Activity Monitor – What is it, and how do I use it? | Computer Repair of Des Moines

Activity Monitor – What is it, and how do I use it?

Apple Tech Tips by Computer Repair of Des Moines


Apple’s OS X has a built in task manager called Activity Monitor.


Here is what it is and how to use it.

What is it?

Activity Monitor is a very powerful tool for watching what is going on in your system as well as killing tasks which you don’t want running, or tasks which have stopped responding to user input. It gives you, the user, the ability to monitor specific tasks, the amount of threads each task has spawned (These are how many parallel processes are running for a specific task), how long tasks have been running, how many resources they are consuming.

How do I find it?

Activity Monitor is located under the Utilities folder nesting in the Applications folder, but you can also open it using the spotlight. Just hit ⌘+Spacebar and start typing it out, when it is selected as the top result, just hit your enter/return key to launch it!

Activity Monitor in all its glory

If you are looking for a way to simply kill unresponsive tasks, you can just lunch a Force Quit Applications window by pressing ⌥⌘␛ (alt/option+command+escape) and Force Quit the application in question

Force Quit window


How do I use it?

Activity Monitor may look a bit daunting, for good reason, too. Because of the power of this tool, killing the wrong tasks can cause your system to become unstable or crash. A good rule of thumb: If you don’t know what it is and what it does, don’t touch it.

After you first launch Activity Monitor, you will be greeted with a screen similar to the one shown above. At the bottom of this screen, you will notice a live-updated graph of your CPU load – That taken by the system and system-related tasks, versus that taken by user-started tasks and operations. This is a very handy on-the-fly tool for monitoring load, this can also offer insight into if there is something wrong with your system (virus, malware, adware, un-seen programs) as it can show an unusually high load for the amount of applications open or tasks started.

In the middle of the windows you will see the list of tasks running, along with their recourses, Process Name, CPU% used, CPU time, Threads, Idle Wake Ups, PID (Process ID), and the user which started it. Clicking any of these will organize the list in ascending or descending order of the parameter selected, this helps to watch what task(s) are loading up a CPU, how long it has been running, and what processes you have started may be running.

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 2.50.10 PM
Prompt shown after killing a task

To kill a process, you can select a process and then click the octagonal sign with an X as shown above, located in the upper, left-hand corner. This will open a box giving you the option to quit, force-quit, or cancel. The button located to the immediate right of that will open a window with details pertaining to that specific task.

Activity Monitor isn’t just for monitoring tasks and their details, it also provides tools to watch real-time CPU load, Memory usage, Disk usage, Energy consumption, and Network use. To utilize these tools, just select the tab located at the top-center of the main window with the list below it. Each tab is very similar in sense of control and style, but each gives their own real-time updating graph of stats pertaining to the tab selected, except for the Energy tab.

Activity monitor gives you, the user, a very quick and easy way to do some troubleshooting for computer slowness, runaway tasks, unresponsive programs, slow disk-read/write times, network saturation, and energy use by your computer. Each of these tools are very powerful and if used without proper information can easily cause crashes or instability of your machine, so please use caution when actually killing or interacting with tasks.

Hopefully you find this tech tip informative and useful!

This Apple Tech Tip was brought to you by Computer Repair of Des Moines!

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