The Best System Monitor Apps to Check Your Mac’s Performance

Utility •  Updated on July 4, 2021

Macs are powerful devices, and with the introduction of the custom Apple silicon M1 Macs and MacBooks, it has become more imperative that you manage the background apps and monitor power consumption.

Don’t get us wrong, the M1 SOC is fast and is the fastest of the chips that we’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean that you should leave everything to the computer and not do anything as it will consistently deliver poor results and keep on getting slower over time. However, using a system monitor brings a lot of benefits, and they are:

  • In-depth monitoring of apps and processes.
  • Maintaining a smooth user experience.
  • Helps terminate unresponsive and unwanted tasks and applications.

Are you currently taking full advantage of all the techy help you can get?

If you are not sure, I’m glad you are here. As a Mac geek, I have been testing some system monitoring tools and I’m happy to share my favorites with you.

Quick jump to…

Let’s Start With the Standard: Activity Monitor

Your Mac comes with a built-in system monitoring application known as Activity Monitor. It is excellent for closing unresponsive applications and seeing real-time CPU, Network, Disk status or Energy usage. So, how do you access the Activity Monitor? – Follow the steps below to get the activity monitor running for you.

  • Firstly, Go to your “Applications” folder and then to the “Utility” folder.
  • Then double-click on the “Activity Monitor”, which will bring up a window.
  • This is the Activity Monitor app, and here you’ll see five tabs and a list of entries that changes every few seconds. The Tabs contain the following information – CPU, Memory, Energy, Disk Usage and Network.

Note: The Activity Monitor shows you real-time usage and power consumption. It also allows you to close and terminate all unresponsive tasks or tasks, hogging up too much performance.

Is the built-in Activity Monitor good enough?

The Activity Monitor is a decent app from Apple and is ideally suited to beginners. However, if you want to have extra control over what you’re doing and the processes running, you would have to opt for the third-party solutions listed below.

The Activity monitor helps you by displaying the main processes and the percentage load on the CPU and GPU. It can also force-quit any unresponsive application and help recover your Mac to a normal running state. However, there are many features and information that it misses or hides due to Apple’s clutter-free and simple design idealogy. Hence, third-party applications are better alternatives for the program.

Therefore, the built-in Activity is popular with beginners and casual users, while professionals use 3rd-party apps with more functionality and readily available data.

Try a Better Monitor: iStat Menus

Pricing: Free for seven days and then a $9.99 per month Setapp subscription, or you can purchase it for $14.15 and can be upgraded for $11.79 (includes six months of weather data)

iStat Menus is genuinely outstanding and deliver some of the best user experience possible. When it boils down to which app provides a better and robust customizable app experience, then the iStat menu shines the brightest and helps you monitor the system performance of your Mac. It works with recognizing all apps and integrating the charts in the menu bar on top of your Mac to access the numbers quickly. It is also lightweight and runs in the background with zero to no performance hit.

You can get started using the app by downloading and installing the app from the link above. After you’re done installing, you will be greeted with a pop-up window for all the settings and customizations that you can do.  However, the main feature of monitoring will help you readily keep track of your Mac’s performance and allow you to see if anything is hindering it or not. Here is the complete list of items that iStat Menus keep tracks of and help monitor:

  • Disk Usage
  • Memory Consumption and Availability
  • CPU and GPU performance
  • Battery and Power Information
  • Displaying data such as Weather, Network information and Sensor state
How can you use iStat Menus to manage processes?

iStat Menus has a straightforward UI that can help you manage operations and terminate unresponsive tasks or background running apps that hog up performance and memory. In addition, we use it to check the background apps and maintain all the processes that impact the performance. This helps us optimizing and planning our workflow and better improve the overall UI experience.

It also has a comprehensive graph page that helps us monitor the total time spent working and gaming, and this data helps me out by analyzing and taking out time for other day to day stuff. Finally, the weather information panel that we’ll discuss shortly works excellent to help us plan our day and move forward with our day.

You can also do this and enable the settings to make it more productive by:

  • Go into the app and look for the CPU and GPU tab on the left-hand side of your screen.
  • Click on the tab and now look for ‘Processes’ and clear any unwanted task or process you want to.

Note: You can also visit the other tabs. We recommend you check out the Memory tab to quickly and efficiently manage all the different processes and apps that can limit your performance by staying in memory.

Customization Options

iStat Menus use a menu bar integration method to display all the information. This can lead to problems such as a cluttered menu bar or accessibility concerns. However, you can lay these concerns to rest as iStat Menus is highly customizable. You can choose what to display on the menu bar and what to hide on the menu bar. You also have the option to hide the icons from your menu bar temporarily and customize the update frequency so that the icons aren’t disturbing.

