March 02, 2013, 7:42 AM — Modern-day PCs are more reliable than ever before, but that doesn't mean they're infallible. Equipment failures still happen, however rarely, and even the beefiest of computer components aren't worth their weight in silicon if they aren't dependable. Thankfully, the hot and heavy world of stress testing can help to identify critical faults before your PC craps out in the middle of a critical operation.
Whenever you buy or build a PC, swap out a major component, or overclock a piece of hardware, it's a good idea to stress-test (or "burn in") the fresh gear, which is not the same as benchmarking your rig.
Why stress-test? Simple: To ensure the reliability and stability of your system. Even if a computer boots up and performs well under normal usage, fickle hardware can cause woes when you step up to heftier tasks, such as gaming or video editing. Stress-testing software places your components under an intense workload to simulate a worse-case scenario; if a component crashes, hangs, or otherwise fails a dedicated stress test, there's a good chance that it won't be reliable under a heavy everyday load. It's best to uncover unstable components sooner rather than later, while they're still under warranty.
Running stress tests can also let you know if you need additional cooling in your computer. If a graphics card or overclocked CPU consistently overheats and shuts down during a stress test, it's time to dump the stock cooler, add a few case fans, and possibly even consider liquid cooling.
All that said, the actual process of stress testing isn't terribly complicated, though it can be time-consuming. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time to start your engines.
Laying the groundwork
Actually, it isn't. Before you start torturing your PC, you're going to need a way to keep tabs on its screaming. CPUID's HWMonitor software does exactly that, providing you with a real-time glimpse of your components' temperatures, voltage, and fan speeds. SpeedFan does the same, though its interface isn't quite as polished as HWMonitor's.