On Mac OS X, the equivalent is the Activity Monitor, and if you want to be a fairly proficient Mac user, it is necessary to know what Activity Monitor is, and how to read and use it. As usual, that’s where we come in.
Start Her Up!
One way to start Activity Monitor is to open up Finder, go to the Applications folder, then the Utilities folder, and the shortcut to open Activity Monitor is right there.
Another much faster way is if you use Spotlight or Alfred. Then you can just type in the first few letters and up it pops.
Once it is opened, you may find it much more convenient to keep Activity Monitor sitting in your dock.
Just like Windows’ Task Manager, Activity Monitor provides a list of running processes and shows how much of your available resources each one is currently using. You can see at a glance which processes are using the most of your computing power, and kill them in an attempt to make your computer run faster.
Items in the list can be arranged alphabetically or numerically, by clicking each heading at the top of the column (Process Name, %CPU, CPU Time, and so on).
Back in 2010, Angelina wrote a great post on what a Central Processing Unit is. Although it was aimed at Windows CPU’s, quite a lot of it also applies to a Mac. So instead of rehashing what has already been said, I will defer to Angelina’s superior wisdom in this subject.
Quitting Rogue Processes
Not everything works the way you want it to all of the time. There will be frequent occasions when a piece of software on your Mac will crash or become unresponsive and take up too much CPU or memory. Short of taking a hammer to the laptop, the best option is to go to the Activity Monitor and see what’s causing the congestion.
Some apps are great at minimizing their digital footprint, while others such as Chrome and Evernote have the potential to swallow large amounts of processing power. Firefox is also a persistent offender, as well as the cloud desktop sync tools – Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive – as they are constantly grinding away in the background.
Saying that however, as someone who regularly switches between a Windows desktop PC and a Mac OS X Macbook Air, I have to admit that the problem of leaky apps is worse on Windows. That doesn’t mean it’s all smooth sailing on Mac OS X. Sometimes you need to quit a process because it’s crashed, or slowing the OS down.
Quitting an app is very simple. In the Activity Monitor, locate your app and see if it is really causing things to slow down by using excessive memory or CPU power (you can search in the top-right if you need to). If it is, click on it with your mouse to highlight it, then click the far left “cross” button at the top of the window to close it.
You will be asked if you really want to kill the process:
This is fairly self-explanatory. You can try the normal Quit first, but most rogue apps refuse to obey the regular command. This leaves you with “Force Quit”, which should shut down most apps. Any that refuse to quit at this point will probably require a restart to resolve.
Listing Processes By CPU or Memory Consumption
If things are going slow and you’re not sure why, you need to line up the biggest offenders who are gobbling up CPU and memory like there is no tomorrow.
To do so, click the title bar at the top – %CPU or Memory on the Memory tab. The little arrow should be pointing downwards. As you can see, my CPU usage is quite low at the moment, even with Google Chrome running since yesterday. Start playing a video in VLC or run a Time Machine backup and watch the numbers go crazy.
If you can see that any of the processes are consuming way too much CPU or memory, then you can quit or force quit it, as we have just seen. This is also a good place to keep an eye on your computer’s performance if your Mac is randomly shutting down.
The Energy Tab
If your Mac takes the form of a laptop, rather than a desktop computer, then battery usage should be something you should keep an eye on, especially if you are out and about and you’ve forgotten to bring your charger with you.
To find out which apps consume the most juice, click on the Energy tab, then click on the Energy Impact title bar to order the results accordingly. You can now see what is draining your battery and quit any unnecessary processes to increase overall battery life.
Track Down Where Apps Are Located On Your Computer
Do you see a rogue program going absolutely havoc in your Activity Monitor? Are you mystified as to where that app is located on your computer? Does the name of the running process not provide any clues as to what it is? Then Activity Monitor will show you where it is located in your Library.
Just highlight the mystery process with your mouse, then press the “i” button at the top, next to the Quit button. This will open up a box like so:
Now click on Sample at the bottom to get this :
As you can see, under “Path”, it gives you the exact location of the process in your Activity Monitor. Now you can go and see if you can identify it by looking at its other folders. It’s pretty obvious what Chrome is, but you may see some other mystery processes that aren’t so obvious and this can help you identify what they are.
Why Is All This Important?
Activity Monitor is a window to the beating heart of your computer. It can give you an idea as to why your computer is running slow and why your battery life is dismal among other technical information most users have little need for. It pays to understand what you’re looking at, understand what each part means, and how it fits into the whole.
So fire up Activity Monitor, and become better acquainted with the inner workings of your Mac. If you have any questions at all, leave them in the comments below, or ask over at MakeUseOf Answers.
How often do you have to kill processes on your Mac?