A generalized methodology is developed for thermal testing of various solar dryer designs operated for natural and forced air flow conditions. The steady state mathematical model based on heat balance concept of solar dryer without load is applied to identify the dimensionless parameter called no-load performance index (NLPI). Laboratory models of direct (cabinet), indirect and mixed mode solar dryer are designed and constructed to perform steady state thermal tests for natural and forced air circulation. The dryers with no-load are operated with air passage between absorber plate and glass cover for the range of 300-800W/m 2 and 0.009-0.026kg/s of absorbed thermal energy and air mass flow rate respectively under indoor simulation conditions. The present study reveals that the forced convection operated dryer provides higher NLPI in contrast to that of natural convection. The comparative performance analysis of dryers indicates that the mixed mode dryer exhibits maximum value of NLPI followed by indirect and cabinet ones for both natural and forced air circulation. It is also found that for any dryer operating at given air flow condition, almost invariable NLPI values have been obtained for a wide range of absorbed energy and ambient air temperature data, thus facilitating performance comparison between different dryer designs on equitable basis. The results of statistical analysis showing low standard errors of mean further demonstrate good consistency in NLPI values for various dryer designs. The uncertainty in NLPI due to error in measurement of several parameters by instruments ranges from 0.79 to 1.96% for various dryer designs operated under different conditions. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.