Friday, May 27, 2005

Cruising Blind? An Introduction to System Information

Cool Beans System Info is a free utility that I have used for two years. It is a simple piece of software that stays on your desktop and constantly monitors your computer’s health and performance.

Cool Beans System Info is high configurable. It can monitor CPU Usage (the most important information you’ll need), RAM Usage (second most important information you’ll need), Upload/Download speed (must haves) and a few others that are less important for our purposes here. Each graph can be configured to meet your own tastes for color, graph size, transparency, etc. You can display one or all of the graphs in one or in separate windows. Here’s a picture of how I configured my utility.

Cool Beans System Info on my desktop. Posted by Hello
I have tried to keep the information easy to see, but unobtrusive. On top listed in blue is CPU usage. RAM usage is listed in red and upload/download speeds are listed numerically on the bottom left and right, respectively.

So why do you need this information displayed on your desktop anyway? What difference should it make knowing how much of your CPU and RAM is being used or how fast you are uploading or downloading?

CPU and RAM:

Many people complain that their computer is running “slow” or that it experiences lag. What they don’t know is that quite often, their CPU is completely maxed out, which is bad since a fully utilized CPU is not only “clogged” but it also generates heat and slows down overall system performance. Running too many programs at once can put a great burden on your computer’s RAM, which results in slowdowns and jerky performance.

If while running this utility you see that either your CPU or RAM usage is running high or wildly oscillating, you’ll be on alert that something is wrong. This will save you a lot of time because at least you are able to pinpoint when something first started to go wrong.

You are now also better equipped to judge how much of a burden you can really put on your computer. Chatting on instant messenger, watching sports highlights on ESPN and have an urge to burn a DVD? Well, now you can more responsibly gauge your system’s true potential and act accordingly.

Upload and Download Speed:

This is information you MUST have displayed at ALL times. The worst thing about Windows (XP or earlier) is that there’s no easy way to tell where and to whom you are downloading/uploading information. This utility won’t give you a readout of who is logged on your computer, but it will tell you IF you are uploading or downloading and at what rate.

This information is important if you want to gauge how fast your broadband or dial-up connection is going. Keeping track of this information over time comes in handy when you switch internet providers and want to compare.

Have spyware problems? If you suddenly see that you are downloading or uploading something and you don’t even have your browser open, now you’re instantly on notice that something is wrong.

Notice that large amounts of information are being uploaded from your computer? You’re on notice that someone might be snooping through your shared files. Again, this utility won’t give you information about who and what, but it at least gives you real-time information about what’s going on, which increases your reaction time.

Internet users often fall into one of two categories. First, there are the humble, dial-up apologists who will wait patiently—even a few minutes—as their web browsers load a single page. Second, there are the demon spawn we call the broadband generation who, if a webpage does not load instantly, insist on re-clicking the “refresh” button continuously.

Here’s the problem for both types of users if you don’t have upload/download information visible at all times. Often, web browsers look frozen; they might not be downloading at all (which means hitting “refresh” is a good idea) OR the page might have a lot of graphics and it might be downloading at full speed but you don't know it (so those impatient broadbanders are literally going from “0 to 60” in 2 seconds and then throwing it into reverse). This information is very pertinent for those of you who use web-based e-mail. Sending an e-mail with a file attachment can be treacherous without this utility because there is often now way of telling if your window is frozen or if it is actually sending.

This software is not an advanced system information utility; it does not measure voltage input/output, system temperature or fan speed (which is vital in some circumstances). Cool Beans’ software sticks to the bare essentials, removing unnecessary clutter from your desktop. Why is this important? The less information displayed, the less likely your eyes will glaze over what is displayed. The less physical space the utility takes up on your screen, the more likely you’ll keep this utility running at all times because it won't interefere with your normal usage.

Now you know.

To download Cool Beans System Info for free, visit