How to benchmark your graphics card (GPU)

 

Choosing a GPU isn't as easy as it sounds, even if you have narrowed your search down to a specific model, even then a single model has many variants all produced by different manufacturers.

So, how would you know which GPU performs best for your needs?

Luckily, there is a way to measure GPU performances and ways to compare them.

We are talking about benchmarks of course. 

 RTX 3080 image

Table of contents

What are benchmarks?

How do you benchmark your Graphics Card?

Running Unigene

Stress testing for Overclockers

Interpreting benchmark results

Comparing GPUs in online benchmark guides

Final words

What's next?

What are benchmarks?

 

GPU benchmarks are a test to measure a GPU chipset's speed, efficiency, memory and general performance. It also helps in identifying individual components inside a GPU to make checking for compatibility with other components of a PC easier, benchmarks generally help users in comparing GPUs to choose the best one that would fit their needs.

There are a few ways of looking at a particular GPU's benchmarks. Either online benchmarks could be used or a user can locally benchmark a GPU by installing it on a PC and running a GPU benchmarking software.

Local benchmarking comes in handy when you have to test a new PC build and gain some confidence in its performance.

Benchmarks will provide you with data that you can use to scrutinize your new build and improve it rather than just use it and try to fix issues that arise by trial and error being oblivious to what the actual cause may be.

Benchmarking software provides a great way to gain insight into what programs or games a GPU can handle, this way you will know the limits of your GPU. Benchmarking software tests your GPU to its maximum by using inbuilt tools that replicate real-time usage by simulating a rigorous workload on your GPU. This provides crucial insight on what to expect from your GPU in real situations that require every bit of performance your GPU has to offer.



How do you benchmark your Graphics Card?

 

There are ideally two ways of getting a benchmark score for a GPU. 

 

One way is to look at online benchmarks that have been performed in ideal situations and the results have been displayed to you. This is a great way to gain an insight into what to expect from a GPU that you might be eyeing to buy.

 

The other way is benchmarking a GPU you already have installed on your PC.

By using benchmarking software, you can easily get an idea of how your GPU is performing concerning the hardware of your PC under those specific conditions, this way if your benchmark results seem lacking in comparison to online benchmarks you'll know that other components in your PC may be limiting your GPU.

Finding benchmarks online is fairly easy being just a google search away. So, we'll be focusing on how to benchmark your GPU using different benchmarking software in this article.

 

First, you'll need to download a few benchmarking software. There are many options available but here are a few we recommend:



Unigene

 

This software creates graphical simulations similar to the real requirements you might have from the GPU to replicate the processing and reveal to you how your GPU handles those.

 

MSI Afterburner

 

This software enables you to control different parameters like clock speed and fan speed. It offers you a great amount of control over your GPU and you can adjust different sliders and see its results on it.

MSI afterburner screen

Tech power up GPU-z

 

This is one of the best options to check every benchmark and even more detailed information about your GPU. You can use this tool to display stats from default clock speeds down to the driver version your GPU might be running.

 

GPU-Z screen

GPU-z tool also has a useful sensors tab that displays live information about your GPU like its current clock speeds, temperature, fan speed and how much power it is drawing.

One of its best features is telling you what is limiting your GPU, under the sensors tab there is a row named "perfcap" which tells the user exactly what is limiting the GPUs capability.

 

You can run GPU-z and MSI afterburner simultaneously and adjust the sliders in the afterburner while observing how it affects the different aspects of your GPU.

 

Running Unigene

 

The aforementioned Unigene software has several modes namely heaven, valley and superposition.

This software runs real-time graphics for around 10 minutes and then displays a benchmark score in the end which describes how your GPU has performed.

 

Unigene graphics

When the Unigene Heaven benchmark runs you'll see a number of attractive 3D environments with the camera shifting angles to simulate a realistic instance of you playing a game.

This is a handy way to see how well your GPU handles this level of graphics. Just with your eyes, you should be able to make out any dropped frames, graphical glitches or tearing.

