If you own a Mac, you would know what the sleek and powerful machine can do. Macs are capable of churning out excellent performance layered in an appealing and user-friendly interface.
As Steve Jobs once said about Macs: We made the buttons on the screen look so good you’ll want to lick them.
However, there are certain apps, performance patterns, and clogged files that hinder the performance of your Mac. You’ll need a good Mac system monitor to track these apps and files and see how your Mac is performing at large.
With a system monitor for Mac, you can view detailed information about your Mac’s hardware and software, memory, disk speed, and graphics card performance. These details will help you analyze if your Mac is performing at par with your expectations, or if it is time to clear the clutter, or even make an upgrade.
Quick Jump to…
Is Apple’s in-built Activity Monitor good enough?
Mac OS comes with an in-built activity monitor which shows you the processes that are active on your Mac. This can help you manage these processes to see how they affect the activity and performance of your Mac.
The built-in Activity Monitor on the Mac OS is reasonably good as it helps you break down everything by task and even force quit tasks if needed. However, if you are someone who needs to monitor the activity on your Mac continually, then you would realize that the built-in Activity monitor might not be the best tool as you cannot customize it and tweak it as per your needs.
Since there is so much happening inside your Mac which the built-in Activity Monitor does not reveal. Apple is known to minimize distractions with its design. However, this often comes in the way of monitoring its performance.
If you really want to actively monitor your CPU’s performance, disk and network activity, memory usage, and receive custom notifications for these parameters, then there’s not much that the inbuilt Activity Monitor can do. It even occupies most of the screen. Wouldn’t it be convenient if you could monitor your Mac with some icons in the menu bar?
To get to know about the intricacies of your hardware, you will need third-party apps that excel at the job. Here, we will list out some of the best system monitors for your Mac that display your Mac’s performance and activity meters with much detail and accessibility.
Our pick to monitor Mac a whole lot advanced: iStat Menus
When it comes to having a robust and customizable app for monitoring the system performance on your macOS, nothing quite beats iStats Menus.
Once you install iStat Menus on your Mac and set it up, you will notice that the app runs in the background. It is displayed on the menu bar at the top of your screen where it gives you real-time system updates — something which the inbuilt activity monitor on the Mac OS is incapable of doing.
Constant updates flashed on the menu bar, can help you keep an eye on what your Mac is up to and if anything is hindering its performance.
iStat Menus is one of the most popular activity monitoring apps for Mac. The reason for it is that it can report everything. Here are some of the things that iStat Menus can report on:
- Memory pressure
- CPU and GPU performance
- Battery and Power
Other features of this app include hotkeys for quick keyboard access, accessibility and localization features, and notifications based on CPU, disk, network, weather, battery and other events.
With iStat Menus, keeping an active eye on your Mac’s performance is quite accessible. As mentioned above, all you have to do is click on the respective menu bar icons. Once you do that, you will see a drop-down which details out that component of your Mac.
Most of the drop-downs come with graphs that show a detailed breakdown of data which is updated at regular intervals so that you can know how your Mac’s activity has changed over time.
If you are worried about the menu bar cluttering with several icons, then you can rest your anxiety!
iStat Menus is highly customizable. You can choose what to show and what to hide on the menu bar. You also have the option to hide the icons from your menu bar temporarily.
To review what components are metered on the Menu bar, you can head over to the app and check or uncheck the required field box.
You can also update the colors that show in the app to customize the experience for yourself. You have the option to change the menu bar colors, menu bar borders, and even the shade of the drop-down that highlights the graphs and other details. To make sure that you do not get lost in these customization settings, the interface highlights how playing around with the colors will affect the display of your app.
Under the global settings, you also get to customize the update frequency of the app.
With much customization at hand, iStat Menus is the go-to option for a distraction-free and clean activity-monitoring app, which does the least to confuse you.
The CPU and GPU tab on iSats Menu lets you keep a track on your processor’s current load. Once you click on the menu bar icon, it reveals a drop-down list of the top five processes that are running. These processes are updated with time — you can choose the update frequency along with the displayed processes in the CPU & GPU tab of the app.
You get to view the system performance stats in the form of line graphs, pie charts, or bar graphs, or numerical value — whichever option you choose.
