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How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: How Do You Monitor Your Computer?

Beneath the shiny case of your computer and GUI of your operating system there’s a lot–CPU utilization, memory access, and disk space consumption to name a few things–you can keep an eye on. How do you keep an eye on resource utilization and more on your computer?

Image available as wallpaper here.

Whether you’re carefully managing a small pool of RAM, making sure your abundant apps don’t bog down your processor, or you just like having an intimate view of what’s going on in the guts of your computer, we want to hear all about the tools you use to do it. How and why do you monitor your computer? From disk use to case temps, any kind of monitoring is fair game.

Sound off in the comments with the how and why of your monitoring arrangement and then be sure to stop back in on Friday for the What You Said roundup to see what tricks and tools your fellow readers are using to keep an eye on their hardware.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/3/12

Comments (48)

  1. r

    I use a whole bunch of things that depend on what needs to be managed or monitored. Mostly I use :

    -Advanced System Care Pro
    -Sysinternals Suite
    -SIW Tech Version
    -NirSoft tools
    -Speccy

  2. Alex M

    The ones I can think of right now:
    - Rainmeter ( CPU, RAM, network, battery, etc.)
    - Coretemp
    - Foldersize ( monitor disk space usage )

  3. WandersFar

    Second for Rainmeter and FolderSize.

  4. Chronno S. Trigger

    I use my system for a lot of gaming, recording, and video editing so I have to keep a close eye on a lot of things.

    I use a program called Speed Fan to keep track of the temperatures of the internal components. I have two Windows 7 gadgets (one called All CPU Meter and the other called Drives Monitor) to keep track of RAM CPU and Disk usage. I’ve also started using a program called Crystal Disk just today to try to figure out a problem with data transfer to one of my drives.

  5. Tom

    I just like to have a view into what is happening as I’m working so I can quickly glance at a display and see the system state. I don’t need anything fancy so I use gkrellm to show the CPU core usage, temperatures, disk and network usage (read/writes) and memory. It all sits in a little strip on the far right of my two monitor set up.

  6. Ray

    Another vote for Rainmeter.

  7. Irish_IT

    For me, it usually boils down to HWInfo32 (or 64bit if you prefer) and sysinternals process explorer. The combo of both gives me a good reading of all my temps/devices and what processes are hoggin up my resources.

  8. Edvin

    on my servers and on some of my network equipment and windows machines I use muninn and nagios. on my main windows machine I use all cpu meter, all drives meter, gpu meter, network meter and speedfan

  9. Grant

    My daily backup job also watches available disk space. It sends me email when any partition had less than a set amount free so i can add disk to that volume. When it becomes an issue, the easiest way I have found to identify the culprit is a simple du|sort -n|tail . Cygwin lets me do that somewhat on Windows, but it does not work as well.

    As for CPU/memory, top gets me close enough that I can see the trouble maker if there is one.

  10. Saman Azizkhani

    I use some of these tools to monitor my system and network :-)
    Private Firewall
    Proxifier
    System Explorer
    Speccy
    inSSIDer
    Space sniffer

  11. Lee

    I don’t really monitor my computer constantly, only when something is hanging up and I need to see what’s causing it.
    That being said, I do have Rainmeter so I can quickly see how much RAM or CPU is being used. For anything more detailed, I just go into the task manager and sort by RAM or CPU.

  12. Robert

    MonitorApp:
    http://www.desktopapps.co.uk/monitorApp.php

    Very simple, convenient & customizable.

  13. shinigamibob

    I use OpenHardware monitor to monitor all my hardware temperatures and loads. It even shows the various voltages on the motherboard – which come in very handy when I’m monitoring the overall stability of an overclock. For SSDs, it even shows the drive wear and life expectancy. It can also graph any sort of temperature data. Thats what I use 99% of the time – simple and elegant.

    When I’m load testing or stability testing an overclock, its always the same couple tools. RealTemp and CPU-z. CPU-z has a lot more granular information than OpenHardwareMonitor does, but data that is only useful in a specific scenario. RealTemp is also very important in that it allows for the logging of temperature data. So even if I leave a load test running overnight and it happens to BSOD or reboot, I’ll always have the temperatures of each individual core.

