Hunting processor hogs

Reader Randy H. would like to know how to end the hidden activities of some of his applications. He writes:

How do I list all the running programs in my Mac—and stop the hidden parts of the ones I’ve quit?

This question assumes that covert remnants of programs are running subsurface and do not show on the Force Quit list, as evidenced when the Mac gets slow or even locks up or almost. Not a frequent event, but when it happens I give up and do a time-wasting restart. (On the PC, many programs run hidden; same with Mac?)

Activity Monitor (which you’ll find in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder) lists all currently running applications—both those that Force Quit can see as well as hidden applications. When I suspect that a hidden process is mucking up the works, I launch Activity Monitor and, from the pop-up menu at the top of the window, choose My Processes. This shows just running “real” applications (and their associated helper programs) and widgets. None of the hidden Unix stuff appears in the window (which is good, because you don’t want to mess with this stuff unless you really, really know what you’re doing.)

Most items that appear are intuitively named and some even have icons that hint at their association. For example, Microsoft’s Database Daemon, which is associated with Entourage, has an Entourage-like icon. iChatAgent likewise bears an iChat icon.

When I’ve located an item that appears to be gumming up the works (a helper application that didn’t quit with its host application, for example), I select it and click the Quit Process button at the top of the window.

Activity Monitor offers this additional advantage: It can show you what’s occupying your Mac’s mind. Just click the % CPU column to see which applications are hammering on your Mac’s CPU. Or take a look at the Real memory column to view the RAM-hogs you’re running.

Note that quitting the hidden processes may do you no good whatsoever. For example, if I’ve had a browser open for a few days, my Mac slows down. Quitting processes in Activity Monitor does no good. Rather than mess around looking for the culprit, I do the expedient thing—I restart my Mac—and I’m back to working at normal speed.

  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon