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A central processing unit (CPU) benchmark is the use of standardized testing methods to gauge a CPU's performance. There are several software packages on the market that can perform CPU benchmarking. Chip makers use these benchmarks in marketing and promotion of new CPUs, though some of their performance claims might not be borne out by real-world usage because performance depends heavily on individual system configurations.
CPU benchmarking is the practice of determining how a processor will perform in a standardized way. This is typically done using special software packages. Some popular benchmarking packages include Whetstone, Dhrystone, 3DMark, PCMark and others.
The most widely-known performance metric is clock speed, but that does not tell the whole story with modern multi-core CPUs. Even though the clock speed on modern processors is not that much faster than single-core CPUs, they can perform more instructions and thus work faster simply because these chips can do so much more in one clock cycle than single-core CPUs can.
A lot of these performance tests might not accurately reflect real-world usage. Manufacturers love to tout their benchmarking scores, but they might have been performed on systems with faster RAM and hard drives than most people are likely to have. Benchmarks should therefore be taken with a grain of salt.
That is part of the reason why a popular informal benchmarking method is using a certain application to test a CPU, such as Adobe Photoshop. Some of the image processing operations can be quite computationally intensive, and Photoshop is a widely-used program, so this kind of test might be more reflective of real-world usage than the contrived official benchmarking tests.