If you’re having problems with your computer and it isn’t behaving correctly in certain situations, then it could be a cause for concern. One of these situations could be when you are performing resource intensive tasks and the system becomes unstable or crashes while being put under stress. This could be a problem such as the CPU overheating and shutting itself down, or even the graphics card running into similar trouble. Or maybe the power supply simply cannot cope anymore with all hardware components running at full intensity…
Whether you’re someone who wants to test their PC components because they suspect a possible fault, or have bought / built your own PC and want to make sure it runs stably and reliably at maximum load, you need a program to be able to put the system under the desired levels of stress for periods of time to monitor the situation. Here are 10 tools (9 of them free) to do just that and put your system under huge amounts of stress to check for faults or problems.
HeavyLoad is a utility that aims to stress the main component areas of a PC, namely processor, memory, hard drive and graphics. It can also run these tests individually or altogether which is obviously the time maximum stress will be placed of the system hardware and also the power supply. The Disk space and Free memory tests are not really there to put undue stress on those components, but rather continually writes a large file to the drive and allocates / deallocates memory to the system simulating heavy load when all major components are utilized.
There is an option though to add more stress to the hard drive by using Jam software’s other popular included tool Treesize Free to simulate more heavy disc access. HeavyLoad is available as portable and installer versions and is a very useful overall system stability tester to keep in the USB toolkit. Works on Windows XP to Windows 8 32-bit and 64-bit.
Furmark is a stability and stress testing tool designed especially for graphics cards and runs a very intensive “Fur” rendering algorithm which is very good at pushing the GPU to its absolute limits. There are a few settings that can be changed such as resolution, full screen mode and anti aliasing, and a few presets are available such as running in the HD resolutions of 720 / 1080, or running a burn-in test for 15 minutes. The benchmark’s default run time and an alarm for the maximum allowable temperature for the graphics card is found via the Settings window.
Benchmark scores can be compared or viewed online. FurMark is compatible with Windows XP and above.
This is a simple, tiny and portable utility of around 20KB that can run a stability test on your single, multi core or multi threaded processor. In addition it can also perform a couple of other tests such as a simple GPU graphics test and also one for the hard drive. The “Paint-Stress” GPU test is enabled by default and the “HD-test” and a more aggressive CPU test which will push your processor towards 100% (the standard test used about 60% of a dual core CPU during testing) can be enabled by the buttons at the top of the window. StressMyPC works on all versions of Windows 2000 and above, including 64-bit.
4. System Stability Tester
System Stability Tester works by simply using the well known and famous method of telling the computer to calculate the value of Pi up to 128 million digits. This will completely consume your processor for as long as the test runs and can also be used as a basic benchmarking tool to see how long it takes your CPU to calculate the specified number of digits. The range can be between 128 thousand up to 128 million and can be run continuously up to 50 times using up to 32 threads. There are 2 methods to choose from, Borwein and Gauss-Legendre which is also used by the classic SuperPi tool.
Works on Windows XP and above, portable and installer versions are available.
Despite the name, IntelBurnTest actually works fine for testing on AMD processors as well, and is called as such because it makes use of the Intel Linpack libraries which Intel themselves use to stress test CPU’s. Usage is easy and all you have to do is set the number of times to run the test, the number of threads to use and the test stress level. This can be Standard, High, Very High or Maximum and if your available RAM is less than what the test requires, choose Custom and set the amount of memory to use accordingly.
The program is portable and runs on Windows XP and above.
6. SiSoft Sandra Lite
Known as a hardware information and benchmarking tool, Sandra also has the option to run a Burn-in test from the Tools options. This is achieved by simply running a number of the benchmark tests continuously placing good amounts of stress on the system. Several tests are available including a number of processor, graphics, memory, physical disk, optical drive and network tests. These tests can then be executed for a set time or for a specified number of loops. The stability testing component of Sandra is certainly powerful but also slightly complicated if you just want to run a quick and simple test. Works on all Windows from 2000 to 8.
OCCT is a tool that is known to put serious amounts of stress on your system components, and is especially good at severely stressing your power supply. There are rumors it can even kill poor quality or cheap PSU’s so is obviously a utility to be used with great care. CPU tests include an OCCT test and a LinPack test similar to IntelBurnTest, a GPU test and the mentioned power supply test. There is also a useful temperature and voltage monitoring window where you can keep an eye on the values during any of the tests.
OCCT works in Windows XP up to Windows 8 and also has a portable version.
8. PassMark BurninTest (Demo)
The Passmark tool isn’t free and the full versions cost $39 / $79 but it’s certainly a comprehensive suite for stress and stability testing a number of different system components. These include processor, hard disc drives, memory, optical drives, sound cards, 2D /3D / video graphics, network connection and printers. The more expensive Pro version uses plugins that can also test keyboards, ports (parallel, Firewire and USB etc) and modems. BurninTest has a 30 day trial so you can still use it for a one off or short term series of stability tests, but could be worth the investment if you stress test a lot of machines.
Passmark BurninTest works on all versions of Windows from XP to 8.
Prime95 is a tool used extensively by users who overclock their systems and is often run for several hours pushing the CPU to its limits during that time. This is due to Prime95’s high reliance on the CPU’s Floating Point Unit for most of its running which keeps the stress levels and temperatures very high during use. On starting the tool it will ask if you want to run a torture test and what intensity if so. This ranges from Small FFT which stresses mainly the CPU, to the Blend test that puts a good deal of stress on most related hardware components. Prime95 often needs to be used for at least 10 hours to get the best results. It’s portable and works on Windows 95 and newer.
LinX is another small and portable tool that runs a stress test on your processor using Intels LinPack libraries. Just set the problem size to the desired value and the amount of memory to be allocated will be automatically set. Or for maximum stress simply press the All button to allocate all available memory to the task. Then set the Run value which can be either number of runs or minutes. LinX can also grab some temperatures, voltages and fan speeds from Everest and SpeedFan if they are installed. LinX is portable and has separate 32-bit and 64-bit versions in the archive.
Final Note: HeavyLoad is definitely a quick and easy all round testing tool and also has the added bonus of being portable. If you just want to torture your video card then Furmark is all you need, and LinX or IntelBurnTest are tools that will get your CPU up to full stress and temperature levels very fast.
Stress testing your computer components is not something that should be performed often and is only really meant to help identify hardware faults by placing excessive stress on them. Or it is used to fully stress a new build or system to make sure all components are working 100% reliably. This does mean a computer is more likely to encounter shutdowns, reboots or crashes during a stress / stability test as any weaknesses are uncovered and components are pushed to their limits.
It’s also NOT a good idea to test a hard drive if you suspect it has any kind of problem because a stress test will increase the speed at which the drive might fail. Backing up is therefore recommended before running tests on any drives that hold important data.
A hardware monitoring utility is important to use as well so you can monitor system temperatures, fan speeds and voltages while the stability tests are being performed, and you can stop the test if you identify a heat or fan problem etc.
It’s only a small thing, but do make sure you know where the STOP button is on any of stress testing tools before you start!