Quantum information processing offers potentially great advantages over classical information processing, both for efficient algorithms and for secure communication. Therefore, it is important to establish that scalable control of a large number of quantum bits (qubits) can be achieved in practice. There are a rapidly growing number of proposed device technologies for quantum information processing. Of these technologies, those exploiting nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) have been the first to demonstrate non-trivial quantum algorithms with small numbers of qubits. To compare different physical realizations of quantum information processors, it is necessary to establish benchmark experiments that are independent of the underlying physical system, and that demonstrate reliable and coherent control of a reasonable number of qubits. Here we report an experimental realization of an algorithmic benchmark using an NMR technique that involves coherent manipulation of seven qubits. Moreover, our experimental procedure can be used as a reliable and efficient method for creating a standard pseudopure state, the first step for implementing traditional quantum algorithms in liquid state NMR systems. The benchmark and the techniques can be adapted for use with other proposed quantum devices.