How we test
To test general PC performance, we’re use Futuremark’s PCMark 8 v2.0 benchmarking suite. Unlike the previous PCMark 7 benchmark, the new version doesn’t produce a single overall figure. Instead, results are divided into Home, Creative, Work and Storage tests. The Home benchmark reflects common tasks for typical home use with lower computing requirements, such as web browsing, photo editing and low-end gaming.
The Creative benchmark is aimed more at enthusiasts and professionals working with multimedia and entertainment content. It is more demanding on the processor and includes transcoding tests as well as further gaming workloads.
The Work test is geared towards office work tasks such as creating documents, web browsing, spreadsheets and video conferencing. It does not stress the gaming and multimedia capabilities of the PCs.
We’ve used three games to evaluate graphics performance. We run our tests at 1280x720, 1920x1080, 2560x1440 and 3840x2160 pixels at various quality settings appropriate to the performance level of the PCs or graphics cards being tested.
Our current benchmark games are Thief, Alien Isolation and Deus Ex Mankind Divided. Most resolutions are tested in both High and Ultra present modes with low resolution 720p tests occasionally conducted in low quality modes on low-end devices which would otherwise struggle with gaming. We make no other tweaks to the game settings, so if you want to run these tests for yourself, you can just pick from the presets named in our individual test results.
We also run Futuremark’s 3DMark suite of benchmarks to help evaluate gaming performance in eight different usage scenarios. With these results, we can get a good idea of the level of quality and display resolutions a given PC can run acceptably. In this group test, the scores are all very close, due to the similar hardware used. Results are given in points and higher numbers are better.
VRMark – also from Futuremark – stresses the PCs much further and provides an insight into how they might perform with more demanding Virtual Reality titles in the future.
It consists of two benchmark tests: the ‘Orange Room’ test which will verify that your PC meets the minimum performance requirements for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift and a more demanding ‘Blue Room’ test, which evaluates performance at the very highest settings and is much trickier for current PC hardware to pass (we’ve not yet seen one pass the test).
To meet the bare minimum specification for Oculus Rift, a PC must score at least 3,716 points in the Orange Room, while a PC Futuremark considers to be VR-ready must score over 5,000. In the Blue Room, corresponding scores are much lower at 719 points and 1082 points respectively.
Power consumption torture testing
We measure the power consumption of each PC base unit when idle, and again while running at its performance limit. During the idle test, the PCs hard drives are still spinning and the power-management features are not enabled. For the full-load torture test, we run Prime 95 to force all CPU processing threads to maximum utilisation and stress system memory.
At the same time we run the Geeks3D Furmark benchmark to stress any installed graphics cards. We leave these tests running for 10 minutes, then record the power consumption and the maximum CPU core temperature reached.
Power consumption will increase with performance, and overclocking will require significantly more power. Greater power usage also required better cooling, and these test allow us to verify that the installed cooling systems are up to the task of keeping temperatures within safe limits.
Because gamers demand the best performance from their hardware, we allow vendors to overclock PCs in this category. We require that the PC vendor offers a comprehensive warranty covering the overclocked system. Be aware that if you overclock the PC yourself, you may invalidate your warranty.
We pay close attention to the physical characteristics of each PC, its noise output and its build quality, delving inside the case and taking note of the quality of components used, cabling and airflow.
Differences in warranty terms can impact our scoring. Long warranties are sought after, but we also look at the terms and conditions – specifically, whether faulty PCs must be returned to the vendor at your cost, and if both parts and labour are included.