Okay, so let’s say you’ve run your Belarc report and installed HWInfo. You know what you’re working with, but how do you know how your computer will perform under a heavy load? There are dozens of stress-testing utilities out there, but Prime95 and MemTest86+ are two stalwarts. Prime95 uses your processor to calculate extremely large prime numbers, and MemTest86+ taxes your RAM with several different memory-straining algorithms. If you’ve got a flaw in your setup, these utilities will smoke it out. Hopefully, the smoke in this situation is figurative.
MemTest86+ is especially useful because you can boot to it, so if you suspect a memory problem is making Windows unstable, you can bypass the operating system entirely and test the hardware from the BIOS level.
Also, if you feel like contributing to a larger cause, Prime95 is part of GIMPS, the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search. There are cash prizes for using Prime95 to discover new Mersenne primes!