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How We Test Notebooks

Breaking down the benchmarks used to evaluate every system that hits our labs.


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August 13, 2012

When a new notebook arrives, it immediately runs the gauntlet of LAPTOP torture tests in our lab. We start by testing a notebook's general performance and hard drive speed via synthetic and real-world tests. Then we test the graphics card, battery life, and boot time.

Below is a rundown of all the tests we run to determine whether the hottest new notebooks are up to snuff and how we use the results to compare similar systems.

Notebook Categories

Each score is recorded and compared with the averaged scores of all notebooks in the same category. Those categories include:

    • Desktop Replacements (16-inch and bigger displays, weighing 7 pounds or more)
    • Mainstream (15- and 16-inch displays, weighing less than 7 pounds)
    • Thin-and-Lights (12- to 14-inch displays, weighing less than 6 pounds)
    • Ultraportables (10- to 13-inch displays, weighing less than 4 pounds)
    • Netbooks (low-cost, highly-portable systems, usually 10 to 12-inches and based on low-power processors)

    Category Averages

    A notebook's results on each test are compared to results from other systems in its category using a category average. The category average for any given test and category (example: battery life test for netbooks) is calculated by taking the mean score from the prior 18 months of test results.

    General Performance Tests

    These tests measure overall system performance in a single score. These tests stress the processor, graphics, and storage drive.

    PCMark 7

    This benchmarking suite, developed by Futuremark, runs on 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 7 systems. It is most often used to test a netbook's CPU, memory, and 2D and 3D graphics through video playback and transcoding, image manipulation, web browsing and decrypting, importing pictures and other other real-world tasks. It puts the CPU, graphics card, and hard drive through the ringer..

    Cinebench

    Developed by Maxon, this benchmarking suite tests the performance of a notebook's CPU and graphics card by rendering 3D images. It runs on both Windows and Mac notebooks, but for our testing purposes it is generally used to test Macs and other systems that are unable to run PCMark 7.

    Geekbench

    Geekbench, developed by Primate Labs, runs on a variety of platforms including Apple and 32-bit or 64-bit Windows machines. It tests the performance and speed of each of the processor cores of the notebook, as well as memory performance. It is often used to benchmark notebooks that are unable to run PCMark 7.

    Transcoding Tests

    To measure real-world system performance, we use CyberLink MediaEspresso, a popular freeware video encoder, to convert a 5-minute 1080p video from a MPEG-4 file into a Smart Fit file for an iPod touch.

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