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Let's take a short tour of the important elements of Activity Monitor. Activity Monitor, as its name implies, is a utility that allows you to peak into what your Mac is doing in the background. Let's see how that works. We'll launch it some other way. Let's go to the Go Menu, we'll go to Utilities, and there's Activity Monitor. What we see in this window is a series of things called Processes. These are the things that your computer is doing, and some of them you're going to recognize. So let's look through the list of Processes and see if we find something. There! Mail, we know what Mail is.
There's the Finder. We're aware of what the Finder is. There's Dashboard, and here's Activity Monitor itself. So great, we understand what those things are, but what's all this other stuff? Well, these are background processes, things that your computer is doing that aren't necessarily tied to a specific application, but are nonetheless important to your computer running. Now we know what's happening in the background. What use is this to us? For our purposes, the real benefit of Activity Monitor is to see what's taking up your Mac's time.
So, if you find that your Mac is running slowly, it's possible that there's something going on that's slowing it down. And we can use Activity Monitor to see what that is. So first of all we'll go to the All Processes pop-up menu, and I'm going to choose just My Processes. These are the ones that are happening within my account. Then I'll click on Percentage CPU, and that tells us the percentage of CPU being used by various things, and the one with the greatest appetite appears at the top.
So, right now we've got this thing called Screenflick going that's about 15% to 16%, which isn't a lot. Let me plug in a camera card and see what that does. So it opens iPhoto. Look, iPhoto is taking 85%. At least it was for a second. Now it's down to about 19.3, 17.1. So what it's doing now is cataloging my camera card and as it does so, it's using more CPU. But notice it settles down pretty quickly.
There are other things you can learn about it, for example, the number of threads, which is really something you don't need to worry about. However, you may want to look at the RAM that it's using. If there's something that's using a ton of RAM, that makes less RAM available or less short-term memory available to your Mac. So if something's hogging that, you may want to look at that process and see if it's something that you really need. Now, in most cases when you see things here that you have no idea what the name is for, just leave it alone. However, if you see an application that's running, say, GarageBand.
GarageBand, for example, is a big memory hog, and it really taxes your processor. So if you're working on a GarageBand project and then you leave it, and you find that GarageBand is still churning away and taking up a bunch of CPU cycles, it's not a bad idea to quit it. When you do that, you may find that your Mac works a little bit better. Now, let's take a for-instance scenario. I'm going to launch Safari. So I've launched Safari.
Now, what's Safari doing? Let's look in Process Name and we can look at it alphabetically. And here's Safari, and it's behaving itself. It's hardly taking up any CPU. However, what if it was, and what if it was taking up a bunch of CPUs, using a bunch of RAM, how can you stop? Well, of course you could quit it and that wouldn't be a problem, so off it goes and it wouldn't do this anymore. But what if it's some kind of a background process that you recognize and you'd like to get rid of it? Well, you can't go to an application to quit it because you don't have access to that application. But what you can do is choose Quit Process.
You'll be asked if you'd like to quit. Try that first, if it quits, great. If it doesn't quit -- let's look at Photo Stream, for example. I could choose Quit Process. If it doesn't get out of the way, you can force quit it, and essentially that means "I'm going to quit you whether you like it or not." And indeed it will quit. Now, there are a few processes that will come back because your Mac needs them. So they'll quit, your Mac will think "Uh-oh, I need that thing." It will start up again. Hopefully, when it does, it doesn't start hogging your CPU.
There are few other things that you can do within Activity Monitor. You can check your System Memory. So in this case we've got a lot of free memory. You can look at Disk Activity. So what's going on with your hard drive? Do you see a lot of peaks like these? Do they make sense? If you're doing something like backing up to another drive, for example, yes you're going to see data moved back and forth and you're going to see peaks like these. But if your Mac seems to be idle and it's doing something like this, you may want to investigate. Disk Usage, how much free space do you have? And then you can also look at the Network Activity.
Does your network connection seem to be slowing down? Well, let's take a look. Gee, it seems to be doing an awful lot here. I wonder why that is? At that point, start your investigation and see if you can track down what's using your network. But again, most important of all for our purposes is looking at the CPU. And that's the ups and downs of Activity Monitor.
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