When you hover over these graphs, you get more insights in the form of a popup that highlights system loads for a particular time that may have triggered high CPU usage.
Sounds great so far, doesn’t it? This app is quite a haven for developers who want to check if their app is taking a toll on Mac’s performance.
With memory comes the capacity to expand on your current tasks — the workload that your Mac is capable of handling without crashing or starting to lag.
iStats Menu’s memory performance indicator provides you with ample insight into the memory bit of your Mac. The popup graphs are informative and easy to understand at the same time. They let you track the ‘memory pressure’ metric, which is much more useful than simply knowing how much your memory is ‘free’.
The detailed memory stats help you see how much of your RAM is wired, active, compressed, or free. It also lets you see the processes that are consuming most memory.
There’s more that this app has to offer! The weather module is a new integration to iStat Menus, and the developers have done the job of integrating it well.
The menu bar icon displays the current weather conditions, and when you click on it, it expands into a whole widget which shows you the ins and outs of your current geography.
You get custom icons for different weather conditions, be it rain, storm, snow, or a bright sunny day!
The well-designed weather module also shows you the daily forecast — what to expect from the day, along with the maximum and minimum temperature based on your preferred units. If you are a weather buff, then you would like to know that you also get to know the dew point, the wind’s speed, and direction.
This is probably one of the most exciting features of iStat Menus. The notification feature allows you to have notifications every time your Mac hits a specific condition. It can help you stay notified if your Mac heats up, overuses the CPU, or clogs the memory.
You can get custom notifications once your memory usage crosses a certain threshold so that you can begin quitting the apps.
The custom notifications also work with the weather module, so if you are working on your Mac and the weather turns grey and stormy, a notification pops up right away.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
While iStat Menus provides a comprehensive insight into your Mac’s functioning, at the first look, it seems like advanced users could make better use of it. However, if you spend some time on the app, you will get familiar with its buttons and icons, and the settings that govern its feature.
Also, we wished that the icon side of things was a but more aesthetic — syncing well with the design-rich layers of the macOS. However, that’s not much to be worried about and can surely be fixed with future updates.
Availability and pricing
The single license for iStat Menus can be bought at $14.15; the upgrade price happens to be at $11.79. This also includes 6 months of weather data. However, if you want to try it out, you can always download the trial version.
iStat Menus is also available at Setapp. Setapp provides access to hundreds of apps per month. It has a free 7-day trial, and then you have to subscribe it at $9.99 per month.
MenuBar stats is another great app that can help you monitor the performance of your Mac in a clean, sleek and straightforward interface.
MenuBar Stats, with its latest release MenuBar Stats 3.5, has completely reinvented the app to make it more compatible with the latest version 11 (macOS Big Sur.)
It has been ‘completely re-written from the ground’ and comes with modules such as CPU, disk, network, Bluetooth, fan, and more.
Each of these modules can be accessed front he menu bar and/or the notification center of your Mac OS.
Menubar Stats comes with a host of features that will make monitoring fun, visually appealing, and accessible on your Mac OS.
We particularly like the separate window mode feature as it lets you look at each of the modules individually in a separate window. With separate windows on the same screen, you get access to detailed information about individual components in a clear and concise manner.
On the other hand, the combined window mode on Menubar Stats allows you to see all the information in a single window. There is no pre-set limit to the number of modules that you can add. You can drag and drop the modules to expand the window; if there is no space on your screen, the window will activate the scroll view mode.
Menubar Stats is also known to have great support, so if you have any queries around the app, you can contact the support team and can expect a response in no time!
Menubar Stats comes with a free trial and can be purchased on the App Store for $4.99.
While the above-mentioned apps are quite popular and highly rated, there are other apps that can help you with monitoring your Mac’s performance with much ease.
Free open source monitoring app: XRG for Mac
Talking about open sources, XRG for Mac is a functional system monitor tool that you could try if you do want to monitor your Mac’s performance for free.
Yes, it is free to use and comes with almost all the features that a performance monitoring app should have. This app lets you monitor your CPU and GPU activity, memory usage, machine temperature, battery status, network activity, disk I/O, stock market data, and current weather.
There are also a handful of settings that you can customize to personalize your experience with this app, change units and modify the way data and graphs are displayed.
