Using the Activity Monitor Utility

Activity Monitor is a tool that comes with your Mac. You can use it to see which processes are using CPU power, memory, disk use and even energy. Most users never need to use Activity Monitor, but it can be interesting to see what is going on with your Mac. You can monitor processor use in several ways and watch it change as you use applications.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Using the Activity Monitor Utility.

Hi, this is Gary with On today's episode let's take a look at the Activity Monitor Utility.

So Activity Monitor is found in your Application's Utilities folder. But I'm going to run it using Spotlight Search. It comes up here and it has this big list with some options at the top and some more information at the bottom and some menu choices here.

I must start by saying that for most users you never have to use Activity Monitor. As a matter of fact this can be kind of scary for a lot of users. You see all these processes running. There are 242 processes running on your Mac. There is going to be about 200 even if you are not doing anything with your Mac, you don't have any applications open at all.

There is really nothing for you to do in here. You don't need to maintain anything. You don't need to worry about what these processes are or what they are doing. A lot of these are system processes and there is really not that much information you can find out here.

If you are really curious about what something does or what something is you can do a Goggle search for it. But in most cases it is just part of the regular operating system. Things that are maintaining your Mac. Things that are handling things in the Finder. Things that you don't need to worry about.

Now if you want to cut through all of this and just view the applications that you are using you can go to the View Menu here. Here you can see all your options for what processes you can view. All Processes is selected now. My Processes isn't going to get much better because a lot of these are general user processes. Anything here that is used for MacMost will show up under My Processes.

What you probably want is Window Processes which are applications that you are using. So here you can see all the applications I am currently using and these are things I recognize and know what they are.

Now let's look at these columns. We can see that we've got the % CPU. I can sort by that by clicking on the column head here. I can see that QuickTime Player is using most of the CPU process because I'm recording this right now for you. You can see these other applications aren't using anything right now. They are in the background and aren't actually doing anything. Now you may wonder why this is more that 100%. It is because I have multiple processors on this Mac. Most Macs do. Even one processor Mac will have multiple cores. So you will see numbers that are multiples of 100%. 100% being one processor.

You can also switch to other things like memory. How much memory each thing is using. Again this is not something most users have to pay attention to. You don't really have to worry about how much memory something is using. You have a lot of memory in your Mac and it's going to use these for the processes instead of just letting them sit idle. A lot of times a process doesn't need that much memory but will use it, if it is available, to make it faster. If you run another application then you might find that some apps will then cut down on the amount of memory they are using.

You can also look at energy as well. Now this Mac is plugged into the wall here. It is a Mac Pro so energy, in fact, really isn't that important. But on a MacBook you can use this to figure out what you have running now that is draining your battery. Usually it is going to be the app that you are using the most so you would expect it to be draining the battery. But every once in a while you can find say a third party app that is using a little more than you think it should.

You can also find disk input and output here to see how much each app is using the disk and also how much each app is using the network.

Now as I switch between these tabs at the top I can also see this general readout here that can give information here about the network, about disk use, energy use, you can see a graph here of energy use and times when it is hardly using any and times when it is using a lot. All sorts of information about memory use. Again you really don't have to worry about this too much because apps are going to use memory that is available. Also CPU use as well.

You also have some extra windows here. You can bring up a CPU usage window. Here I've got on my MacPro eight cores so there is eight processors here. I can see their use.

Now let me bring up something like say the Maps app here. I'm going to actually use it. You can see it start to use a little CPU here. As I move around and even rotate you can see it is going to start to use a lot more and you can see the processor use up. You can imagine rotating three images here in a large window it is going to use a decent amount of processor power.

You can also bring up a window here that shows you a history. So it is going to show you a graph here. It will start graphing CPU usage history so you can see what is going on over a period of time. So if I switch to Maps here and start moving this around and rotating it, it will show me a spike coming up here and then if I quit the Maps app it will drop down as it is not using that much processor power anymore. I am really not doing anything else with the other apps.

If you want to search for something specific you can switch back to All Processes and use the search field. So, for instance, if we want to find the iTunes Helper you can just type iTunes and just isolate just that one there or anything that includes part of that description. So you can do that. You can also double click on something to see a little bit more information about it here and you can try to quit it here as well. So you can quit and force quit an app or background process if you need to. Most of the time, of course, you wouldn't need to do something like that.

You also the fun ability to be able to change the icon. Go to View and you go to Dock Icon. You can change it from the Application Icon to Show CPU Usage for instance. Then you are going to get a little chart down here that is going to show you, there you go there is the CPU use and you will see that go up say if I am rendering some video when I'm making this tutorial here I will see that shoot up and I can just leave that running in the background. I don't have to have this visible. I'll have this little icon here in the dock.

So for the most part you never need to use Activity Monitor but it is good to know that the utility is there.

Comments: 4 Responses to “Using the Activity Monitor Utility”

    Christopher Malaney
    4 years ago

    One of the things that I used this utility before was the Memory part of it. I could not figure out what was taking my memory one time, so I used this and found out that Iclipboard I was using was storing everything and not deleting it. So once I deleted all the old stuff from iclipboard my memory came back. Thanks for the info.

    4 years ago

    Slick stuff, as always, Gary! I especially dig the change-the-icon tip. I had no idea but love it!

    4 years ago

    Often in the activity monitor i notice that the Safari helper is non responsive.
    What exactly does that mean and should i quit the helper?


      4 years ago

      Hard to say. If it is causing a problem, I’d have an expert take a first-hand look. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry too much about it.

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