Skip to main content

How to Stress-Test Graphics Cards (Like We Do)

3DMark Fire Strike, Time Spy & Sky Diver


3DMark bridges the gap between real-world usage and a pure stress test. It is synthetic in nature, but does have gaming features. Plus, depending on the version, 3DMark can be configured to run in a loop, taxing your hardware over lengths of time. It offers three benchmarks that are relevant to PCs, aimed at different levels of graphics card performance. Download 3DMark here.

Fire Strike

The best-known 3DMark benchmark is Fire Strike, available for free. Its load and power consumption measurements, as well as the resulting temperatures, are all just above those of The Witcher 3. Memory temperatures, in particular, show a somewhat larger increase.

One benchmark run isn’t very long, so Fire Strike can only be used as a stability test if it's run in a loop (availability depending on version), or started manually over and over again.

After ~30 minutes, our thermal readings have stabilized. The board temperature shows that this benchmark pushes graphics hardware to the maximum of what can be achieved with gaming scenes. In other words, Fire Strike is a good graphics card stability and cooling test. It doesn’t make sense to use it for graphics cards slower than our Radeon RX 560, though. The higher the card’s performance level, the higher the load, which can be further increased by switching to the Extreme or Ultra presets.

Measurement64 °C84.5 °C80.5 °C64.0 °C98.8W
Compared to Maximum98.5%93.8%94.8%88.0%95.3%
Assessment- Very high power consumption- High GPU temperature for cooling tests- Sufficiently high package temperature for stability tests- Medium memory temperature
Use for- Power consumption measurements- Good stability test for overclocking (using loop)

Time Spy

Time Spy is based on DirectX 12. Generally, it doesn't really do anything that Fire Strike can’t do just as well, so buying it for stability or stress testing is pointless. There’s one notable exception, though: anyone who owns a Windows 10-based PC with a high-end graphics card and the ability to execute eight or more threads can use the Extreme version with UHD. To take advantage of it, all that’s needed is a 4GB graphics card. A 4K monitor isn’t necessary.

Time Spy might not quite reach the very high Fire Strike loads, but the loads it produces are still up there. Overall, we prefer a DirectX 11 benchmark. But a few stability test runs can’t hurt, seeing that Time Spy's graphics API is not the usual fare.

Measurement63 °C82.1 °C78.0 °C63.5 °C96.7W
Compared to Maximum96.9%91.1%92.3%87.3%93.2%
Assessment- Medium power consumption- Medium GPU temperature for cooling tests- Sufficient package temperature for stability tests- Medium memory temperature
Use for- Serviceable stability test for overclocking (using loop)

Sky Diver

Even though Sky Diver is meant for mid-tier desktop PCs and high-end laptops, the loads it produces often edge out the Time Spy ones. This means that if Fire Strike stutters too much, then Sky Diver’s a great alternative.

The temperature and power consumption results we achieve with Sky Diver are in the usable range for stress testing. Extreme overclockers might be able to use this benchmark for stability testing purposes as well if Fire Strike just doesn’t run well enough.

Fire Strike is much better at detecting memory overclocking problems, whereas Sky Diver’s more likely to provide a false sense of security in this area.

Measurement63 °C84.6 °C79.7 °C62.1 °C98.2W
Compared to Maximum96.9%93.9%94.3%85.4%94.7%
Assessment- Medium power consumption- Medium GPU temperature for cooling tests- Sufficient package temperature for stability tests- Medium memory temperature
Use for- Serviceable stability test for overclocking (using loop)

MORE: Best Graphics Cards

MORE: Desktop GPU Performance Hierarchy Table

MORE: All Graphics Content

  • phobicsq
    Doesn't hwmonitor cost money?
  • FormatC
    HWiNFO is free :)
  • Th_Redman
    Great article of information Igor(and Tom's, of course). I use a number of these stress tests and your article listed some I've never heard of or read about, so thank you.
  • Jay E
    But did you eat the egg?
  • Unolocogringo
    Very nice article to point newbie overclockers towards. You have to have some basic understanding if you want to overclock successfully.
    I have overclocked everything possible since my first overclock.A pentium 75mhz I overclocked to 90mhz. This was mid to late 1996. I learned how to do it from This site. Toms Hardware ( back then).
    Since I overclock every thing to stable 100% load 24/7/365 for Folding@Home and occasional gaming, It must be 100% stable for correct folding results. And of course gaming with my son and grandson.
    I use most of the tests and tools you do, except for the fancy thermal images, to achieve this. Nice to know my testing methods are the Same as yours, but mine last 36 to 48 hours on final overclock settings before being put into service.

    Overclocking is a serious affliction , even my non overclockable SuperMicro 2p server board is overclocked from 2.5 to 3.0 on all 8 cores and folding away for years. :)
    Enjoyed your article and testing methodology explained. Thanks
  • ddferrari
    For my uses (gaming, surfing) I see no reason to push a component to its power or thermal limit via synthetic tests. All that does is shorten its life span. I don't care if my OC fails during a multiple hour, unrealistic load. If it runs fine during real-world usage then I'm satisfied.

    All my components are overclocked, and I test them for stability the old fashioned way: I USE them. They key is to overclock only one component at a time and see if problems arise while gaming. I keep bumping up the OC until an issue pops up- then I know where the maximum lies.

    There seems to be a lot of monkey-see-monkey-do going on around the internet these days.
  • stonedwookie
    We dont care about the stats what we want to know is did the eggs taste good?
    what would you rate the eggs ?
  • FormatC
    The egg got only three-stars rating (3/5).

    The reason why:
    It was simply too long for my taste and it is a real pain to look over such a long time at this egg if you are hungry :P
  • Co BIY
    What is the best thermal paste to use for a mining rig omelet pan?
  • FormatC
    Olive Oil. The best taste :)