    When I’m gaming (the little that I do nowadays), its MSI Afterburner for GPU monitoring. The on screen overlay is incredibly useful in that the load, temperature, voltages, and fan speeds are shown directly on top of whatever game I’m playing. On top of that, it supports multiple cards just as well and shows if SLI or Corssfire is working properly (by checking the GPU usage and framerate). Its a small overlay on the corner of the screen so its never intrusive. More useful than Fraps for sure – the screen recording built has better utilization of CPU’s for better compression of video and wont eat up an entire disk for a 30 minute recording session (or cost you $35)

    Most of those tools even have remote monitoring capabilities, but I prefer to use Mobile PC Monitor for that.

  14. Claude LaFrenière

    The main applications I’m using to monitor my PC under Windows 7 are Sysinternal’s Process Explorer and HWInfo64 (for the CPU/GPU/HD) temperatures. From time to time I’m also using System Explorer. Under Linux (OpenSuse) I’m using Htop and the sensors applets for temperatures.

  15. Danny

    Process Explorer
    It’s all I need to keep an eye on CPU, RAM, GPU, Commit, Network, and Disk.

  16. TheFu

    * SysUsage for performance monitoring
    * logwatch for bad system issues – storage, package installations, etc.
    * psad to monitor and block connection hogs
    * fail2ban to monitor and block failed authentication attempts for lots-o-things (http_auth, ssh, etc)
    * Assorted other scripts to track other system specific items.

    If I were smarter or less lazy, I’d write modules for logwatch.

    psad does a great job watching Windows PCs spew connections on the LAN too. It is really sad to see WindowsPCs on the LAN be blocked automatically because they are constantly looking for UDP and TCP ports from other LAN IPs. It probably has something to due with media center – at least that’s my guess.

  17. GrandpaLeaman

    I’m running Linux Mint so I use conky. It is the best, and easy to configure so it looks cool on your desktop.

  18. Frank

    for personal/home use, Ctrl-Shift-Esc brings up Windows 7 Task Manager with CPU Usage and Physical Memory Usage at the bottom, and if I click on Processes tab, then CPU or Memory column header to sort largest first, I can quickly see if there’s a CPU or Memory hog – if not, it may be my modem overheating/slowing

    for space, I use TreeSize Free to find the biggest files I can delete to free up space, I especially like the Portable version on my USB thumbdrives – otherwise My Computer shows drive size and free space no problems.

  19. dima

    I don’t. I have plenty of RAM and HD space, I don’t see a need to monitor anything unless I’m having an issue.

  20. Asian Angel

    Process Explorer from the Sysinternals Suite is the only thing I need/use on my Windows systems.

  21. Austin

    Rainmeter

  22. Stu

    I use Prism HUD, which keeps out of the way unless something is actually going on.

  23. thesilentman

    Every damn day. I cannot work on my machine without checking Task Manager/System Monitor at least once. It’s probably a habit I picked up using Vista in its infancy…

  24. RA

    I just use the built-in Resource Monitor program, along with CoreTemp.

  25. Stefano Marzorati

    Samurize Client

  26. Israel

    Well I got several utilities that surely help me. For desktop in Windows, I got Rainmeter, that is, looking the previous comments, the most popular among us. I also use sysinternals’ Procexp, with which I replaced my default Task Manager. With this one I can have a lookup of all the processes that are running on my PC, and have a good control o’er them. Nirsoft’s Current Ports is another tool that comes handy. I can check which ports are being used by certain application, so I can decide whether to add or remove to and from the exceptions. And what to say about Speed Fan? Man, it’s awesome to know the current status of each of the fans of your PC.

    For Linux, I use Conky in the desktop. The built in System Manager (sorry, I forgot the name :P) in gnome-shell, and for the latter, there are some awesome shell extensions (aka http://extensions.gnome.org/) that can measure a lot of things, such as the network I/O speed, the processor’s temperature, the CPU usage, kill a process, etc.

  27. poch p

    Would you believe I only use Windows Task Manager? When you use 3 different browsers like I do, I discovered that you have to end a browser process first before switching to another — so that your PC will not slow down or freeze. I also use MyDefrag daily prompt to remind me of disk cleanup, defragmentation, and updates.

