Everyone wants to know how well their laptop is performing, but usually for a variety of reasons. Was that high-end processor you chose worth the extra money? Can your cheap clamshell run the latest hottest PC games? Is it time to give up that old laptop for something with a little more options? A good way to find out is to run a few benchmarks.
Benchmarks let your machine perform a series of fixed, predetermined tasks and then deliver scores that can be compared with the results of other PCs. Comparison is key here, as a benchmark without context means little to you. Indeed, no matter how high the score, if it can’t be contextualized against other PCs (or to a minimum performance requirement) then the benchmark won̵
Which laptop benchmarks should I run?
There are numerous benchmarks available, and some are more popular than others. Ideally, you want a benchmark to be challenging enough to get a sense of your system’s performance under normal load.
The benchmark does not necessarily have to be a so-called “torture test” that pushes your system to its limits. These are great if you want to test system stability during overclocking, but they aren’t necessary for overall system performance.
The benchmarks we suggest below are widely used, making it easier to find scores online for comparison purposes. These tests are too free, make them accessible to the widest possible audience.
For best results, keep your laptop connected to everything but the battery test. You should also shut down as many background processes as possible to see what your system can really do. It’s also a good idea to turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth by putting the laptop in airplane mode and unplugging ethernet. That said, some benchmarks (like Geekbench 5) require an active internet connection.
A higher score is better for all of the following benchmarks.
Benchmark your laptop’s CPU
Cinebench is a solid choice for benchmarking CPUs. It’s a quick and easy test that takes about 10 minutes to complete, and you’ll often see it in PCWorld CPU reviews. Cinebench has a ranking panel in the left rail that shows how one system compares to another, and shows your system’s score after the first run. There are also sites such as CG Director and CPU-Monkey that display results from other users.
At the time of writing, the latest version of Cinebench is R23, which has both multi-core and single-core test. Modern CPUs have multiple cores (up to eight cores in the most advanced mobile chips such as Ryzen 5000), and each core can handle an independent processing load. This is important as some applications can tap into a single core only, while others are optimized for multiple cores.
Try to perform both tests, as that will give a more complete picture. The multi-core test in R23 is more of a stress test than previous versions, but as long as you compare your results to other PCs that also use R23, you can get an accurate picture of how your system stacks up.
Compared to other systems, your PC may shred it on the multi-core test, but fall short on the single core. This is instructive, as poor single-core performance can indicate problems with programs that rely heavily on a single core, such as many productivity applications.
A second test to try is Geekbench. The demo version of this benchmark is free and it automatically uploads scores to the Geekbench results site where you can compare the results with other Windows systems (don’t waste time comparing your score with phones). Geekbench also has a GPU test.
Benchmark the productivity performance of your laptop
In addition to the Cinebench single-core CPU test, you want to know how well a system specifically handles spreadsheets, web browsing, application launches, photo editing, and video chat. For that, try the PCMark 10 Basic test, which runs the laptop through open-source productivity applications, such as Gimp or LibreOffice, among other tasks. PCMark 10 is one of the most used benchmarks to test system performance for common computing tasks, and we use it quite often at PCWorld for testing laptops.
PCMark also includes a section that uses a 3D ray tracing modeling application. But for most people, the resulting score under Essentials (which includes browsing and video conferencing) and Productivity (which includes editing spreadsheets and text documents) is probably the most important.
You can download the official version of Steam by clicking the Download demo button.
Benchmark your laptop’s gaming performance
For gaming, let’s start with Heaven 4.0. Heaven isn’t going to push a modern discrete GPU to the limit, as it lags several generations behind in graphics. Nonetheless, it’s challenging enough, it’s dead simple to set up, and it’s free.
For Heaven, a score close to or above 60 frames per second is best for discrete GPUs, and around 30fps is good for most integrated graphics. If your PC cannot meet those scores, lower the graphics settings to medium or low and test again. If that’s still not enough to get you good scores, lower the benchmark screen resolution as well (that is, unless the sky automatically adjusts it).
If your laptop gets less than 30 frames on low graphics settings and 720p resolution, most AAA games probably won’t play on your laptop. But fear not, you can still get started with this selection of 31 great games to play on laptops and low-end PCs.
Now what if your system is destroying the sky on high settings with scores above 60fps? Then it is time for more testing. Heaven is what we call a synthetic benchmark that tries to simulate processing loads in the real world. Well-designed synthetic benchmarks are great for testing a CPU or overall system performance, as well as developing a baseline for your GPU. However, under real-world gaming conditions, the computational load placed on the GPU varies widely between games.
Games like FIFA 20 or Minecraft (without ray tracing) will not load your system like in 2015 The Witcher 3 or 2018’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey would. For that reason, we recommend using a game’s built-in benchmarks as a second step, if available. Built-in benchmarks use the in-game engine rendering for testing. Ideally, a built-in benchmark contains a selection of scenes that strain the system in the same way as real gameplay, but that’s not always the case.
In addition, not all games include built-in benchmarks. Still, there are some good built-in benchmarks in games such as Metro Exodus Gears tactic, and Forza Horizon 4All three of these titles are part of Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass for PC, which means you only have to pay a small monthly fee to try them out.
If you don’t want to pay for a game or a Game Pass subscription just yet, there are tons of YouTubers benchmarking laptops and posting the results online. Search YouTube with your GPU name, for example ‘Intel UHD 630 gaming performance’ or ‘GTX 1660 Ti laptop performance’. Chances are, these videos contain a system similar to yours, or at least your GPU.
As with Heaven 4.0, for the absolute minimum of playability, a game should stay above (or barely below) 30 frames per second, with 60 fps or more being the ideal.
Benchmark your laptop battery
We don’t have a recommended battery test benchmark suite, so we recommend a little more DIY instead. Make sure the laptop battery is fully charged and turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to prevent outside activities that might consume power. Now run a 4K or high definition video on a continuous loop in one desktop video player to see how long it lasts. You can try the ever-popular VLC player, but the most efficient video player we’ve seen is Movies & TV, which is the player built right into Windows. If you’re looking for a 4K video to use, PCWorld uses the open-source Tears of Steel video available here in a variety of video formats, CODECs, and resolutions.
Your battery test does not necessarily require an exact measurement. Just run the loop and check it every 30 to 60 minutes until it shuts down. Then record how many hours and minutes the laptop lasted under that video load.
So what does this mean in terms of laptop performance in the real world? Well, you can extrapolate that the machine will last about 60 to 70 percent of the recorded test time in mixed use. We’re talking web browsing, text editing, spreadsheet work, video calls and online videos.
Another alternative is to use the laptop for two or three days as you normally would, but only on battery power. After the battery has completely drained two or three times, open a command prompt in Windows 10 and type
powercfg /batteryreport and hit EnterThis spits out a report you can open with a web browser with battery life estimates based on recent usage. You will also see some other statistics. Most of the items in this report pertain to the last three days only, so do not delay your tests and ask for the report as soon as possible if you go to a third test day.
Keep in mind that battery tests can be one of the most inconsistent across all benchmarks. How long a battery lasts depends on so many different variables like how bright the screen is and what you’re doing on the machine. When watching a video, the battery life is generally great on modern laptops. But if you’re browsing media-laden websites, it will be a lot worse. If you’re editing a movie or playing games, you can expect even worse performance. Basically, your mileage will vary.
Benchmarking your laptop is a great way to find out how well a machine is performing compared to other systems, and the best part is, you can do it without paying a penny.