How to: Use Activity Monitor and How it Helps

Wonder why your Mac seems to be running slowly or whether or not an application needs to be shut down? Using Activity Monitor on your Mac is like taking your computer to the doctor – it’s a great way to quickly diagnose the basic processes of your machine and graphically shows you your Mac’s “vital signs.” This utility will instantly show you the “health” of your system as well as the various applications that are running on your machine and show you how they are affecting your computer’s speed and memory overall.

Activity Monitor Overview

To find Activity Monitor and launch it, simply use the Spotlight function in the top right toolbar to search for it or find it in the system’s “Utilities” folder. Upon opening the monitor, you’ll instantly see a graphic representation of the activities currently running on your machine. Activity Monitor will show you statistics for all the essential functions of your Mac, including the following:

  • CPU – this shows a simple graph that breaks down exactly what types of activities your computer is currently handling.
  • System Memory – this tab shows you how much of your system’s real memory is being used at the moment. This is shown in a colorful pie chart and constantly adapts as your system’s memory use changes.
  • Disk Activity – if you’d like to have a better understanding of your hard drive and how it’s being used with virtual memory, the disk activity tab will me most interesting to you. Click on this tab to monitor your drive’s activity in real time.
  • Disk Usage – the disk usage tab gives you a quick and thorough look at your hard drive, allowing you to see the space being used and the free space available.
  • Network – the network tab allows you to see the amount of data that is being transferred in and out of your system at any given time. If you’re sending a large file or downloading an iTunes movie, you should see huge spikes in your data sent and data received areas, respectively.

For a more detailed view of your system’s activities, have a look at the top three-quarters of the activity monitor. This is where you’ll see a summary of the processes that are currently running on your Mac. Have a look at this list to see every activity, application or process that is currently running, whether or not it’s visible to you at the time. Double-click on one of the line items for a closer look at this process and its current activity. The process list is pretty self-explanatory but let’s have a look at what it tells you.

Activity Monitor Detail

First, you’ll see a “Process ID” column that shows the number that is assigned to each process by the system. These are arbitrary numbers that are assigned in ascending order to every process or application on your machine. The process name is self-explanatory but can help you identify slow applications quickly by name. The “user” column is especially helpful for those with more than one user connected to the Mac simultaneously as it will quickly identify who is using what application.

The “% CPU” column is perhaps the most interesting as it tells you what percentage of the system’s resources is dedicated to each process or application. This is where you can easily gauge which of your applications is causing the most drag to your system and which are using the most memory. In the threads column, you can see that the processes that use the most threads are in turn using the most memory. Finally, the “real” and “virtual” memory columns will give you a detailed idea about which of your applications are using which type of memory, and how much of it they are using.

Activity Monitor is a simple way to instantly determine whether or not you have certain processes or applications that are causing a large burden to your system, and to help you decide which applications to run and which to disable in the event of system slowness or down time. Soon you will be taking charge of your memory and system resources to effectively manage your disk space and network capabilities.

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