However, the way the numbers are displayed on it can get cluttered and cannot be compared to the visual aesthetics of iStat Menus and Menubar Stats 3, and it could take a while for you to figure things out with this app.
Nonetheless, it is a must-have if you are looking for a free tool to monitor your Mac’s performance and don’t mind spending some time figuring out the interface.
Clean and lightweight performance monitoring tool: Monity
Monity is another app that you can download on the App Store to track the performance of your Mac.
Monity is excellent for those who want a system monitoring app to work as a widget. It rests in the Today View section of your Mac OS and oversees various components of your hardware. Monity does not have menu bars — they say that you can view your network and system usage ‘without messing around with huge and uncomfortable symbols in the menu bar’.
Monity can be used for memory management, monitoring network activity, battery and disk usage, app usage statistics, sensors, temperatures, and fan speed.
It provides you with detailed insights into each of these components. Besides, the app is regularly updated to sync well with the visual changes that the new Mac updates bring.
Monity delivers data to you in an effortless way. For an app that is lightweight and cheap, it works exceedingly well, delivering you with stats and data at your disposal.
Monity comes in fifteen languages and can be purchased from the app store for $4.99.
macOS system monitoring widget: iStatistica
iStatistica is another monitoring app which includes notification center widget and a status bar menu — a mix of what you would find in iStat Menus and Monity.
With iStatistica, it is quite simple to keep track of your CPU’s performance — all you have to do is slide out your Mac’s Notification Center and you will get insights into the CPU, memory, battery, network activity, and disk usage. However, you will have to download an additional plugin to gain access to fans, sensors, and disk I/O monitoring.
The app is available in six languages — English, French, Spanish, German, Russian, and Italian.
If you want continuous access to iStatistica in your menu bar, you can click settings and select ‘Open iStatistica at Login’ ooer, if you only want it to be in your Notification Centre, you can switch off the autorun feature.
iStatistica runs on macOS 10.12 or higher, so if you have trouble using this app, make sure that your macOS is updated to the latest macOS Catalina 10.15.
iStatistica comes with a 7-day free trial. Post that, you can purchase a license for $7.99.
coconutBattery has been around since 2005. With the years of development that has been put into it, it does a fine job of displaying the health of your battery on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
It shows you the live performance of your battery, the age of the device and the battery, how often the battery is charged, the current health of your battery, and much more.
You also get the option to save the current health information of your device’s battery so you can see the changes in the health over time and know precisely when it is time to replace the battery or make an upgrade.
The app also syncs through iOS, which means that you do not have to connect your phone through a USB every time you want to check the health of your iPhone or iPad’s battery.
coconutBattery, however, is strictly a battery monitoring app, so you cannot view other parameters of your Mac on it, such as CPU, disk, and memory usage.
The pro version of the app — coconutBattery Plus — comes with additional features such as WiFi support, iOS Advance Viewer, custom printing templates, notifications, and more. It can be purchased for around $12, depending on your region.
However, you get to try the Plus-upgrade features for 14 consecutive starts of coconutBattery.
The newer Macs come with faster SSDs that have high data transfer speeds. To keep track of the health of your drive and to diagnose the problems, it is essential to have an app which takes care of it all. SMART Utility for Mac is one such app which is designed to do just that.
It is compatible with HDDs and SSDs that monitor, analyze, and report on the condition of your Mac’s drive.
The app displays crucial information about your drives, such as the model, power-on hours, capacity, bad sector counts, temperature, and error counts and types. It can also display information in the menu bar and supports scanning in the background — a great feature since you do not have to keep the app in foreground every time.
SMART Utility is a lightweight app and comes with a free one-month trial with four launches. A personal license can be purchased at $25. The price for a family license if $40. If you own a business, then you can get a business license for $100. Educational sites have to pay $65, while a consultant license comes at $350.
Make your pick
With a plethora of options to choose from, you can pick just the right apps to get to know more about your Mac’s performance under the hood. iStat Menus takes care of most of these parameters, but if you want to get more on the artistic side of things, you can probably go for Monity. For battery diagnostics, nothing quite beats coconutBattery. The best part? Well, you can also sync it with your iPad and iPhone.
We hope that this list provided you with ample options to get to know your Mac better. A fine-tuned Mac opens up doors to more productivity, and we have designed this list and our preferences by keeping that in mind.
Before you go
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