How to Test a Desktop in the Store

Use our experts' guide to in-store testing before you spend big bucks on your next desktop.

How to Test a Desktop in the Store

You need a new desktop. In the store, you see three different models that might work, but you don’t know how to decide on the best one for you (not the best one for the salesperson). These sets of quick and simple in-store performance tests will separate the winners from the posers, and lead you to a decision you can feel good about.

Note that these tests provide only part of the information that will go into your buying decision. They’re best used to choose from several devices that you’ve already determined have the features you seek.

Also remember that how many tests you’ll be able to do will vary from store to store. Depending on the outlet, you’ll find display PCs that are fully functioning and ready to use (and test), or you’ll find a room full of machines that are largely disabled or not turned on at all. Our advice is to shop in stores that allow for a hands-on buying decision.

Photograph by Robert Cardin


Make sure that the touchscreen responds well to your directions, as follows:

Navigate through various features of the OS. Swipe through some sample photos (found in the user folder you see after pressing Start). Open a browser, and navigate some Web pages.

Also, test the speakers built into the all-in-one by playing a few of Windows 7’s sample music files (in the user folder), and listening to the sounds you like.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Machine Noise

To find how noisy the PC is, put your ear up to the side of the case, and listen for unusually loud sounds. If you can, listen to the fan in the rear, too. The store will probably be a noisy place, so take note of noise that’s greater than the average of other PCs there.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Boot Time

Using a stopwatch (or a stopwatch app on your phone), measure the time be­­tween pushing the power button and when the machine is ready for use.

Photograph by Robert Cardin

Gaming Graphics

If you want your new PC to play games, conduct a test at either (shown) or Nvidia's to help weed out models with weak graphics capabilities. Both tests run an advanced, graphics-intensive game, and each site then grades the PC’s performance. (Make sure the test system is connected to the Web.)

Components Performance

Windows 7 Home Premium has a diagnostics tool called the Windows Experience Index, which rates CPU, disk drive, memory, and graphics card performance and gives the PC an overall score. Access it from the Control Panel (under ‘Perfor­mance Information and Tools’).

Media Playback

Open one of the video files that’s included in Windows 7. To do so, press Start and click the user name in the top-right corner of the menu (this may be simply the name of the store, the brand of the PC, or ‘default’). Open the Videos folder, double-click a video, and look for pixelation or stuttering in playback.

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