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Benchmarking a Gaming PC with 3DMark11

Identifying Bottlenecks in Your Gaming PC

General, Hardware

Earlier this week we covered benchmarking your computer by measuring the frame rate (FPS) in a certain game. This is a quick and easy way to compare two or more computers, but it is imprecise and it doesn’t tell you very much. A more in-depth method is to use specialized benchmarking tools. If you’re looking to upgrade your computer and you’re considering between upgrading the CPU and the graphics card, which should you choose? Benchmarking tools can help you answer that question.

Gamers are particularly interested in benchmarking and identifying bottlenecks because the want to get the best performance, or FPS, they can get for the lowest cost. You’ll often see them ask questions such as,  “Will my Intel Core i5-6600K bottleneck my GTX 980ti?” What they’re asking is if they have that specific processor and graphics card, will the CPU limit their frame rate. They want to know if they should get a faster processor so they can take full advantage of the graphics performance of their GPU. This is important not only when considering upgrades to your PC, but also when considering purchasing a new one. Sometimes new PC gamers will choose an Intel Core i7 processor because it’s the top of the line, and then settle for an older graphics card like a GTX 750ti. This is a bad choice because the graphics card is outdated, and you don’t need all a CPU that powerful. The graphics card would be the bottleneck in this situation. A better choice would be an i5 processor and a recent graphics card like a GTX 970 or 980. In this situation the processor, even though it isn’t an i7, won’t bottleneck or limit the performance of the graphics card.

3DMark is the standard in the computer benchmarking space. We use it here at AVADirect to test each computer for performance and stability. Although 3DMark scores aren’t always representative of real-world gaming, it is arguably more precise and a good sanity check. It is also great at identifying bottlenecks as you can run separate tests for the CPU and graphics card as well as a composite test with individual scores for both processor and GPU.

The latest version of 3DMark is 3DMark 11. It uses DirectX11 to test your system and makes extensive use of DirectX 11 features including tessellation, compute shaders and multi-threading. There is a physics test that is a pure CPU performance benchmark. It runs a multi-threaded simulation of a large number of rigid bodies, some connected with joints, and collisions.  It is very lightweight on rendering techniques to minimize the impact of the GPU on the score. The combined test also runs a rigid body physics simulation with a moderate number of colliding and jointed objects for the CPU, while the GPU rendering tesselated geometry, volumetric lighting and post processing effects.

You can post the results online to compare to others, or to post to forums to ask questions. Each test gives you the graphics score, the physics score and a combined score. You also get a percentile score to see how your system compares to other systems that ran the test. Using the physics and graphics scores you can determine which component is the weak link in your gaming computer.

Have you used 3DMark or another benchmarking tool on your computer? What was your score?

I'm a marketing professional who loves to get down to the geeky details. When I'm not studying the latest components or industry news, I can be found biking, hiking or gaming.