Review: Kombustor shows how much your graphics hardware can take

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Kombustor

    PCWorld Rating

    Kombustor's burn-in and benchmark tests push GPU hardware to the limit.

Pushing up memory and core speeds on video hardware has consequences, not all of them readily apparent. Your clock-cooked Radeon may sneer at Skyrim on max settings, but those same speeds can make your computer crash and burn when playing Witcher II. This and other inconsistencies mean you need to go beyond FRAPS and your favorite game when looking at overclocked GPU stability. Hardware manufacturer MSI, creators of Afterburner, have conjured up a way to make your overachieving videocard sweat for a change. It's a benchmark called Kombustor, and it's aptly named.

Kombustor's fur test is anything but soft on your GPU.

Kombustor is based on Furmark, a stress test famous in the enthusiast community for frying videocards alive in its quest to probe GPUs' outer limits. MSI dials back the pain a bit, but augments that product's burn-in features with expanded benchmarking capabilities, support for DirectX, linkages to Afterburner for test-and-tune sessions and a whole lot more objects, scenes and settings to look at while it all gets done.

Looks are a big part of what makes Kombustor a pleasure to use. It only weighs in at 14MB, but it manages to look better than anything short of Unigine's 235MB Heaven, not to mention 3DMark's gigabyte-sized suites. The program presents you with a system GPU readout that reports temperature, load and power levels in real time. Below that information, four buttons give you access to various benchmark and stability tests, as well as general software settings. Don't let the small, simple display fool you; there's a lot to play with here.

Tessy Spheres is one of Kombustor's nicer-looking benchmarks.

The 3D Test tab alone sports half a dozen visually distinct benchmarks, each stressing a different API feature set. The GPU burn-in tab is equally feature-rich, with provisions for several variants of DirectX and OpenGL, and a choice of flashy objects to pick from.

The PhysX tests have fewer options but run longer, and provide more diverse scripts with plenty of fireworks to keep things interesting. The result is a reasonably accurate picture of capability, especially cooling capacity. The results aren't as comprehensive as larger suites, but they are reliable and revealing nevertheless.

The longer Kombustor tests feature filters, depth-of-focus, and other advanced hardware tricks.

MSI promotes Kombustor's integration with Afterburneras a one-stop tweaking solution for FPS-obsessed gamers, and it's a pretty good pitch. The concept here is that you overclock with Afterburner and then immediately test with Kombustor, which is available via a button on Afterburner's interface. In reality, the benefits over less-integrated solutions are slight (is it really that hard to run two programs side by side?), but Kombustor is a good enough utility that this still seems like a feature.

Kombustor is more dependent on drivers than most benchmarks, and different driver versions can swing results wildly in one direction or the other. This puts some limits on it as a hardware reference tool, but makes Kombustor quite useful for study of driver code performance. Unstable or crippled builds pop into sharp relief, halving their frame rates over previous versions or other cards with lesser hardware. This is quite valuable information, especially since so many of the tests feature OpenGL.

Kombustor's user interface is simple, but plenty of power hides behind those four buttons.

All this adds up to a nice, if not primary, testing and benchmarking package for hardware enthusiasts. Kombustor won't be the first tool out of the box, but you will wonder how you got along without it.

Note: The "Try it for free" button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.

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At a Glance
  • PCWorld Rating

    Kombustor's burn-in and benchmark tests push GPU hardware to the limit.

    Pros

    • Small size
    • Looks great
    • Free

    Cons

    • Occasionally misleading results
    • Few DX11 tests
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