 

If the benchmark doesn't seem to run smoothly then you already know that your graphics card is going to face difficulties with certain graphics. On the top right-hand corner of the screen, you'll see FPS (frames per second) counter which gives you the live FPS your GPU would be running. 

For a smooth gameplay experience, you'll want that counter to sit around at least 60.

Any drops below can result in your games feeling slow and choppy. The higher the FPS is the better, and ideally, you'd like to see it consistently at 60 FPS without going up or down too much.

If your graphics card is struggling to maintain a constant FPS, try changing the settings in the Heaven Benchmark settings page or see your GPU usage and temperature in the GPU-Z tool.

 

The heaven benchmark settings page will also tell you about your GPU including the model and memory. It will also record the temperature of your GPU – pay close attention to this as high temperatures can mean your GPU is struggling. 

Unigene heaven will test your GPU at different resolutions starting from 720p and going up to 4k if your GPU has 4GB or greater memory.

 

To begin recording the results of the benchmark, click 'Benchmark' on the top-left hand side of the screen or press F9 on the keyboard. Heaven will now run a number of tests and then display your results in a new window.

These results give you your average, min and max frames per second along with a score. The higher the score, the better. 



Stress testing for Overclockers

 

If you are someone who wants to overclock their GPU and you want to find a stable overclock, the simple benchmark test won't be enough for you. 

You'll need to carry out another type of benchmarking known as stress testing which pushes a GPU to its absolute limits and tests its overclocking abilities over a longer period to find the most stable overclock, that's why as you might have guessed, stress testing takes significantly longer than normal benchmarks.

Stress tests push your GPU's processing power, temperatures and power consumption to the maximum which applications like games and other graphic intensive software require. Your PC is however designed to avoid overheating or it crashes when using these software.

Stress tests keep pushing your GPU until that point to find that sweet spot of overclocking at which you can get maximum performance while not damaging your GPU, stress tests usually run for about 1-2 hours while rigorously testing every aspect of your GPU.

Unigene can also be used during stress tests if you select the stress test option.

 Furmark screen

 

3D mark screen

Apart from Unigene, software like 3D mark and Furmark are also widely used for stress testing.



Stress tests aren't effortless like normal benchmarking and it is recommended that you monitor your GPU during these tests and close any other application that might be running in the background.

For monitoring purposes, you can use the GPU-z tool or if you have a modern GPU from Nvidia or AMD they have their own performance overlays that can display the necessary information you will need.

 

While stress testing, keep an eye on your GPU temperature and GPU usage. The temperature may go up to 90 Celsius during the test while GPU usage may hit 100%, there is nothing to be alarmed about as this is normal during stress tests.

If your GPU temperature exceeds 90 Celsius then it's time to take action to prevent overheating, this is when you will increase your fan speed either using software like MSI afterburner or using the software provided by Nvidia or AMD.

 

Similarly, if your GPU usage is also continuously staying at 100% then it means that your GPU has reached its graphical processing limits and it's probably better to stop the test and call it a day instead of risking permanent damage to the GPU.




Interpreting benchmark results

 

So you're done with benchmarking your GPU, the results are in front of you but you don't know what to make of all that computer jargon.

 

In most cases, you will see a score in front of you that has been calculated by averaging several factors of your GPU like FPS, GPU clock speed, VRAM, and GPU temperatures.

Results can also be broken down into individual factors if you want, but to understand that you will need to understand the vocabulary:

 

FPS:

 

You will find FPS mentioned the most in any benchmark description whether it’s a software-based benchmark or an online benchmark.

FPS is an acronym for frames per second. As we all know videos are essentially images that are moving really fast and thus a video is created. The image, in this case, is called a frame which means the faster the frames are moving the harder it is to point out the transitions between frames, that is why higher FPS results in smoother videos or video games.

The minimum FPS required to have a smooth experience is 60 for games, especially the newer competitive ones.

