Editor’s note: We’ve updated this guide with a new pick for monitoring your Mac and keeping it performing as it should.
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…
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.
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 delivers one of the best user experiences possible. It works by 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.
Here is the complete list of items that iStat Menus keep track 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
iStat Menus offers 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.
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 explore different tabs to explore other options.
iStat Menus uses 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.
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.
iStat Menus can also display various graphs and infographics of your workload so that you can manage and learn about your usage and gain ample insight into how your apps behave. The app is also quite a haven for developers and can help them check, and stress tests 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 conditions. However, some of the weather tool features are locked behind a paid upgrade which is a bummer considering it is handy.
Pros and Cons of using iStat Menus
- 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
- 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 the best performance at all times. In addition, it helps save battery and improves responsiveness across the UI. Read our full review here.
For temperature monitoring: TG Pro
Pricing: Free – Trial Version, $10 – Pro Version
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 easily. 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.
Here are all the features that TG Pro comes with:
- Automatic Fan Control and Cooling
- Easy access menu bar integration
- Customizable profiles
- Advanced logging and data management
- How can you use TG Pro to manage processes?
TG Pro can’t be used to manage apps directly, but it can help you control and monitor the device temperature and fan speeds. While Apple has its own thermal limit, all CPUs and GPUs inherently run better with colder temps. TG Pro is very useful due to the detailed report it presents. However, this is only useful if you know how to manage the temps of your Mac and cool it down for a better-boosted system.
Automatic Fan Control
You can control all the fans on your device with a quick access panel on the app. You can select the ‘Fan’ header on the top panel, and it will bring you to the screen that allows you to access all the fan information – speeds, boost, sleep, and other profiles.
It also helps you customize these profiles accordingly to the temperature of your device. Hence, you fine-tune all the settings for the best cooling process and indirect performance boosts.
Menu Bar Integration
TG Pro also has great integration with the default macOS menu bar, and it can help you quickly check all the data with just a single click. The app runs in the background with minimal system resources and constantly updates the information for accurate readings.
TG Pro also has a lot of customization built in and also allows you to change the update frequency of the scans. Hence, you can truly optimize everything on your system and make cooling down your Mac a breeze.
Pros and cons of using TG Pro
- Easy to use
- Integrates with the menu bar
- Provides detailed information of the device temperatures
- Cannot monitor apps
- It doesn’t help clear RAM
In short, if all that you’re looking for is a temperature monitoring application, then TG Pro (read our full review here) is the way to go. It has some of the most detailed information you can find, and it also works in the background with the quick and easy menu bar integration. Hence, it consumes a low amount of system resources and provides quality of life benefits by tuning the fan frequency curve and optimizing performance.
For performance monitoring and optimization: CleanMyMac X
Pricing: Free — Trial version with limited features, $39.95 per year — Full package
Unlike most other tools on this list, CleanMyMac X is a complete suite to monitor and optimize your Mac for maximum performance. It comes with many features like junk cleaning, anti-malware protection, and space optimization. Recently, however, the developers have included a feature called the CleanMyMac X Menu, which lets you monitor system activities and statistics from your Mac’s menu bar.
Despite being only a part of a full suite, the CleanMyMac X Menu can compete with other options we have mentioned. Before we explore the CleanMyMac X menu in detail, we shall look at the core features of the CleanMyMac package.
CleanMyMac X lets you:
- Clean up your system
- Remove junk files
- Remove malware
- Get rid of privacy threats
- Optimize the system
- Manage applications
- Enhance storage space
- Keep track of performance
In other words, the package offers everything you need to keep your Mac running at full speed. The newly-added Menu is a great addition, indeed.
About the CleanMyMac X Menu
Once you have enabled the feature from Settings, you can access the CleanMyMac X menu from the menu bar of your Mac. A simple click on the CleanMyMac X icon will launch the interface on the right-hand side of the screen.
As you can see, the area is split into two sections: Recommendations and Mac Overview. In the first section, you can find personalized suggestions to make your Mac perform better. For instance, you can access the Smart Scan feature or launch the CleanMyMac X Assistant. But we are more interested in the second section.
The Mac Overview section is quite interactive and expansive. You can use it to monitor and track different aspects of your macOS device. Let’s have a quick look at all of them.
This section provides an overview of your Mac’s security. Of course, the data is taken from the proven safety engines of CleanMyMac X. You can see the status of the security monitor and background. The widget will also tell you when you updated the malware database the last time. It’s a great way to make sure that your Mac is free from threats.
In this section, you can get an overview of how the storage space on your Mac is being used. For instance, you can get to know the health and temperature of your Mac’s SSD. There is also a chart that shows you what is taking up the storage space. Last but not least, you can see the status of the Trash folder. There is also an option to connect your Dropbox account to CleanMyMac X.
The CleanMyMac X menu also gives you insights about the RAM and CPU. You can also see the amount of pressure on the RAM, along with the top consumers. There is also an option to immediately quit the apps that consume a lot of resources.
When it comes to CPU stats, you can find one chart that tells you about CPU consumption. Right below, you can track the system uptime and temperature of the CPU. As we saw in the case of memory, the CPU pane will also show top consumers. And you can quit the apps from the same menu.
Last but not least, the Battery section of the CleanMyMac X menu will provide you with all the basic details. For instance, you can track the health and temperature of your Mac’s battery. There is also a way to know the current percentage and the number of charge cycles.
Pros and Cons of using CleanMyMac X
- Intuitive and effortless to use
- Integrates options for performance-boosting
- Provides an overview of the system
- It does not offer fan (or other) controls
In short, the CleanMyMac X menu is a great option if you need actionable monitoring data. Instead of giving you a lot of raw data, CleanMyMac integrates it with the app. So, in a single click, you can free up RAM, cut down CPU usage, and improve storage space on your Mac. However, if you are looking for advanced control options, you need something else.
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
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 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.
Alerts and Notifications
Alerts 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 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 and bandwidth.
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
- Easy and seamless widget integration
- Powerful alerts and notification options
- A clubbed intuitive app management and data monitoring system
- The initial experience using the app may feel a little clunky
- Most features are locked behind a payment
In Short, iStatistica Pro is a great activity monitor app that helps you keep track of all the data and apps on your device. It also comes with an easy-to-use widget that integrates well with your system for quicker management and impressive performance boosts. Hence, making it perfect for people that look for convenience and an overall better UI design.
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 of your CPU usage.
Wattagio ($9.99) – It has come into the battery monitoring space since 2018 and does a fine job displaying the health of your Mac’s battery, including battery life, battery consumption, and battery cycle count. It works with a MacBook battery, MacBook Pro battery, and MacBook Air battery. However, it is strictly a battery-monitoring app and cannot work as a fully functional activity manager.
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 in the menu bar and/or the notification center of your Mac OS.
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.
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.
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, take 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 colors.
iStat Menus vs iStatistica Pro?
iStat Menus is a great Activity Monitoring application. And compared to iStatistica Pro, it can be a lot more feature-rich. So, we would recommend you 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, so your device to cool down and regain all the performance it has 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 in slowing down your Mac by 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 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.
If you are looking for an all-in-one tool to monitor and optimize your Mac, we still recommend going for the CleanMyMac X package. However, if you are into in-depth statistics and features, you may have better luck with iStat Menus. On the other hand, if you want maximum control over your Mac temperature, TG Pro is worth trying.