, but actually getting them running is a nightmare to most people. First of all you have the incredibly expensive components with odd codenames. I agree you can build a capable gaming PC for a console-sized budget nowadays but where’s the fun in that? You’ll want the fastest processor of course, but i7s are often advised against because the performance gain is minimal over the cheaper i5s but then do you want an i5 2500 or an i5 2500k? Well that depends on whether you want to overclock or not. If you do want to overclock make sure you’ve got a P67 or Z68 motherboard, and the cooling and power supply to go with it, otherwise that extra money you spent on the ‘k’ for your processor is completely wasted. Then you want 8GB RAM because generally you’re not going to be able to use more (most games don’t even make use of the different cores on your processor, let alone all of your RAM) but then do you want DDR3 RAM? Will that make a noticeable difference? Once you’ve got that sorted there’s another biggie, the GPU. Nvidia helpfully number all of their boards, so you know a 560 is better than a 550, but is a 560 better than a 550 Ti? Annoyingly a 560 is better than a 640 and then a 700 series is about to come out. Obviously there’s also ATI Radeon cards to think about too, which are also numbered in an equally confusing but completely different method. You’ve also got to consider whether to go for a Solid State Hard Drive or not and what to put on those as space is usually a premium. If all of that has made you go cross-eyed don’t worry, that’s just what I’ve gleamed from hanging around on forums where people actually know about these things, but you can see how people get put off buying a PC. If I price up a PC that would be a definitive upgrade for me and change games dramatically, I’m looking at £800 or so, which is a lot without a monitor.
Thankfully there’s loads of places to go online where people can help you with those problems. 3DMark even provides ways to benchmarks all of these systems so people can back up their claims with real quantitative data, and many sites have started working out how to get the most bang for your buck. But once you’ve got a system put together, you’ve then got the problem of setting it up. I’ve had this machine for a year now, and I still keep changing things and suddenly finding little performance boosts out of nowhere. Usually I just use Far Cry 3 or Skyrim to try and tell if the boosts are real, but it’s incredibly subjective. There’s so much going on in modern games it’s hard to get an exact like-for-like scenario so it’s hard to get exact feedback on whether what you’re doing is helping or not. This is where 3DMark steps in.
There are those who will no doubt use 3DMark for showing off, the sort of people who spent £4000 on a rig and what to show that i can outperform anyone else’s PC, I’m not one of those people, but I’ve still adopted 3DMark almost religously. Every time NVidia release new beta drivers, I’ll install them and run 3DMark to see whether they actually help with my specific system. 3DMark just gives you a simple score (with loads of other stats on temperature etc if you want them) and you can see if it has gone up or down. Sometimes I’ll start clearing up bits of my hard drive, I can run 3DMark to see if that helps performance. If you’re into overclocking you can make small changes, then keep running tests to see what helps and what doesn’t, all while keeping an eye on the temperature. The software comes with a full suite of customisable tests so you can find one that suits your build and how much time you have free and then keep running that in different setups until you find your maximum. With this no longer is finding your perfect set up a matter of judgement, it’s basically science.
If you’re into PC gaming you’ve already made a substantial investment, it’s worth taking the time to make sure you’re getting the most out of it. The basic version of 3DMark is free (here) and if you’re into overclocking the advanced edition that lets you customise tests (you really wouldn’t want to sit through the whole thing too many times in an evening) only costs $24.99. The kind folks at Futuremark gave us a licence for the professional edition so if you have any questions about more advanced features please let us know in the comments.
If you’re curious, the results from our modest gaming rig are here http://www.3dmark.com/fs/47630