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It's easy to jump online and be productive with Mac OS X, but it's also easy to stop there. Many users haven't explored the depth and richness of this powerful operating system and the applications that come with it. In Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard Beyond the Basics, Chris Breen helps those who are already comfortable with Mac OS X discover new features in everyday applications like Mail, iCal, and Safari. He also explores the often overlooked "power user" tools, including Terminal, Disk Utility, and Automator, and provides troubleshooting and maintenance tips.
We will now begin our exploration of activity monitor which is program that as its main hints tells you what is occupying your Mac's time and to what degree it's doing so, and you will find it in the Utilities folder. So we go to the Go menu, choose Utilities or the keyboard shortcut for this is Shift+Cmd+U. We open the Utilities folder and there is activity monitor right at the top. So why would you run this thing? If your Mac seems slow, you can use activity monitor to find out what's taking up its attention.
This may allow you to stop the Mac from doing whatever it's doing or tell you that such and such application, maybe such a processor hog, then it might be time to search for an alternative. Activity monitor is made up of two main parts. At the bottom, you see five tabs for various kinds of activity. And at the top is a long list of processes, the things that your Mac is doing. It's amazing how much stuff is going on, isn't it? Well, let's start at the top. You can sort these processes by process name. We know who the user is because we have My Processes selected.
The amount of attention that the CPU has devoted to a particular process, memory threats, the real memory that's being devoted to this process, the virtual memory that's being devoted toward it and the kind, we are using an Intel Mac but we still have an older copy of Photoshop on here and it's running under PowerPC using Rosetta. Now, if you have something that's really slowing down your Mac, my first suggestion would be under this Popup menu at the top to choose Windowed Processes. This shows you the currently running visible applications and what they demand on your Mac.
So, if you see something here for example CPU, we have been running a DVD in the background. It's taking up 19.4% of the CPU. That's not a big deal. However, you have got an application that was running in the 80%, 90%, even 100% consistently and your Mac is behaving very poorly, this is an application to take a look at and say "you know, maybe, I don't want to be doing that right now because I need my Mac for the things or maybe I can find another application that does the same kind of thing that doesn't hit my CPU quite so hard." If that doesn't tell you much, try My Processes.
This shows you all the processes that are running under your account, both visible and invisible. Now, some of these may make no sense to it at all but the names of some of the invisible ones can give you a clue. For example, there may be a program that requires a helper application that runs in the background. If you can identify that helper application, you might reconsider using that particular application as it's a processor hog. You can also group these things by hierarchy. Again, some of these may not make sense to you. For example, launchd, what does that mean? Well, it's a kind of a root process and now we are looking at processes for everything on the computer, not just within your account but we have some root activities here that are running.
You can't do much about these things because the Mac really, really, really needs these processes to run so you can look at it kind of out of a curiosity and say "Oh gee, that seems to be taking up a lot of the processor's time," not much I can do here, but every so often, you may see a process that's gone completely out of whack which means something may be going on with your Mac that isn't so great and it may be at that point that you start troubleshooting your Mac. Let's go back to My Processes. Now, it's helpful to sort your processes. The best way to do it in my opinion is to choose by CPU.
The reason you do that is because you can see exactly what's taking up your processor's time and that's where you are going to see some slowdowns on your Mac. This may not tell you what's happening however. Your Mac's hard drive, maybe busy or it could be too full, but it's a good place to start. Now, let's suppose that you have a process. Let's say you have a bunch of time and you say "I have got to get rid of this thing," and you can safely do it not putting your root process but one of your own. Let's choose DVD player for example. I can click Quit Process to make this thing quit. You have three options in this sheet.
One is Cancel so you can reconsider saying "No, you know actually I don't want to do that." Quit is the one you should choose first. That will gracefully ask the application or the process to quit and it will try to do so. If it can't do so, if it's totally locked up, what you may see is that the process name will be in red. This indicates it's locked up, it's not going to respond politely to your request to quit. So instead, you would click Force Quit and that makes the process quit whether it likes it or not.
We don't want to quit any processes right now so we will click Cancel. Now, let's look at the tabs below. First is CPU. This is a visual representation of the stress being put on your Mac's processor. The percentage indicators to the left give you some idea of what's going on with the processor. Right now, we have an 8-core Mac Pro here. So this thing has plenty of horsepower so we are not using up a ton of this processor's attention. You can look at it by percentage, by the amount of stuff that's going with the processor or you can look at the graph on the right.
We have a bunch of things going here and even with that, we are really not putting a lot of stress on our CPU. The next tab is System Memory. This tells you how your RAM is being allocated. We have a bunch of free RAM right now even though we are running several applications. If you routinely have no free RAM, that may tell you that you need more or that you need to run fewer applications at the same time. Is your Mac spending a lot of time writing or reading data? Well, one way to find out is to look at Disk Activity.
This graph will tell you how your Mac is spending its time moving data on and off the disk. Currently, we are reading and writing a fair amount of data right now because we do have several applications running. A lot of the times, you may see that you are writing a lot but you are not reading so much or vice versa depending on what your Mac is doing. And there is Disk Usage. This tells you how full your hard drive is. If you don't have about 10% of the startup disk free, your Mac will run more slowly because it needs that space for writing virtual memory swap files in and out.
If it has to do this a lot because there is much free space on the Mac, things could slow down. And finally network. As its name hints, this is where you get a view of network activity. Currently, we are receiving a lot of data but we are sending very little, so green for receiving and red for sent. If you want to change these colors, you are welcome to do so. Simply click on them, up comes the color picker and you can choose another color for these things. Finally, up in the Window menu are a couple of grass they are helpful. One is CPU usage.
This gives you a nice representation of what all the cores within your Mac are doing. As I said, we have 8 cores in this Mac and all of them are a little bit occupied. The tasks are being nicely spread out between them. It's not always the case that you will see all of your cores moving at once. For example, a little earlier we had core #4 just completely pegged by some process. Core #5 was doing a little bit of stuff and then other cores were all apparently taking a nap because there was no representation of anything that they were doing.
But we can also look at our CPU history to see how this looks. So, this kind of keeps a running tab of what's going on and where your cores are being hit. On this representation, again, you can see that all the cores are generally occupied doing something and that's nice knowing that you are getting your monies worth out of your Mac that all those cores were hard at work, but a lot of times again you may see that one or two cores are doing something and the rest of the cores are doing nothing. Again depending on the application, if it will address multiple cores, some will not, they will just address a single core.
Before we leave activity monitor, here is one other very cool little tip. Suppose you would like to see what your Mac is doing in regards to activity but you don't want this big activity monitor in front of you, well, you can do this. You could minimize activity monitor if you like, drop it down here. You note that activity monitor is still under the dock. Well, click and hold on that and choose a dock icon. Okay, great, I would like to see CPU Usage. When you do that, the Activity Monitor icon changes to this little meter that shows you how the CPU is doing.
I don't care for that right now. Let's see maybe I would like to see the CPU history. Okay, now I get this little graph. It seems that my CPU is doing just fine, so we will switch back to the Application icon. So, we get monitor back up and that is our look at the Essentials of activity monitor.
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