How we test: Application performance
We test each PC for performance, measuring its speed in everyday computing tasks and its ability to play games.
For our gaming PC group test we used PCMark 7, an industry-recognised test suite that uses 25 different workloads to measure areas such as storage, computation, image and video manipulation, web browsing and gaming.
For the overall score, as well of the component scores, higher numbers mean better performance. An overall score in the high 6000s is excellent for an overclocked gaming system, while storage scores in the high 5000s should be expected from a fast SSD.
How we test: Gaming performance
We've used three gaming benchmarks to evaluate graphics performance. We run our tests at 1280 x 720 pixels and 1920 x 1080 pixels at a variety of different quality settings.
Framerates are recorded using the following games and quality settings:
Final Fantasy XIV benchmark: 1280x720, Medium quality preset; 1920x1080, Maximum quality preset.
Alien vs Predator: 1280x720 resolution, all options on Maximum quality; 1920x1080 resolution, all options on Maximum quality.
Sniper Elite V2: All options set to Medium quality, advanced shadows off, Supersampling off; all options set to Ultra quality, Advanced shadows – high, 4x Supersampling.
How we test: Power consumption and torture testing
We measure the power consumption of each PC base unit (excluding the monitor and other peripherals) while standing idle and then again while running at its performance limit.
During the idle test, the PCs hard drives are still spinning and power management features are not enabled.
For the full-load torture test, we run the Prime 95 program to force all CPU processing threads to maximum utilisation as well as stressing system memory. At the same time we run the Geeks3D Furmark benchmark to stress any installed graphics cards to the limit. We leave these running for five minutes and then record the power consumption and processor temperatures reached, reporting on any problems we find.
Gamers will do anything for the last iota of performance from their hardware, and are likely to have the knowledge to manage that power, so we allow vendors to overclock PCs in this category.
We require that any tweaked component is designed for the stress that overclocking adds, and that the PC vendor offers a comprehensive warranty to help cover the increased likelihood of component failure.
How we test: Subjective assessment
We pay close attention to the physical characteristics of each PC, its noise output and its build quality, delving inside the case and taking note of the quality of components used, cabling and airflow.
Good-quality peripherals are also important, and where they are supplied we note the ergonomics of the keyboard and mouse. Ordinary wireless keyboard and mouse combos are frowned upon, whereas fast, responsive peripherals will impress in this category.
How we test: Support
Differences in warranty terms can impact our scoring. Long warranties are sought after, but we also look at the terms and conditions – specifically, whether faulty systems must be returned to the vendor at your own cost and if both parts and labour are included.