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I run some basic performance tests in C# on simple methods, but there are also legacy monolithic pieces written in C# as well as other languages. So, when testing, I often end up working with a black box that takes a number of parameters. I can write code to get a bunch of sample data out, but making sense of it (e.g. presenting it visually is a challenge). I think that most people will not bother looking at a bunch of data or a bunch of poorly done graphics. It better tell a story at a glance.

I can draw pretty 2d graphs, surfaces, heat maps, surface heat maps, what have you. I am hoping to make the graphics so useful, that, when a somewhat trained eye looks at it, they can say "I think we have a problem there. It should not be that slow when we change from 5 to 10 securities." or "This piece is running 20% longer than last month. What feature is killing the performance now?"

I do not have much experience with presenting complex data in a good way, but I know that clever tricks do exist. Good examples are shown here: http://www.datavis.ca/gallery/timelines.php The Napoleon’s March is a great one, as it packs many-dimensional data onto a 2D piece of paper.

Can you suggest any good examples of how to visualize performance test data?

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One avenue would be to start by reducing the complexity. I often use data reduction techniques like those found in statistics. I take the value of the last test and use a Chi square test to check it significantly differs from previous runs. I plot these on any simple graph for the board (or whomever) to understand. I often take it much for using the Birge Ratio to check whether each factor differs significantly from all other factors. –  Carnotaurus Dec 27 '11 at 9:41
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speed.pypy.org is a good visual example. however, any graphical presentation of lots of performance data will need a lot of programming and maintenance effort, despite the visual simplicity. –  rwong Dec 31 '11 at 4:36
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Regardless of how you present the information, if you're looking for changes, like from one month to the next, I sometimes do blink comparison. i.e. put last month's display and this month's display in exactly the same screen position, and then quickly alt-tab between them. Differences show up easily.

If you want to be fancier, you could do image-subtraction or Xor.

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