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Activity Monitor

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I was at a coffee shop yesterday and a young lady sat two tables away from me with her Mac laptop. Being the extrovert I initiated a conversation about our Macs. We chit chatted for a few minutes and I asked her how she liked her Mac. She said she loved it, but it was acting sort of weird. I asked her if I could take a look at it and within a few minutes of opening up Applications > Utilities > Activity Monitor I noticed right away her issue. But first, let’s discuss what the Activity Monitor does.

The Activity Monitor is your dashboard to what is happening to and on your Mac much like your car’s dashboard. Starting it up and you’ll see a large window of jumping lines of processes. In UNIX terms, a process (both parent and child processes) are started up by the OS to accomplish something and will cycle up and down as the CPU accesses and uses each process. Most of them you do not need to worry about, other than the icon of familiar programs running, but we’ll wait for another blog post to discuss this window.

Your most important part is the five tabs on the bottom of the window: CPU, System Memory, Disk Activity, Disk Usage, and Network. Here’s what they do:

  • CPU – monitors how your CPU is being used, i.e. if you’re rendering a PhotoShop image you’ll see your CPU usage go up just like when you first start up your Mac. If nothing is happening on your Mac you’ll no activity.
  • System Memory – shows how your memory is being used. When you first start up your Mac your memory will be at the smallest use and have the largest green Free pie slice. The smaller the green slice, the more the Mac begins to swap information between your memory and your hard drive, located in the /SWAP partition of your hard drive.
  • Disk Activity – refers to how much your disk is being used at any given moment. When you start up a new program you’ll see more disk activity as well as any time the OS needs something from your hard drive.
  • Disk Usage – is how full is your hard drive, how much storage your hard drive has been used up? Most of the time you’ll need more than 10% of your hard drive free for your SWAP partition.
  • Network – refers to how often you’re accessing the network. Most of the time you won’t need this.

So, what does it all mean for the lady at Starbucks? Well, I first checked her Disk Usage and she had less than 5GB free of her 111GB sized hard drive, less than the 10% she needs for her SWAP partition. This meant that her Mac was doing double duty with not enough resources using her Mac.

My suggestions to her were: archive and delete files and applications off of her hard drive to free up more space, purchase an external hard drive to store less used files, add more memory (she had 2GB) which would allow for more of her programs to use memory than her hard drive, and third was getting a larger hard drive installed, since she was a dancer and in marketing her music and images were important to her.

I left her with my suggestions and hopefully she’ll take some actions on one of them.

If you purchase my book How to Start a Business: Mac Version on page 216 you’ll find more detailed instructions on how you can keep your Mac running smoothly.

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