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In Depth Guide to Mac Activity Monitor

Articles • Sept.5, 2022

Every Mac ships with some really powerful utilities. Whether you make use of all these utilities is a different question altogether. But if you ask us, there are some utilities that you SHOULD regularly use. Mac’s Activity Monitor is one of them. When used correctly, Activity Monitor can tell you a lot about your Mac.

For instance, you may want to know about the performance statistics of your Mac. Or you may be wondering whether your Mac has enough RAM. Sometimes, you may wonder why your Mac’s battery drains so quickly. What if we tell you that the macOS Activity Monitor can help you find answers to all these?

You can count on this in-depth guide to Mac’s Activity Monitor to learn more about the utility and improve your macOS experience.

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What is Activity Monitor?

Activity Monitor is one of the many utilities that macOS comes with. As its name says, Activity Monitor lets you monitor the different activities running on your Mac. Over the years, Activity Monitor has changed a lot, but it has remained an efficient way to understand how well your Mac performs.

Here’s the thing, though.

What Activity Monitor can help you do is more than what meets the eye. Sure, you can use it to force-quit unresponsive apps and understand which apps consume more battery juice. But you can also use the utility to discover potential malware on your Mac.

Because it is hardwired into your Mac, Activity Monitor can also show you super-advanced analytics. It offers so much information that you can answer many questions that you may have while using the Mac. Now that you know the basics, we will talk about how to use Activity Monitor on Mac.

How to Use Activity Monitor on Mac?

First, we shall discuss how to launch Activity Monitor and understand the basics. Later, we can cover how to use the same utility for specific purposes.

How to Open Activity Monitor on Mac?

You can open Activity Monitor on Mac using two ways:

  1. Open Spotlight Search and search for Activity Monitor
  2. Go to Applications -> Utilities -> open Activity Monitor

Either way, your Mac will open the Activity Monitor utility and show you the CPU tab by default.

Understanding Activity Monitor Tabs on Mac

By default, Activity Monitor on Mac has four five tabs: CPU, Memory, Energy, Disk, and Network. Each tab is designed to show you in-detail information about different aspects of your system. We will quickly look at what you can find on these tabs.

  • CPU

You can use this tab to know how your Mac uses CPU and GPU resources. In addition to process-specific data on the upper part of the window, the tab will show System CPU usage, User CPU usage, Idle CPU capacity, the number of threads, and the number of processes. You can also find the CPU load through a graph.

If you need a detailed understanding, you can know how many resources each process uses. For instance, it is easy to track the % CPU, the number of threads, CPU time, % GPU, GPU time, and the number of idle wakeups of the system.

  • Memory

RAM usage is something you may want to track regularly. Activity Monitor will show you critical data, such as Physical Memory, Memory Used, Cached Files, Swap Used, and Memory Pressure. You can also know the type of memory being used.

You can understand which apps consume most of your RAM on the upper part of the window. You can know the memory usage, the number of threads, and the number of ports.

  • Energy

You can use the Energy tab to know how different processes impact energy consumption on your Mac. It gives a quick look at the remaining charge percentage, battery charge nature, and the time you have spent on AC. You can also see a real-time graph of Energy Impact and Battery for the last 12 hours.

Of course, these metrics will change based on whether your Mac has a battery.

  • Disk

The Disk tab on Activity Monitor is perhaps one of the most advanced. You can find various info on aspects like Reads in, Writes out, Reads in per second, Writes out per second, amount of data read, amount of data written, etc.

You can also change between Data and I/O metrics as you wish.

  • Network

You can find a variety of network-based information on this tab. For instance, you can find the total number of Packets in, Packets out, Packets in per second, Packets out per second, Data received, Data sent, etc. You can also see a graph based on this information.

These are the basics you should know about launching and using Activity Monitor. But if you want to use the utility for specific needs, you can do that too.

#1 Use Activity Monitor to Find Malware on Your Mac

Contrary to popular belief, malware can affect macOS. These malicious apps might not have system access, but they can do huge damage. Fortunately, you can use Activity Monitor to detect malware on your Mac.

You can use the CPU tab to understand whether you have a malware-infected Mac. Here is what you have to do:

  • You can look for suspicious apps that you do not remember installing or opening
  • See if a particular process consumes an extraordinarily high amount of CPU resources
  • You should also check if the same process takes up a lot of disk/network resources

If you find a process that meets either of these criteria, you can do a Google search to confirm whether it is problematic. You can quit the process and uninstall the program responsible in that case.

#2 Use Activity Monitor to Speed Up Your Mac

This task takes some work, but you can use Activity Monitor to optimize your Mac’s performance. You need to follow the steps given below.

  • You can use the CPU tab to detect high resource-consuming processes and quit them
  • The Memory tab will help you to find out RAM-greedy apps, and you can find alternatives
  • It is also a good idea to see if apps misbehave in the Network/Disk department

By recognizing and quitting the problematic apps, you can speed up your Mac, especially when you want to multitask. It is also an excellent way to know if unwanted apps are running in the background.

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#3 Use Activity Monitor to Increase Your Mac’s Battery Life

Activity Monitor will also help you deal with battery life issues. We already mentioned that the Energy tab of Activity Monitor provides an overview of energy consumption on your Mac. You can use the same data to determine which processes/apps are responsible for your battery drain.

You can expect your Mac’s battery to last longer if you close these energy-intensive apps.

You can take things further and enhance the overall battery lifespan by doing a few things. We told you that the Energy tab on Activity Monitor shows you a graph of energy impact. It might be a good idea to eliminate apps that go to town on your Mac’s battery.

#4 Use Activity Monitor to Quit and Force-Quit Apps

It is one of the essential functions of Activity Monitor, but it is beneficial.

If you think a particular app/process is causing problems on your Mac, you can force-quit it using the Activity Monitor utility. Here’s how you can go about it.

  • Open Activity Monitor and go to the Energy tab
  • Select the app causing battery drain or high CPU stats
  • Click on the Stop button at the top
  • Select Quit or Force-Quit from the pop-up menu

That’s it! You have successfully force-quit the app. This step may help you increase the battery life or disable malicious apps for the time being.

#5 Use Activity Monitor for Advanced Mac Analytics

You should remember that Activity Monitor is Apple’s default system monitoring app. It means the utility is powerful enough to access different aspects of your Mac. As a result, Activity Monitor can help you find advanced Mac analytics.

You can click on the three-dots button and choose between different types of system diagnostics reports:

  • Sample Process
  • Spindump
  • System Diagnostics
  • Spotlight Diagnostics

These diagnostics reports may come in handy when your Mac runs into trouble. Instead of trying to explain a complex problem, you can send a diagnostics report. It may not always work, but it is useful, indeed.

Is Mac’s Activity Monitor Enough?

Short Answer: Yes, but there is a learning curve.

Long Answer:

Most of the time, you can count on Activity Monitor for your basic needs. It does a good job of showing what you need to know. However, you may need a more intuitive solution if you need constant access to system monitoring data. For example, it does not make sense to open the Activity Monitor app whenever you need to understand which app consumes more battery resources.

In these instances, you can consider alternatives like iStat Menus or other system monitoring apps for Mac.

Conclusion

We hope you learned a thing or two about Mac’s Activity Monitor through this guide. The good thing about Activity Monitor is that you can use this utility in any way you like. It provides you with actionable data about each process and app.