My friends at bjango have released iStat Menus 3, and it is hot. Compared to previous versions of the app, this is a paid, full-fledged, app. The best way I can think of describing iStat Menu 3 is “everything you find in Activity ‘Monitor’ and then some.” This really is a feature rich utility. When […]
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Review: iStat Menus 3

My friends at bjango have released iStat Menus 3, and it is hot. Compared to previous versions of the app, this is a paid, full-fledged, app. The best way I can think of describing iStat Menu 3 is “everything you find in Activity ‘Monitor’ and then some.” This really is a feature rich utility.

When you first install iStat Menu 3, it will ask you to  download  some additional software so it can take full advantage of the sensors already built into you Mac. At first, I thought this was odd, but after thinking it through, I came to appreciate it. Essentially, it boils down to bjango asking for your permission to use detailed data that must be retrieved from deep inside the system. Not too much could be done maliciously with this information, but I’m glad bjango asked anyway.

Ok, to the meat of the app. iStat Menus 3 allows you to quickly access information from the menu bar on your Mac. What kind of information? Well, you can check the CPU, disk usage and activity, battery, network, memory, date and time, and the internal sensors in your Mac. Some these act as enhanced versions of what Apple already provides in the systems, and other act as outright replacements.

When you launch the app, everything can be accessed through an easy-to-understand window. Here you can turn features on and off as you see fit. This is also where you can do your own customization. All of the drop down menus can be fully customized, color, font, different chart types. You can change just about everything as you see fit. Even if you choose not customize the menus, they’re still gorgeous in a way only bjango can do.

All menus have links to the relevant resource monitors that Apple already provides, such as Activity Monitor, Console, Disk Utility, and even apps like iCal.

CPU

The CPU Monitoring menus gives you both real time graphs (which you can set their update speed) and a list of the top five CPU hogs running at the moment. As you can see in the picture below, the most CPU intensive item I was running at the time was a browser plugin and Safari. Yep you guessed it, I was playing a Flash video.

As for the graphs, you can view as a single graph for all cores (to save space in the crowded menu bar), or separate graphs for each core, in the Menu bar (can be viewed as pie graphs). Actually opening the menu shows realtime graphs of each core separately.

Memory

Memory is simply displayed as a bar graph (you can chose to view it as a pie graph). After invoking the menu, you are presented with, just like the CPU monitor, a realtime graph (you can set the update speed for this too) and the top five memory hogs. Take a look, Safari is currently eating up 416MB of my 2GB of RAM. Yep, that same Flash movie is playing in the background.

Hard Disk Usage

This monitor is simple enough. Disk usage is displayed as a simple bar graph in the menu bar. In the menu itself, all of the hard disks attached to your machine are represented with bar graphs and an icon. Of course, the bar graph is used to show how much space is left. Clicking on the icon will open that hard disk in the finder. You can also eject external hard disks from here.

Again, customization is key. You can put as many HDs as you want in the active category in iStats preferences menu, thus allowing you to see more in the menu bar. You can also choose what disks you want to be shown in the drop down menu, and the frequency in which the monitor checks for changes.

Hard Disk Activity

By default this monitor just represents disk reading and writing as a green and red dot respectively. If either dot is filled in at any given time, that means that disk function is occurring. By itself this isn’t very helpful, but if you include the realtime graph available in the preferences, you start to get an idea of what’s going on.

Also, this monitor does not indicate which disk is being read from or written two. While testing I was performing a backup via Time Machine, and couldn’t tell which disk was doing what. Only after invoking the menu and looking at the separate charts could I see what was really going on behind the scenes. If there is a weak spot in iStat Menus 3, “Disk Activity” is it.

Network

The Network monitor is what the Disk Activity Monitor should be. It displays, via realtime line graphs, the data coming in and out of your Mac, plus the numbers to back it up. As with most of the other graphs you can set up how often you want it to check for updates, and change colors. You can also keep tabs on your Bluetooth connections. Curiously, this monitor does not display the name of the network you are currently connected to, and if that feature does exist, I can’t find it.

Sensors

This is by far the most robust, feature-rich monitor offered in iStat Menus 3. Any of the sensors in your Mac can have their data displayed in the menu bar: Fans, temps, wattage, etc. If you choose to display a bunch of temperature readings, things can get out of hand in a hurry. There is a second, more compact way to view the readings, and they all fit, but it can still get a little hairy. Trying to cram all of these readings and the other monitors in iStat Menus 3 in the Menu bar is unworkable.

Pick a few you need and get out (and I’m sure that was bjango’s intention). Besides, each sensor reading is left unlabeled to save room, which means it’s up to the user to know which readings go with which sensor. Granted, most users aren’t going to place every temperature reading in the menu bar in the first place, but God help them if they try.

Except for maybe colors or fonts, this is by far the one monitor in iStat Menus 3 that you want to keep at it’s default settings. Everything is much easier to decipher if you just invoke the menu instead of trying to cram it in the menu bar. In short, a technical person would enjoy this monitor, but for the common user, bjango has left them with too much choice.

Date and Time

This is the first monitor in iStat Menus 3 that can be used as an outright replacement for something Apple provides: the clock. The Apple-provided clock is just that, a clock. The one bjango provides is far more feature rich. It provides a calendar, the current moon phase, any world clocks you set. Mousing over the moon phases or world clocks will display further information such as the next moon phase, or sunrise, sunset and so on. The best way I can describe this menu, is that it’s a condensed version of bjango’s Phases iPhone app. This is excellently executed, in a non obtrusive way.

Battery

This is the second monitor in iStat Menus 3 that can serve as a replace for something Apple provided. This little menu will tell you the current percent charge you battery has, the number of charge cycles the battery has undergone, the battery’s “health,” (meaning how much of a charge the battery is holding compared to it’s design capacity), and things like amperage, and voltage. This is far more detailed than Apple’s battery monitor that simply states the battery’s level of charge.

This was just an overview. There is almost literally, a limitless number of ways in which a user could customize this system monitoring app. This also felt like one of those apps where you will find some new small feature each time you open it. In fact, that’s what makes this app great, it’s just chocked full of small refinements, and for the most part they handed control over to the user. In some cases this is the downside to the app. Too much customization, and an unknowing user could muddy the experience for themselves.

This app insists on launching at login, which makes sense for most users. I however wanted to turn this feature off. If there is a way, I couldn’t find it. And not being able to find something is as bad as not having it.

Things can get a little crammed in the menu bar, especially on my 13-inch MacBook Pro. Someone with a giant display could comfortably place most of the monitors in iStat Menus 3 in the menu bar. The rest of us will have to choose what is most important to us, and display only that. Besides, you can always change your mind later, and switch things around.

Technically inclined users will love this app. It brings all of the system information that Apple has scattered about in different apps throughout the system, into on coherent beautiful place. This is likely the best application bjango has put out to date, and that’s saying something.

You can download a trial of iStat Menus 3 here, and if you so choose to commit, purchase a copy for a mere $16.

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