Computer hardware, like most things, has a limit to its capabilities. The question is, how much can you safely push hardware? There is an upper limit to its capabilities and how long something like a GPU or CPU can be put under heavy load before it causes system instability (like a BSOD), or it damages hardware. The best way to find out what your system’s hardware is capable of is to stress test it.
Stress testing hardware
Stress testing hardware is often done to check if the hardware is working as well as it should, and what kind of performance it is capable of. You may stress test hardware for a number of reasons but the process is the same in all cases.
The hardware that is being tested is run at its maximum capacity for an extended period of time. Think of your CPU working extra hard when you render frames for animation. While the frames are being rendered, the CPU is working harder than it normally does. Imagine it working at that same pace for thirty minutes.
- How hot would your system get?
- Would other components be impacted by the strain the CPU is under?
- Would your CPU work well under these same conditions or would the OS crash?
A stress test tries to answer these questions and more. If you’re still not sure you know what a stress test is, think of it as a very thorough medical exam given to hardware.
RAM & CPU Stress tests
RAM and CPU are two hardware components that are often subject to a stress test. They both tend to be on the expensive side, and while RAM generally isn’t underclocked a CPU is often underclocked when installed. Both components can be tested for maximum performance but the tests will be performed independently of the other i.e., a RAM stress test has nothing to do with a CPU stress test although tools for these tests may run the tests side-by-side.
About stress testing
Stress testing is done via special apps or tools. Some of these tools can be run from your desktop i.e., from Windows 10 while others run as boot tools. In both cases, you should know that;
- Testing will take time, it may take thirty minutes, or it may take several hours. It depends on the test and the app.
- During testing, you might not be able to use your system at all.
- It generally isn’t a good idea to interrupt a test unless the app offers you a break/stop point during testing.
- Stress testing can be performed regardless if the hardware is running at factory-set levels, overclocked, or underclocked, though the results will differ for all three settings.
- You should not perform a stress test on battery power. Plug your system into a power source before you begin a test.
What all this means is, make sure you know for a fact that you won’t need to use your computer for a while. Stress test it over the weekend or whenever you unplug.
System monitoring tools
A system monitoring tool isn’t essential to the stress testing process however, many people like to have one running. It allows them to see how well the system is running, how hot it is, etc. To that end, we recommend using any one of the following monitoring tools if you’re stress testing from the desktop.
We’ve featured HWiNFO a few times on AddictiveTips. It’s an excellent app that, among other things, can give you lots of live information about your system. It comes in an installable version and a portable version. It offers a lot of information that may overwhelm you so take a good look at everything before you start a test.
If HWiNFO is offering you too much information to the point that it seems like noise, use Core Temp. It offers less information but the information that you need is all there. Be warned; this app tries to install a game-related item during installation. Pay close attention to the process so you can opt-out of it.
CPU Stress test tools
Prime95 is a great stress testing tool for many reasons; it can be used by end-users for normal stress testing, it can be used by lab technicians for advanced, high-level stress testing, users can choose how aggressively they want to stress test their hardware by choosing the number of tests that are run, and testing can be stopped at any time.
It’s one major disadvantage is that it is somewhat complex to use. The UI might intimidate you when you first see it since it’s not friendly nor very descriptive. If you’re interested in using this tool, it’s a good idea to look up the various types of tests that it can run. This tool can also be used to stress test RAM.
Intel Processor Diagnostic Tool
This is Intel’s proprietary tool for stress testing their CPUs. If you’re looking for something simple that will tell you how well your system performed, this is a good tool to use. It’s also relatively tame in that its tests are highly unlikely to over-stress the system. It supports lots of old processors going as far back as Atom and Celeron processors. Testing can be stopped at any point. Download it here.
CPU-Z is a very light-weight stress testing tool. It won’t subject your CPU to the same tests as Prime95. It will run benchmark and stress tests. The one excellent feature it has is that you can use it to reference the performance of your current CPU against other chips that are available. If you’re considering buying a new processor, stress test the one you have and select the new one you’re planning to buy from the Reference dropdown to compare them.
Testing in CPU-Z can be stopped at any time.
RAM Stress test tools
Memtest is a personal favorite when it comes to stress testing and diagnosing a system. This tool runs from BIOS so it’s great to use if your OS isn’t booting up. There’s a free version and a paid version of the app and the free version is great for most RAM stress tests. The tool offers stop points if you want to stop testing.
Memtest64, by name, sounds like the 64-bit version of Memtest86, or perhaps a newer version of it but the two apps are not related. Memtest64 offers users a GUI for stress testing RAM. If you’re able to access your Windows 10 desktop, you can use this tool to test how well your RAM is performing.
You can choose how aggressively the test is run and stop testing at any time. Change the stress test from ‘Run indefinitely’ to ‘Stop after’ and change how many loops or how many hours the test should run for.
OCCT is a comprehensive testing tool; you can use it to stress-test all sorts of hardware components on your system including the RAM, CPU, and GPU. More importantly, you can schedule tests to run and limit how aggressively your hardware is tested.
The app also provides an excellent GUI that will make sense to users who aren’t too familiar with the technical parameters that judge the performance of hardware. It also has a built-in monitoring tool which means you don’t need other monitoring tools to see how well your hardware is working.
Stress testing tools range from basic to advanced. The results that you get from these tools are likewise either simple to understand or they provide more in-depth information about your hardware’s performance and health. There’s no rule that says how often you can or should stress test a system but stress testing it too often isn’t a good idea. If you’re happy with how well your system is running, don’t stress test it just for the sake of it. If you’re unsure what a stress test result means, you can always learn about it online.