Monday, October 18, 2010

Is My Computer OK? Or, How To Monitor What It's Doing Part 1 of 3

Is My Computer OK? How To Monitor How It's Doing
It was just running a little hot, and then, well ...

Is Your Computer OK? How To Monitor How and What It's Doing

Is your computer OK or is it too hot??? Why is it doing that? How would you know? If you are like most people you don't pay much attention to your computer. At least, you don't until you notice it doing something out of the ordinary. Oh, like, say, making awful grinding noises, rebooting every 10 minutes, or popping up demands to give your credit card info to fake Russian anti-virus software vendors who will (yeah, right) then clean your machine for you. That'll get your attention!

There's lots of other bad stuff, too, that can happen to your computer. Wouldn't it be better to get some inkling of the illness before you're at last rites, or need to call in a pro? Wouldn't it be better to monitor what's happening?

OK, it's not a trick question. The answer is YES, it would be better to know how your computer is doing. And how might that be accomplished, you ask? Well, in lots of ways.

How To Monitor What Your Computer's Doing

Most of us are familiar with machinery that has status indicators of various types -- your car has a speedometer, maybe a tachometer, oil and water temp gauges or lights, and so on. You want to know how fast you are going, if you are overheating, and the like. You can add similar "gauges" to your computer's desktop. In Vista, they are called Sidebar Gadgets, and in Windows 7, just plain Gadgets. The same gadgets work with Vista and Windows 7.

By default in Vista and 7, you get a couple of Gadgets on your computer desktop, including a Clock, a Calendar, and a Slideshow Picture Viewer, and in Vista they open and close together by running a program called the Sidebar which lines them all up on the lefthand side of your screen. In 7 they don't explicitly run from the Sidebar program. They're nice, but they do not tell you what's going on in your computer -- you can get more gadgets, however, that do.

Plug and Play Computer Tachometer
You just plug it in!  
In Windows 7, you just right click with the mouse on open desktop and select the Gadgets item, which will open the Gadgets Window for Gadgets already installed on your computer, but not on your Desktop. Check them out. You may like one or two.

In Vista, you take your cursor to the top right of the screen, at the top of the Sidebar, and there is a little widget with a "plus" sign and right and left "arrows". Double left mouse click on the "plus" sign and your Gadgets Window will appear.

To get more Gadgets, and get the ones we are talking about here, click on the "Get More Gadgets Online" link in the bottom right hand corner of the Gadgets Window, or go to the Windows Live Gallery. Both have a lot of the same Gadgets, and are Microsoft sites, but will caution you that not all the Gadgets have been tested. YMMV and UAYOR. Your mileage may vary and use at your own risk.

That said, I have used the ones I am going to recommend to monitor your computer's health and haven't been bitten.

I am also going to give you links directly to the developer's site for ease of downloading, although you are welcome to go dig them up on the Gallery site.

How Hard Is Your Computer Working?

The First Gadget, All CPU Meter, which tells you how hard is your computer working (on all of its cores, be they one or more):

Go to, which has some really cool and useful gadgets, including:

How hard is Your Computer Working: All CPU Meter
All CPU Meter version 3.3 as of this writing.

You can download from the links at the bottom of the page linked to above.

As you can see it gives you a lot of useful info about what your computer's CPU is doing, including:
  • How Hard It Is Working in percentages and activity slider bar by Core and Thread
  • How Much Ram is Used and Free
  • What Your Processor Is and Its Speed and Particulars
  • A Visual Log of Activity by Graph
  • Temperature of Each Core ( if you also install CoreTemp per the links above)
OK, this is really important stuff. Assuming you pay attention to what this Gadget is telling you, you will see, over the first few days after you install it, just what the normal activity of you computer is and how HOT it gets when you are using it for common tasks. From this, you'll start to know what is OK for your computer.

Frankly, the CPU in the photo above is running pretty hot for the minimal work it is doing, 54% of max for 1 core and about 25% or less for the rest, which in my opinion should leave the CPU in the 40 to 50C range with decent cooling and a well-ventilated location. Anyway ...

OK, you say, how are you supposed to know that? What is too hot and what is not? Well, at first, you won't. But you can play with the computer, see what temperatures it displays when it first boots and is cool and what temps it stabilizes at under load. See what happens when you pull the poor computer out from the wall under the desk and it can finally breathe...

The point is, if and when you think something is wrong with you computer, you will be able to check the load on your computer and its temperature, both useful and critical items in diagnosing fan(s) failure, software issues, or infection.

For example, say your computer is slow to respond, seems sluggish, but you aren't really doing anything with the machine, so what's up? The All CPU Meter Gadget says all of the CPU Cores are busy at 50 to 70% of max and your temps are in the 70C range (fairly high). Something's going on in there. Something to make the machine work very hard, and maybe more than one something.

Next time I'll tell you how to find out what's going on in the example above, but ...

That's enough for now.

Oh, by the way, for you poor orphaned XP users, there are Gadgets available for XP as well, just not from Microsoft, but rather from Google, as a part of Google Desktop. If you are interested, let me know, and I'll do a post about it.

Also, over the next 2 post I'll discuss three more gadgets that monitor what your computer is doing, what your network is doing, and help you get control back if your computer won't respond normally: the Top Process Gadget , the Network Meter Gadget, and the Control System Gadget and why you need them.

Hint: If you can't connect to the internet, what do you do? And, how do you know what program is SLOWING your computer down, or INFECTING it? And, how do you shut your computer down, when you can't get the Taskbar to respond to the mouse?

Stay tuned!


PS: If you want to know more about Gadgets, just put your mouse cursor on open desktop and hit the F1 button -- when the Help window comes up, type "Gadgets" in the Search box and check out the topics

Note Photo of Shish Kebab Computer is out there on various sites
         Photo of USB Tach is c/o
         Photo of All CPU Meter is c/o of

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