  28. jeepers

    Rainmeter- Gnometer, Emniett Drive Meters, VClouds Weater 2, Calendar, Slide Volume,
    Vista Rainbar Power Gadget, Magic Tab(s). Core Temp, Clean Mem, Mini Bin.

  29. Tony

    I use “A really small app” . It let’s you see how things are running without being a hog!

  30. Steven Shaffer

    I use an app called TinyResMeter. Customizable so you can make it as small with as little details as you want or big so you can see everything.

    http://perso.accelance.net/~pesoft/trm/us_trm.html

  31. BobJam

    Running Ubuntu 12.04 and Linux Mint12.

    Have the Mate DE on both.

    Use GkrellM and Mate Sensors Applet 1.2.0 to monitor temps. Since temp monitoring is notoriously inaccurate, I don’t take either one as gospel, but generally they both agree and I take that as a good ballpark indicator. For example, if both say 52 degrees C on the CPU, I generally take that as “it’s somewhere around 50, give or take maybe five degrees”.

    I use a laptop, consequently temperature is very important. I also use a chill mat (“Thermaltake”).

    GkrellM will also monitor network activity (and a lot of other things.) For that, in addition to GkrellM, I also use the System Monitor Applet 1.4.0 and also Mate Netspeed 1.4.0. As in temperature monitoring, I don’t take what they say as gospel, but if all three generally agree (which they do most of the time), I take that as a good ballpark estimate.

    Now for network monitoring I also use “iptraf” (a CLI utility), and that’s a lot more accurate than the others. So if my eyebrows are raised by any of the three, I fire up iptraf and get a better estimate.

  32. Mknz

    AIDA64 with the G15 applet feature allows me to select which stats I want appearing and I can even edit the the labels, units etc. Tried everything else but by using the keyboard screen I can keep my desktop nice and clean.

  33. Drew

    In addition to sysinternals, SIW and task manager, I use Prism HUD. Little resource usage bars pop up on your screen when cpu, RAM, disk ,network, etc. usage is high or changes significantly. In addition to letting you know what is going on with your PC, it looks cool!

  34. xOAT

    Rainmeter for CPU, memory, and disk space usage
    CoreTemp for temperatures

  35. TechGeek01

    I don’t use much else other than what’s typical of your average power user.

    It’s a combination of Rainmeter, Speccy, and WinDirstat, with a few extra tools thrown in here and there as needed.

    If I notice that I want to clean up something or get stuff back, then I break out Recuva, CCleaner, and Defraggler. There’s typically not much to monitor on my laptop, though, as I sync most of the files I use on there through Dropbox. There’s only one other computer with internet access, which is running Windows 8 Release Preview (soon-to-be WIn8 Pro). I find that the built-in utilities are much better than in Windows 7 or earlier, and I use them often as well.

    The only other two computers I have do not have internet access, so they rarely get used (WinME and Win98), so the built-in utilities twice a year or so is fine.

    And then, speaking of monitoring, I have two monitors on the Win8 machine, and the wallpapers are changed between ones in a folder every 3 minutes (every 3 minutes, A wallpaper gets changed, but they alternate, so I get 6 minutes out of each). Just for kicks, to keep things fresh, I use Desktoppr to sync wallpapers to Dropbox.

    Also, as an added bonus, one monitor happen to be a 19″ flat screen TV with both HDMI and VGA inputs (for some reason, HDMI doesn’t size properly, so until I fix that, I’m using VGA), which is hooked up as both a monitor and a TV. This way, while I wait for a defrag, install, uninstall, or recovery to finish, I can watch TV in the meantime.

  36. Chase

    I use RealTemp to make sure my computer doesn’t overheat (laptop),
    Resource manager to manage RAM usage,
    Comodo as an Anti-Virus,
    Ccleaner as a de-cruder,
    and Inssider to make sure my network is performing well.

  37. pbug56

    coretemp and SystemMonitor. On one old system, also speedfan.

  38. arastoo

    htop , atop , conky

  39. yourmom

    ESXi ;)

  40. Syn

    Well, I use Open Hardware Monitor, Rainmeter, and RealTemp (specifically for Intel cores) altogether. Them, as a team, work quite well together, and are highly recommended.

