I’m one of those stat geeks that love to know everything I can about what my computer is doing. It’s not that I use the information to do much, but a quick glance at the CPU or memory usage has, at times, helped me figure out why my computer is going so darn slow. For example, a spike in memory usage is typically the result of an app that likely needs to be restarted.
There are dozens of different applications and widgets out there that will monitor these things for you, and today we’re going to show you some of our favorites. We’ve got a mixture of programs and widgets for both Windows and Mac, and hopefully one of them will do exactly what you’re looking for.
–Performance Monitor (Homepage)–
Performance Monitor is a compact application that can show disk, memory, CPU, and network usage in a couple different ways. It’s not only a free program, but there is also a portable version available that you can carry along on a USB drive.
The most appealing way to monitor the various sensors on your computer is through the live graphs that will appear on your desktop after you run the application. There are four graphs by default, and you can customize their positioning simply by dragging and dropping them. If you hover over one of the graphs with your mouse it will give you the actual numbers that correspond to it:
You can enable a “click-through” option for the graphs so that you are able to click any buttons or menus that might appear behind them. That way you can leave them on top of other window and still have access to anything appearing underneath.
If the graphs occupy too much space you can always turn to a System Tray icon for each of the sensors. Although the icons are a little small in the System Tray they are still able to show live graphs for the various stats, and you can hover over the icons to see the current state of the sensor.
Worried about wasting system resources on a monitoring tool like this? When I was using Performance Monitor it consumed just 7MB of memory, which is less than most other tools that serve the same purpose.
Most Mac owners are probably aware of iStat because it comes in two powerful forms: an application and a widget. What you might not know is that there are also iStat widgets available for the Vista gadget system, and also for the Yahoo! Widget Engine. They aren’t quite as powerful as the Mac alternatives, but they are still useful.
On the Mac side there are three notable iStat offerings. The iStat Menu is an application that is constantly monitoring the data on your computer, and it displays the results in the Menu bar. The layout can be completely customized, and clicking on any of the results will expand a menu with more details.
When it comes to Dashboard widgets there are two different solutions: iStat Pro and iStat Nano. The names of the two pretty much giveaway the differences, and they are that iStat Pro offers a more complete set of statistics while iStat Nano shows only the basic information. Here’s what iStat Pro looks like:
What’s interesting with iStat for Windows is that there really isn’t an all-in-one package available like there is for the Mac. Instead there are different widgets for monitoring CPU, memory, battery, and wireless information. If you’re a Vista user these things are available as Vista Sidebar Gadgets, otherwise you can use the Yahoo! Widget Engine.
An example of what the widgets look like are pictured to the right, and all of them come in two different forms. You can get the classic “bar graph” design, or a more stylish gauge. If you grab the Yahoo! widgets both designs are included in one package.
There are so many different ways to monitor your memory usage, disk space, and CPU utilization that there’s no way they could all be covered here. That’s what we have the comments for though! Let us know in the comments what you use to keep track of your precious resources on your computer.