Does your computer crash too often?
In the middle of editing a 4K video, or worse still in the middle of your latest Grand Theft Auto mission?
Yet it still works for simple everyday tasks, like composing the odd email or writing about your day’s activities on Facebook.
It’s a shame your laptop can’t be that stable all the time, even when pushed to the limits!
In recent years, laptops have become more stable than ever before, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t prone to crashing.
Even the most solid of computer hardware can develop a fault over time, leading to the blue screen of death which nobody ever wants to see.
Just like driving your car, a crash won’t be too bad when running at lower speeds, like using Office or similar low power tasks.
Once you get out on that highway though and put your foot down, using demanding tasks like video editing, gaming or even some web development tools, a crash can cause serious, often irreparable damage.
To find out how stable your laptop will be when operating at full capacity, you need to apply more stress to the system.
Basically, a way of keeping the throttle pressed down for longer. This method of testing the stability of your laptop is known as stress testing.
Why Stress Test Your Laptop?
For many people, especially those who have been in the military, a stress test is a dreaded physical which aims to determine the health of their heart.
Normally an EKG monitor is strapped to you while you engage in a punishing workout on a treadmill or similar type of gym equipment. Many heart problems are easier to diagnose when your heart is working harder and beating faster.
Exactly the same principle applies to stress-testing your laptop.
When a program or application is used to push your laptop’s performance to the limit, it’s more likely that faulty or unstable hardware can be detected.
Only by stress testing both your software and hardware with an intense workload, can you see the worst-case scenario for your laptop.
Just like getting out of bed in the morning isn’t too taxing for most people’s bodies, running a simple spreadsheet or word processing program isn’t too much for your computer.
Trying your hand at HD video processing, some photo editing or gaming is like running a top speed sprint, which puts the most stress on a system.
Unstable systems are likely to crash, causing the CPU to burn, the power supply to explode, PCI cards to melt or hard disk motors to die.
If a component in your laptop fails, hangs or crashes under a stress test, there’s every chance it could be unreliable with a heavy everyday task.
It’s better to find out sooner rather than later, especially when your laptop is still under guarantee.
Before You Stress Your Laptop
The simplest, and probably most enjoyable, way of stress testing your laptop would be to play the latest Halo game or watch 4K videos for extended periods, like 24 or 48 hours.
This would give your CPU, any dedicated graphics card and the memory a good workout.
Unfortunately, we don’t all have the time to play Halo for 48 hours (although I have come close on some more involving missions!).
There are many programs or applications available which are designed to ramp up your laptop’s CPU, GPU or RAM to 100 percent operating capacity in a very short time.
Before you start torturing your laptop, however, you will need a way of keeping an eye on its screams.
Running slow or too hot may be a good indication of an unstable system, but a dedicated monitoring app will enable you to stop before you fry the insides of your laptop.
It’s like an EKG for your computer.
A monitoring program, like CPUID’s HWMonitor software, enables you to keep tabs on what’s going on under the hood and gives you a real-time view of your components’ temperatures, voltages and fan speed.
Another suitable program is SpeedFan, although we find the interface isn’t quite as smooth and polished as that of HWmonitor.
You should have at least one of these programs open whenever you stress test your laptop. Many parts of your computer may automatically shut down when they overheat, but some won’t.
If your laptop hits dangerous temperature levels, you will want to put a stop to the testing as quickly as possible. If you don’t pay attention, you could even fry your laptop’s components.
CPU temperatures creeping above 70 degrees Celsius or a graphics card temperature that hovers around the 100 degree mark is a sign that you need to stop the testing.
Some graphics cards may have different maximum temperature ranges; it’s best to do your research and check for your individual model. (Here’s a link to the NVIDIA GPU maximum operating temperature support page)
Another good piece of advice I was always taught is to close down any non-essential programs and check your power-saving settings. Before starting the stress test, dive into the power settings and make sure your computer isn’t set to power off.
The last thing you want is to mistake a power down for a crash. If you have a screensaver enabled, you should also switch that off.
CPU Stress Testing
If there’s one part of your laptop you should certainly stress test, it’s the CPU, the “heart and brain” of your laptop. If your system ever crashes, then that’s, more often than not, the main culprit.
One of the programs favored by many stress testers is Prime95, which was originally designed to find the Mersenne Prime numbers, but it also hammers your processor to the maximum.
They even include a “Torture Test” mode, for people more interested in their laptop stability than arithmetic. The Prime95 wikipedia page contains an excellent overview of how to use Prime95 to stability test your system.
