There's a certain panic many PC gamers will be well acquainted with. A brand new game is coming out with stunning graphics and you can't wait to play it. But then the fear sets in; will your PC be capable of running it?
This is where benchmarking your graphics card comes in. It's a great way to quickly and easily see how well your graphics card will cope with a variety of graphical demands and effects. A good graphics card benchmark will put your GPU through its paces, and the results will paint a good picture of what your graphics card can and can't do well.
With these results you can then look at tweaking the game settings so that you might sacrifice some graphical bells and whistles, but you'll get a smooth and playable frame rate as a result.
If you've just bought a beast of a graphics card then benchmarking it (and the high scores it produces) can give you bragging rights over your friends, and that's always nice.
1. Why benchmark
Because GPU benchmarks throw a number of intensive graphical tests at your GPU, it's a great way to see how your graphics card performs under load. If you've built your own rig, or overclocked your graphics card to eke out more performance, than running a benchmark for a few hours can give you confidence that your GPU is stable.
The last thing you want in the middle of a game is for your graphics card to fail, so running benchmarks can catch any problems early on. If it can run them for hours on end without problem you're good to go. If there are crashes, artefacts or other graphical glitches then you can begin working out what the problem is.
One of the most likely culprits will be a GPU getting too hot, so if your graphics card fails to run a benchmark, it might be worth making sure it's getting plenty of cool air.
2. How to benchmark
When it comes to choosing software to benchmark your graphics card you're spoiled for choice. There are a number of popular benchmarking suites available that can put your graphics card through its paces.
Not all of them are free, however, such as the popular 3DMark benchmark. There is a free version ( but the options are limited.
For a free version which still comes with enough settings to properly test out your graphics card we'd recommend going for Heaven Benchmark. Scroll down the page until you see 'Download now'. Click the link, and then select where you want to download it from.
Once installed, run the program. A window will appear letting you select various options, such as the texture quality and the resolution you want the benchmark to run at. When choosing the resolution it's best to run the benchmark at the resolution you usually run games. That's the resolution you run Windows in as well (such as 1920 x 1080), then select 'System'.
If you fancy testing out how well your gaming rig will cope with stereo 3D such as Nvidia 3D vision, you can enable 3D as well. If the benchmark runs well without any crashes or major framerate drops then you're good to grab a pair of 3D glasses and get gaming.
If you're not sure about what settings to use, there are a couple of ready made presets that will help you get benchmarking quickly and easily. Next to where it says 'Presets' click the drop down box and choose either 'Basic' or 'Extreme'.
As you can guess, Extreme will really push your graphics cards to the limit. Will your GPU be up to the task? When ready press 'Run' to begin the benchmark.