Ubuntu Tips: Graphical Monitoring for Processes, Memory, Load Average, and Disk Usage

by Ramesh Natarajan on November 4, 2009

Ubuntu Logo

Similar to Windows Task Manager, Ubuntu offers a system monitoring utility that will display running processes, memory usage, file system usage.  Apart from monitoring, you can also take several actions from the system monitor user interface — such as killing a running process.

In this article, let us review how to put the basic monitoring options right on the task bar panel on Ubuntu desktop.

Add System Monitor to Ubuntu Task Bar Panel

Right click on the task bar panel and click on ‘Add to Panel’ as shown below.

Add System Monitor Graph to Ubuntu Task Bar

Fig: Launch – Add to Panel

Search for the term “system” -> select “System Monitor” and -> click on “Add” as shown below.

Ubuntu Search System Monitor to Add to PanelFig: Search System Monitor and add to Panel

By default this will only add the processes usage graph as shown below.

Ubuntu Displaying Processes Icon on Task Bar PanelFig: Processes Usage Graph on Ubuntu Task Bar Panel

Add Memory Usage, Load Average and Disk Usage Graphs to Ubuntu Task Bar Panel

Right mouse click on the Processes graph that is displayed on the task bar panel, and select ‘Preferences’.  Select the following check-boxes under the ‘Monitored Resources’ section. You can also choose Network, or Swap Space if you like to monitor those.

  • Processor (already selected)
  • Memory
  • Load
  • Harddisk

By default it displays the memory usage in green, cache in light green, process usage in blue, load average in red. You can change the colors, and the refresh interval.

Ubuntu System Monitor PreferencesFig: Ubuntu System Monitor Preferences

After the above selection, you’ll see 4 graphs in the Ubuntu task bar itself as shown below.

Ubuntu Display Processes, Memory, Disk Usage Graph on Task BarFig: Multiple graphs displayed on the Ubuntu task bar

Ubuntu System Monitor GUI

To view the system monitor in a bigger window, right click on any one of the system monitor graphs in the task bar, and click on  “Open System Monitor”, which will display the System monitor in the bigger window as shown below.

From the Processes tab, you can view all the process along with their status, %CPU usage, memory used by the process etc., You can also kill a process directly from here.

Ubuntu System Monitor UI - Processes TabFig: Ubuntu System Monitor – Processes tab

The file systems tab displays the disk usages.

Ubuntu System Monitor Graphical Interface - File Systems TabFig: Ubuntu System Monitor – File Systems tab

The resources tab displays last 60 seconds of data in three different graphs for CPU, Memory and Network.

Ubuntu System Monitor - Resources tabFig: Ubuntu System Monitor – Resources tab


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul Reiber November 18, 2009 at 8:18 pm

Actually, it’s the GNOME project that provides this tool.

Ubuntu simply packages GNOME as part of it default release. Other releases of Ubuntu such as Kubuntu and Xubuntu which don’t include GNOME, will also not include this tool.

2 Ramesh Natarajan December 10, 2009 at 6:05 pm

@Paul,

Thanks for clarifying that this tools is available as part of GNOME and not available on other releases of Ubuntu.

3 Nick January 13, 2010 at 4:53 am

Great list. I was having problems with firefox using a ton of memory and using these came in very handy. Thanks.

4 Andrew February 26, 2010 at 11:11 pm

The Gnome System Monitor itself uses way too much CPU time. While they’ve taken some steps to resolve this, I’ll still take htop over GSM any day.

5 Jonathan Hartley December 29, 2011 at 7:51 am

What does the ‘load’ graph represent?

6 Mark June 12, 2012 at 10:04 am

I just launched System Monitor on my Ubuntu 12.04 LTS for the first time, and expected an equivalent of Process Explorer on Windows. The only problem is that System Monitor itself is on top of the CPU % list, taking up to 35 % of processor resources. Well, that’s what I call a big problem…

7 Alex October 12, 2012 at 3:02 am

I am very disappointed at the route Ubuntu has taken in the last couple of years. They seem to have neglected performance optimizations and the OS has become a huge memory hog.

I’d actually like to see if it’s possible to set a memory/cpu limit on a per process basis (including it’s children). Good article thought – I seem to forget there should be some obvious things like the system resource widgets…

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