iStat Menus: The Beauty of Information

iStat IconiSlayer has been in the business of making great looking and useful system stat monitor widgets and apps for a number of years. Their latest contribution is the donationware menu based app iStat menus. Unlike their prior system monitoring utilities which were window based Applications or Dashboard widgets, iSlayer’s iStat menus resides as a pref pane in your System Preferences and shows you your stats in the right-hand portion of the menu bar. I have used many of the prior iterations of the iStat concept, and iStat menus quickly became my favorite.

System stat apps and utilities make monitoring system memory usage, processor activity and other numeric data, usually hidden bellow the surface of the OS a bit more visible. These kinds of apps can be useful in a number of situations: Is this web page I’m looking at loading or just stalled? Just look at the network bandwidth stat. Why is the computer running so slow? Am I out of memory? Just check the system memory stat. Personally I monitor the processor activity statistics to make sure dashboard widgets I am writing aren’t using too many resources.

iStat MenuWhatever sort of use you find for monitoring your system stats a key feature of any monitor app should be that you can check your needed information quickly and without interrupting your work. Activity Monitor, which is included in Mac OS X, did a pretty good job of this allowing you to open a floating window of processor usage. Unfortunately didn’t provide a whole lot of other information without opening the app’s main Activity Monitor window. iStat menus does a great job of giving you a lot of information in a small space without being ugly or overly distracting.

The many system information stats that can be displayed in iStat menus include: CPU, Memory, Drives, Network, Temps, Fans, Bluetooth and Date & Time. Most can be customized to fit your liking and all seem to work as advertised. Since I began using iStat menus I have found the CPU, Memory and Network utilities particularly of great use, and each has helped me in a big way to debug and tune the widgets I’ve been working on.

iStat Drop DownThe menu stat that I found to be a particular and surprising pleasure to have in my menu bar was the Date & Time. Not only can you customize it to show the date but also a calendar and a number of international analog clocks, a very nice touch. Moreover, clicking the calendar will open iCal, and clicking one of the international clocks will open the iStat menus Date & Time preference pane. Interestingly, this was the only way I could find to open iStat menus’ pref pane from any of it’s own menus, which is a little disappointing.

Although I really loved most of the menu extras in iStat, I was still left desiring one further small feature (I know, I demand too much), I simply wish the CPU stat would show me what apps or processes are chewing up the most processor cycles within the CPU stat menu. It is frustrating to see one processor pinned at 100% and then having to open Apple’s Activity Monitor to find out what process is hogging the processor.

A big part of what makes iStat menus so informative and unobtrusive is the level of customization control they provide you with. You can choose from five colored skins provided to find a style that matches your desktop or your work environment. Further you have total control over which information stats are displayed in the status menu bar, all of the eight menu extras provided in iStat menus can be displayed or hidden at your pleasure. The level of customization extends beyond what you are being shown by each stat to how it is being displayed. Often you can adjust the style of graph or numerics used to portray the data, for example as a vertical graph of total usage or as graph of usage over time – very useful choices to have.

As much as I really liked the customization it’s not to say that it’s perfect. I know it’s petty but I’d love to have more control over the color of the stat graphs than iSlayer provides, for me five preset color choices is not enough. I told you it was petty. That said, the customization options within iStat menus fulfill their purpose very well. They allow you to tune the menu extras you need, so you are not bombarded with pointless information you don’t care about. iStat menus enables you to cut out this extra information that would only serve as a distraction from your productive tasks.

iStat Preference Pane

It’s hard to review something like iStat menus because I think many people will use it for totally different purposes. Regardless I think we will see a lot of people very satisfied with this great little app for all of their system stat monitoring needs. There are few donationware apps with this level of polish, beauty and thoughtful implementation. I thoroughly recommend anyone, particularly MenuMeters users, give iStat menus a try. If you enjoy your experience with iStat please consider donating to ensure iSlayer continues developing more great software and widgets.

Pros:

  • Looks great.
  • Lots of customization options.
  • Huge selection of stats and information.
  • Unprecedented level of quality and polish for donationware.

Cons:

  • More color customization of stat graphs would be nice.
  • No obvious way to access preference pane from the menu extras.
  • Menu bar can become pretty full with all of the many menu extras.

Comments

6 Responses to “iStat Menus: The Beauty of Information”

  1. Mem on July 20th, 2007 5:25 am

    iSlayer also do a couple of iStat widgets (full and nano) which do the same thing for dashboard. I think they actually look better.

  2. Steven Owens on July 20th, 2007 9:52 pm

    I really like iStat Menus, however, I don’t like bogging down resources with stat programs.

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  4. Marc Edwards on March 14th, 2008 6:15 am

    “More color customization of stat graphs would be nice”

    I’m not sure which version was reviewed here, but changing the graph colour is definitely possible, just turn on “Use custom graph colours” in the section you’d like to customise.

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