  41. gc

    I have a folder that contains tools. the folders are named, scanners, repair tools, cleaners, etc.
    In each folder is a Cnet- reviewed, high-user- rated, program shortcut to everthiing I need (so far) to maintain & monitor my pc, including network monitors, file copiers, scan-n-repair apps, malware removal, settings restoration, file organizers, and on and on and on….

    The only thing I don’t do well or often, iconfess, is backing up files. I hate that- for me its’ to time-consuming and some of the auto-backup jargon is unclerar to me- what’s the simplest once-a-week back-up /sync program for win xp-hoe and/pro?

    Anyway I’m glad that most of this software has been offered and obtained free, thanks to pc developers who have really enhanced how we work, with all their inventions…heck there’s an app for everything…
    well almost.

  42. Robson

    Process Explorer (Sysinternals) +autoruns etc…

    Rainmeter

    //ccleaner

  43. Jer

    For my personal Win 7 PC:

    For system stats in a quick graphical form, 3rd party Windows Gadgets of old (thanks MS for killing those by the way – they were helpful. Dopes).

    http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/downloads/personalize/gadgets

    “Because we want to focus on the exciting possibilities of the newest version of Windows, the Windows website no longer hosts the gadget gallery.
    Gadgets installed from untrusted sources can harm your computer and can access your computer’s files, show you objectionable content, or change their behavior at any time. If you are concerned about the safety of gadgets you’ve downloaded in the past, you can learn more about gadgets and steps you can take to protect your PC. ”

    For trouble makers Process Explorer and Windows Task Manager (read up on HTG’s tweaks for that, CPU time, Hardfaults, etc)

    Nirsoft has some GREAT tools for sluthing what software makers are up to on your PC.
    SpaceSniffer is very good for monitoring large, naughty files very quickly.
    DiskBoss is good for really seeing just ‘how’ you’re using up your precious spindle-space.
    IObits Smart Defrag keeps your sectors under control (real time defrag and boot defrag).

    https://www.virustotal.com/ Pure awesomeness. Not sure about some exe you want to run, upload it. Google’s server farm attacks it (not really), but it’ll tell you just what that .exe will do on your PC (thanks HTG!!!) You know how Tech Repub tears down new gadgets and shows you what’s inside? Well, think of Google doing it to your uploaded .exe!

    Any firewall maker/software that allows you to allow NO network traffic without permission – and notifies you of all ports/IPs requested. e.g. Symantec, others. Nirsoft helps here too.

    Once you’re in the driver’s seat, you’ll be astonished how MUCH so many software vendors go outside of your computer daily!! AND OFTEN! For what?!

  44. Jer

    UAC – leave it alone. Had a 3rd party software spontaneously decide to change something on my computer – UAC notified me of the request.

  45. Larry

    I’m not a geek at all and rely on this newslertter a lot, so maybe this is the appropriate time to ask this question: Is there an open source or freeware program that will let me monitor what is accessing my hard drives. Out of the blue I’ll be doing something (not necessarily related to disk usage) and a drive with start flashing like there’s no tomorrow, sometimes keeping it up for several minutes. I would like to have something that I could easily open and see what is accessing the drive. I know there are programs to tell me how much, my question is who or what?

  46. harv

    In W7 the built-in Resource Monitor and the Reliability Monitor cover most things. Saves installing stuff too.

  47. wagonman

    Larry!

    You need to make yourself comfortable with the Windows Task Manager.

    And try Sysinternals Process Explorer, It tells you ev e r y t h i n g
    that is going on in/on your machine. And leaves you to control.

  48. Jer

    Larry – Things to check:

    Windows Background jobs – they use your disk(s) a lot.
    Full protection sweets may run backups, optimize your disk, pull updates, run scans, etc..
    Dell puts on crapware that comes on your PC that duplicates everything Windows background jobs do, so disable Dell software like Control Point, etc.
    Search/Indexing runs in the background and can make your HDDs spin – especially if you have a mirror RAID setup or parity across disks.

    .. and so many other things. Hats off to wagonman – familiarize yourself with Task Mgr or Process exp.

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