It also allows the app’s accent colours and personalizes the icons according to your liking and preferences. The total amount of customizations it provides is immense, and you can change the menu bar colours, borders, and even the slightest of details in the shade of the drop-down that highlights the graphs and other information. The interface highlights how changing the colours will affect the app and the menu bar, and with this much customization at hand, iStat Menus becomes the go-to option for a distraction-free and clean activity-monitoring app.

Performance Monitoring

As we have already discussed, the CPU and GPU tab helps you manage your processes and activities. Finally, the memory tab enables you to manage RAM consumption to improve performance and responsiveness all around the UI.

However, this is the basic that iStat Menus is capable of. iStat Menus can also display various graphs and infographics of your workload so that you can manage and learn about your usage and ample insight on how your apps behave. The app is also quite a haven for developers and can help them check and stress test their app performance and requirements on the Mac.

Notifications and Weather Information

Finally, iStat Menus also provides many customization options for what notifications you want to receive. The notification feature allows you to have reports every time your Mac hits a specific condition or issue. For example, it helps you by notifying if your Mac heats up, overuses the CPU, or saturates the memory with background apps.

It also features a built-in weather information widget to help you monitor your area’s current and upcoming weather condition. However, some of the weather tool features are locked behind a paid upgrade which is a bummer considering it is handy. The module displays the daily forecast along with the maximum and minimum temperature based on your preferred units. Oh, and if you are a weather buff, you also get to see the dew point, wind’s speed and direction.

Oh, and the cherry on the cake is that the custom notifications settings and preferences also work with the weather module, which means if you are working on your Mac and the weather suddenly turns grey and stormy, a message pops up right away notifying you of the condition.

Pros and Cons of using iStat Menus

Pros

  • It is feature-rich and can help you monitor a lot of stuff at once
  • It has a menu integration system that displays data directly on every screen
  • You can also set custom notifications, and it has a lot of customization settings for personalization

Cons

  • The Pro package can get a little pricy
  • Weather Information and Notifications can feel a little cluttered
  • The design can feel a little dated and doesn’t fit in with the new macOS Big Sur menu icon set

In Short, iStat Menus is the perfect app if you want to monitor all your process activity and keep your device optimized for best performance at all times. In addition, it helps save battery and improves responsiveness across the UI.

Also Great: iStatistica Pro for Mac

Pricing: Free – Trial Version with limited features, $5.99 – Full Package

iStatistica Pro is an excellent alternative for iStat Menus, but it lacks the customization options that iStat Menus provide. It also includes a widget and a status bar menu that comes in handly while displaying a lot of information at once. So, if you don’t need the customization settings and don’t mind downloading a plugin for additional features, then, by all means, get iStatistica Pro.

The full version for iStatistica Pro has a lot of features and can help you manage the following:

  • A complete System Monitor dashboard
  • Bluetooth device battery information
  • Sensors and Fans data
  • Network activity monitoring
  • Remote access through your iPhone
  • Widgets and instant notifications
How can you use iStatistica Pro to manage processes?

iStatistica Pro has many monitoring features to help you manage your apps to the fans on your Mac. So, how do you so?

  • Well, Firstly, you need to download and install the app
  • Secondly, you would be greeted with a homepage that would allow you to access all your data on a single screen

Note: You can access all the device information on a single screen which can be a little clunky, but after a bit of experience, you would easily be able to navigate the entire UI and understand all the information.

App Management

App Management is simple and straightforward, with the main features directly being listed on the app’s home page. Here you can manage all the settings and even kill misbehaving or performance hogging apps running in the foreground or the background. You also get a detailed analysis report for all the performance hits and CPU and Memory utilization. Finally, it has graphs and other information related to battery and temperature that can help you better analyze and monitor your Mac apps. We also enjoy the fact that you can manage all the tasks under the same section, and it proves helpful in killing apps and maintain good performance overall. Oh, and did we mention it also has fan controls and temperature monitoring capabilities for all the CPU cores, GPU and other inbuilt hardware.

Alerts and Notifications

Alert and Notifications are a big part of monitoring and getting crucial information right at your fingertips, and iStatistica Pro has a robust alert management system that allows you to get notifications regarding the CPU utilization limit and memory utilization limit instantly notify you if your device hits that threshold. Finally, you also get a companion app for your iPhone, and it lets you remotely access all the monitoring data right on your phone. It also has webhook commands and additional notification plugins, but it can get a little confusing for beginners, so try that when you get comfortable using the app.