With the program open, you simply head to the Options tab and select Torture Test. This gives you the choice of a Blend, Small FFT or Large FFT torture test.
The Blend test will stress the CPU and RAM at the same time. If no errors pop up after three to four hours, you can consider your system stable for regular use. Both the small and large FFT tests leave the RAM alone and put more stress on the CPU.
A similar mathematical approach is used by System Stability Tester by SourceForge. This time, however, the program uses the age-old method of utilizing your computer to calculate the value of Pi to 128 million decimal places.
As long as the test is running it will use all the power of your CPU. It can also be used to benchmark how long it takes your system to calculate a specified number of digits.
A much simpler program, ideal for testing both your CPU and your laptop’s minimum battery life, is Stress My PC.
A small utility of around 20KB, it can run a stability test on single, multi-core or multi-threaded processors.
By default, a “Paint Stress” GPU test performs a simple test on your graphics card while only using 60 percent of your CPU. A more aggressive stress test is available; this pushes the CPU towards 100 percent of operating capacity. A “HD-test” can also be used to stress your hard drive.
For laptops with dedicated graphics cards, you may want to test the stability of your GPU. A word of warning though, many laptops graphics card and CPUs will share the same heat sink so it is not advisable to stress test both at the same time for too long.
Perhaps the most well-known benchmarking tool for graphics cards is the controversial FurMark. Forums are full of users who tell stories of FurMark frying their GPUs or crashing games after using it.
FurMark will get your GPU very hot in a short space of time, so keep an eye on your HWMonitor or similar program and make sure you stick to the standard test. If your GPU is going to crash or start throwing up distorted graphics, it will usually do so within 15 to 30 minutes maximum.
Turn the test off as soon as you see the temperature rising towards 100 degrees Celsius.
FurMark works by using real-time renderings of some furry style objects in front of funky backgrounds and makes use of antialiasing and different resolution options to push your graphics chip to the limit.
The following YouTube video is just one of many that gives an overview of how to use FurMark.
Just heed the warnings as it can be dangerous for your laptop’s health (although it does now include an alarm function for the maximum temperature allowed).
Click here to see a overview of the Furmark Benchmark : Click Here
A much less risky test but one which is just as important is your laptop’s RAM. Unfortunately, RAM can degrade over time, so keeping a check on the stability of your RAM will help protect your essential data and programs that may be using it.
The best tried and tested stress test application for RAM, in our opinion, is MemTest86+ which seems to have been around forever.
The interface may be starting to look a bit dated, but it now supports 64-bit architecture and DDR4 RAM in addition to DDR2 and DDR3 RAM chips.
When you download Mem86+ you simply load it on to a USB flash drive or, if you’re old school, burn on to a CD. Boot from the USB or whichever media you chose, then leave it to do its work, preferably overnight.
When it finishes testing, the goal is to have zero errors but if an error should occur, you may want to retest each RAM module separately to locate the problem.
What About the Rest of Your Laptop System?
The main components of your laptop that you should be worried about crashing are the CPU, GPU and RAM. Most of the other factors are software or driver-related.
You can benchmark your storage facilities, but they tend to be a performance issue rather than a stability issue and can be easy to fix. You could use one of your laptop’s many diagnostic features to test the health of a new hard drive.
Another option is to use an application like SMART monitoring tool, but the usual rule applies: just make sure you regularly back up your data.
If you’re worried about the battery life of your laptop, you could always try playing a video on full brightness setting. Again, this is more of a performance issue.
Searching the internet, you will find many programs and applications that promise to test your laptop’s stability.
Some, like HeavyLoad, are utilities that stress test all the major components of your laptop at the same time. You can also run individual tests if you are worried about too much stress or heat on your system.
Be careful to monitor the heat of your laptop as you check its stability using a stress test.
Laptops typically have smaller cases than a desktop PC and less cooling facilities. The last thing you want is a laptop hot enough to fry an egg on – it will also fry its own insides.
We have focused primarily on stability testing for Windows-based laptops. That’s not to say MacBooks don’t suffer from stability issues, but they are much rarer. With Macs only being made by one company, Apple, the CPU knows exactly what it has under the desktop.
The Mac also includes an easy way to stress test your hardware using the built-in Terminal software and Activity Monitor. You can find a detailed guide at this link or on the Apple forums.
The Take Home
Don’t get stressed yourself; almost every computer crash can be sorted.
Stress-testing your computer can improve the stability and help prevent those crashes mid-project. Nevertheless, just like the human body, don’t put too much stress on your laptop too often.
Eventually it will just give up or burn out and then it will certainly won’t be stable, even if it’s still usable.