 If you’re someone who plays competitively it’s better to have a GPU that benchmarks more than 60 FPS constantly, 144 FPS has become the new sweet spot for competitive games, you can play at 60 FPS but you won't be able to compete.

Your benchmark results may report lower FPS than expected but don't worry it is normal for benchmarks to report them that way as the benchmarking software tests the limits and isn't optimized enough, your GPU will definitely perform better with optimized games or software and put out more FPS.

 

Clock speed: 

 

Clock speed is also frequently mentioned in benchmarks, it is a measure of the operating speed of a GPU, and the units for measurement are MHz (Megahertz).

This refers to the speed at which your GPU may be executing instructions and displaying the required visuals on the screen, the faster the GPU is the more data it can process in a given amount of time, ultimately resulting in higher FPS and smooth running overall.

Generally, the higher the clock speed is the better the GPU will perform, so it is always better to have the maximum clock speed you can get when selecting a GPU.

 

GPU usage:

 

Some benchmarks may also provide you with the average GPU usage throughout a test.

GPU usage refers to the amount of processing power of your GPU that was utilized during the benchmarking test.

Your graphics card's virtual RAM (VRAM) has the most to do with this aspect of benchmarks. VRAM also referred to as video memory or simply GPU memory determines the graphical processing capacity of your GPU.

If the benchmark results show your average GPU usage in let's say a 1080p resolution test to be more than 90% that means that anything above 1080p resolution will stress your GPU and it's best to upgrade if you intend on running UHD or 4k graphics on your PC.

 

Comparing GPUs in online benchmark guides

 

If you are using an online benchmark calculator, you can only compare two GPUs against one another when both have gone through the same test. 

Then their resulting numbers are proportional to one another. You cannot use the score from one benchmark, and compare that to the score from another.

Hopefully, the calculations performed by the benchmarking software are similar enough to the sorts of calculations used in the programs/games you will run.

 If so, then you have a reasonable approximation of which GPU would run your programs/games better.

 

Most benchmarks, especially the online ones have different algorithms that perform these calculations. They run multiple calculations using their algorithm, they then average out the results but due to every benchmark having different algorithms, their results may differ as they may consider one aspect for a larger portion of the result. 

They do this to be more representative of the greater majority of programs/games as they use different aspects of the GPU more effectively than the rest.

However, sometimes they get this wrong, sometimes by accident, sometimes on purpose.

 

That is why the way you should use these benchmarks is to select a shortlist of GPUs you might thinking of buying. 

Then look up those GPUs’ test results on several GPU benchmark comparison websites (usually 3 or more). To try to see if there is a consensus as to which GPU is better.




Final words

 

To sum it all up, benchmarks are important and a practical way to look at a GPU's capability, whether you're looking to buy a new GPU or just testing one out in your build.

If you're looking to a buy GPU and money isn't a problem, buying the GPU with the highest score on multiple benchmarks is the best option. 

 

If you fall in the category of the majority of users out there and have a budget you should compare every GPU in your range and the one which scored the best in benchmark tests should be the best that your limited amount of funds can buy.

This way not only you are safe from being misled, but also you will also eventually make a very well informed decision which will save you any inconvenience in the end.

 

Similarly, in the case of locally benchmarking your GPU to test your latest build. You should always use multiple software and average out the results yourself to get the best possible idea about the performance of your GPU; this will help you a great deal in perfectly optimizing your PC.

Benchmarks were created for the consumer’s ease and benefit so make sure you always consider them and save yourself from making bad decisions.

 

If you have any questions feel free to contact me, you can use the comments section below or a contact form.

 

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What's next? 

 

We have a few ideas on what articles we want to write in the coming weeks, we host polls on our Instagram Page to see what our community wants more articles on. 

For our next article, the community has settled on a piece talking about which one is better, building a PC yourself or buying a pre-built one

 

Let us know if you have any content suggestions below and let us know what you think of this article.

 

 


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