Add an activity monitor to the menu bar in OS X

MenuMetersHow soon after starting your Mac can you begin to use it? Why is it so slow? What is it doing? Is it OK to turn off or restart? OS X works hard behind the scenes on a variety of tasks, but you would never know because often nothing is displayed on the screen. It is useful to keep an eye on what it is doing and you can easily add activity monitors to the right side of the menu bar at the top of the screen.

There are several apps that provide live system information indicators in the OS X menu bar, but one that many people have been using for years and that still works with OS X Mavericks, is MenuMeters. It is not the most comprehensive utility of its type and it does not have the most features, but there are a couple of reasons why you might prefer it to more modern alternatives. One is that it is free and open source - how can you not like the price? The other is that is lightweight and uses very little memory or processing power. So little in fact, that you won’t notice it.

MenuMeters adds up to four optional items to the menu bar: CPU, disk, memory and network. Each of these is configurable and you can choose from several different display styles depending on how much information you want to display. For example, with the CPU indicator you can choose a percentage, a graph, a graph and percentage, a thermometer, a percentage and thermometer, a graph and thermometer, or graph, percentage and thermometer.

MenuMeters for OS X

The other items, disk, memory and network, also have numerous display options. Some of them require more menu bar space than is available on small screens and you might be forced to choose the most compact display options on a smaller MacBook for instance, but you can display more information on a MacBook Pro with a 15in screen and there is obviously more than enough menu bar space on an iMac with a big screen to choose any options you like.

MenuMeters configuration options

The menu bar display indicators instantly tell you how hard the Mac is working behind the scenes. They show whether the disk is being written to or read from, how hard the processor cores are working, the internet transmit and receive speed when data is being downloaded or uploaded, and so on.

This is all valuable information and it tells you what you Mac is doing when there is nothing obvious happening on the screen. One way of using this information is to wait for the CPU, disk and network activity to zero before shutting down the Mac. Then you can be sure that it has finished doing whatever it needs to and you are not force quitting something that is essential.

It is interesting to watch the Mac start up too, and for a minute or two after the desktop appears, you can see that behind the scenes the Mac is still working hard with high disk, CPU and network activity. That’s why the Mac is slow for a minute or two after switching on if you try to use it. Let it settle down.

Sometimes the Mac slows to a crawl and it is caused by a misbehaving app that is running the CPU at 100%, using the disk excessively, or using far too much memory. This can be seen in the menu bar indicators and is obvious when something is wrong, but without them you might be scratching your head wondering why your Mac is suddenly so slow.

Each of the indicators can be clicked to display a menu that provides detailed information. For example, the memory indicator shows memory usage, memory pages, virtual memory usage and swap file usage. The network indicator shows upload and download totals, and so on. It is all useful information.

MenuMeters in the menu bar

Grab a copy of MenuMeters and keep an eye on your Mac’s activity.

 

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