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What is a System Monitor?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A system monitor is a program or piece of hardware that monitors various aspects of a computer system and then displays information regarding the status of that system. This sort of monitor typically takes the form of a software program provided with an operating system (OS) or used as a standalone program. Hardware system monitors are also available, though these are fairly specialized devices and not as frequently used as software monitors. A system monitor will typically track various aspects of a computer system, including what programs are running, how resources are being used, and certain details regarding the hardware installed on a computer.

There are two major types of system monitors typically used to track the functions of a computer system: software or hardware monitors. A software monitor is a program, or a utility within another program, that allows a computer user to monitor the processes going on within a computer system. This type of program often uses little resources on its own, and can be run in the background during other operations. A hardware system monitor is a physical device that connects to a computer system, either internally or through a universal serial bus (USB) port, which monitors various aspects of the computer system and displays information on a small digital screen.

Regardless of what type of system monitor is used, the information gathered typically relates to either the software processes and memory of the computer or the condition of hardware within a computer. When software and processes within a computer are monitored, the information gathered typically involves how resources, such as memory, are being used and what programs are currently running on a system. This can allow a computer user to terminate programs that may be running in the background on a computer system, which can free up memory and improve performance on the computer.

Hardware monitored through a system monitor typically relays information about internal temperatures of devices in a computer and peripheral behavior. A number of different systems are used in a computer to control heat generated within the computer, including heatsinks and fans, and a system monitor can allow a computer user to see how well these systems are working. The monitor can typically relay the speeds at which internal fans are spinning, as well as temperatures for the central processing unit (CPU), power supply, and graphics card. A hardware monitor can also often relay information about any devices or peripherals that are not responding or working properly.

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