While Windows' built-in Task Manager is great for the occasional resource check, it's not something you can easily monitor all day long. For that, we recommend Rainmeter, the best darn system monitor around.
- Displays statistics for CPU, disk, memory, network, system temperature, and more anywhere on your desktop
- Can also display text-based notes, email notifications, RSS feeds, weather, and virtually anything else you could want on your desktop
- Tons of third party themes allow for complete customisation of how system information is displayed
- Very light on system resources
While Rainmeter's feature list doesn't seem very long, it's impossible to nail down everything it does -- because it does whatever you want. Rainmeter is the most customisable desktop tool around: you can choose from tons of different looks, even more different informational widgets, and drag each widget around to arrange them however you want. It has plugins that allow it to display regular system stats like CPU usage, CPU temperature, RAM usage, disk usage, network usage, your IP address, currently playing track in your music player, weather forecasts, a clock, RSS feeds, email notifications, notes, and much more. Depending on the "skin suite" you choose, you could have even more options, like showing the temperature of each CPU core, as well as variants on each widget so you can choose from a number of different looks. No matter what you want your desktop system monitor to look like, you can probably do it with Rainmeter.
Rainmeter's only downside is that, because it's so customisable, it takes a bit of work to set up. It's also a bit confusing for beginners, mostly because of the awfully chosen terminology used for each aspect of the interface (a "widget" is called a "skin", what we normally call "skins" are "skin suites", and "themes" are something else entirely). Of course, our tutorial should help you through the process of setting it up if you get confused.
If you don't like Rainmeter, you can go with the slightly simpler Samurize. Samurize is similar, but without all the flashy looks -- it just places your basic system stats on your desktop, in a simple little overlay. You can edit the text-based config file to customise it, but if you're going to go to that trouble you might as well try Rainmeter first. Samurize also hasn't been updated in a few years, so you'll need to run the installer in compatibility mode for Windows XP. It'll still work, though some features might be glitchy, and it could stop working at any time -- it doesn't look like the developer plans on upgrading.
SysTrayMeter is an even simpler (and portable) program -- it just puts an icon in your system tray that shows you how much CPU and RAM you are using. That's it. It changes colour as your usage changes -- yellow if you're using a lot of resources and red if you're running out -- but other than that, it doesn't do much. It's dead simple though, so if all you want is to keep an eye on those two stats, it's perfect. Note that its homepage is also down, so we assume it's no longer in development and could die just as easily as Samurize.
Strangely, there aren't a ton of great system monitors that are still in development. If you prefer your monitor in the taskbar, you can check out Taskbar Meters, and if you just want to monitor your CPU temperature, something like Core Temp will suit you just fine. You can also use Windows' built-in Desktop Gadgets, which have a myriad of options to choose from.
Know of a good system monitor we didn't mention? Please let us know in the comments!
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