Widgets

Widgets are a big thing for macOS, and iStatistica makes full use of them. It has multiple widgets that go on your home screen and provide you with crucial information regarding app, CPU and memory utilization. It also helps track your storage data and network connectivity with download and upload speeds for the entire time you’re using your device. You can also add additional devices for monitoring, such as your Bluetooth connected Apple Watch and headphones for easier access and battery management on the home screen.

Pros and Cons of using iStatistica Pro

Pros

  • Easy and seamless widget integration
  • Powerful alerts and notification options
  • A clubbed intuitive app management and data monitoring system

Cons

  • The initial experience using the app may feel a little clunky
  • Most features are locked behind a payment

Other Alternatives

MenuBar Stats ($4.99) – MenuBar Stats helps you monitor the performance of your Mac in a clean, sleek and straightforward interface. 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.

TG Pro ($10) – TG Pro is a diagnostics app that works the best with monitoring temperature and fan data. However, it also has system monitoring capabilities with CPU, GPU, Battery and storage information that helps you maintain your device with ease. Finally, it is the only app on the list that can accurately display all the temperature information for the new M1 Macs, including any older gen models.

XRG for Mac (free) – 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. The UI is complex and needs a lot of time to get used to, and it also looks like something straight out of the 2000s era. 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.

App Tamer ($14.95) – helps you tame the apps that hog your CPU. It’s a lightweight menu bar utility with the ability to detect the average percentage of your processor(s) being used by each app, or access a graphical history or your CPU usage.

Monity ($4.99) – Monity is an excellent app for those who want infographics to work as a widget. It is available in the ‘Today View’ section of your macOS UI and can oversee various device hardware components. Monity does not have menu bars and displays information straight through the widget without cluttering your menubar workspace. The app comes in fifteen languages and can be purchased from the app store for $4.99.

coconutBattery3 ($12) – coconutBattery has been around the battery monitoring space since 2005 and does a fine job displaying the health of your Mac’s battery. It also comes with a companion app for your iPad and iPhone to track and manage their batteries as well. However, it is strictly a battery-monitoring app and cannot work as a fully functional activity manager.

SMART Utility ($25) – All new Macs come with faster SSDs with high data transfer speeds and fantastic read and write rates, sometimes leading to drive management issues. SMART Utility is built to keep track of the health of all your drives and to diagnose any problem that may arise. It can also get information such as drive temperature, capacity, and health, making it great for Disk Utility software.

MenuMeters (free) – Finally, taking a look at MenuMeters, which looks like a simple Aciitiivty manager application but can get seriously complex and feature-rich with use. It has unique features and customization options and details every activity and process with graphs and memory colours.

FAQs

iStat Menus vs iStatistica Pro?

iStat Menus is a great Activity Monitoring application, and compared to iStatistica Pro can be a lot feature-rich. So, we would recommend you to stick with iStat Menus as it is impressive with what it does and is lightweight enough not to be a problem with the performance. See the detailed comparison here.

Why is my MacBook Pro so hot?

There can be multiple reasons for your MacBook Pro getting so hot, but the primary one is that it’s being stressed with all the performance demands from applications and tasks. So, a quick fix is to use an Activity Monitoring app to identify the most demanding app and terminate it for your device to cool down and regain all the performance is lost.

What should the CPU usage percentage be for my Mac?

There is no set rule for what CPU usage percentage should be good for your Mac, but anything over 80% usage should be a cause for concern, and generally, you should max out the CPU at around 70-80% load and not more.

How to fix kernel_task CPU usage on Big Sur?

kernel_task is a variety of low-level processes that allow your computer to work and is a part of macOS. It won’t generally concern you, but it can sometimes be the biggest culprit of slowing down your Mac with utilizing the CPU to the max. However, you can fix this by restarting your Mac and updating it to the latest software update available.

How to get CPU temperature for the new M1 Macs?

The new M1 Macs aren’t compatible with most apps for temperature monitoring, but TG Pro works perfectly. So, you can download TG Pro from the link above and monitor your M1 Mac without and compatibility issues.

Before You Go

After spending over 20 years working with Macs, both old and new, there’s a premium tool I think would be useful to every Mac owner who is experiencing performance issues.

CleanMyMac X is highest rated all-round cleaning app, it can quickly diagnose and solve a whole plethora of common (but sometimes tedious to fix) issues at the click of a button. It also just happens to make it very easy to free up disk space on your Mac by identifying junk files and allowing you to get rid of them with a click, so Download CleanMyMac X to get your Mac back up to speed today.