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I'd like to be able to view my cpu and memory usage in real time. Not as a desktop widget or window application, but as a widget in the menu bar. Is this possible?

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If you don't want to use third-party software, you can also use Activity Monitor (however, it's on the Dock, not the menu bar). Do this by opening Activity Monitor > View > Dock Icon > Show CPU Usage – Angelplayer Mar 23 at 17:03
up vote 16 down vote accepted

iStat Menus has the functionality you are asking for. It is available starting at USD$18 for a single license.

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+1 I really like this one. can customize how much is shown and it seems to perform very well. I may actually buy it. – spong Sep 8 '10 at 11:27
    
I also like it and I still use the old free version. What I don't like is that it invites you to upgrade without informing you that it costs money afterwards. – robcast Sep 9 '10 at 10:16
    
Does this work with the new memory management in mavericks? – AlikElzin-kilaka Feb 23 '14 at 16:56
    
Sorry, I switched to the paid version of iStat Menus 4 some time ago. This one works fine on Mavericks. I can't comment whether the old versions 2.x or 3.x still work. – Raim Feb 24 '14 at 16:07

I use MenuMeters for this functionality, and have a hard time living without it. How do other people know when their web browser is finally done downloading a page, or YouTube stalled out, or iPhoto still working, or ...?

MenuMeters is freeware, but well worth the donation.

The original author has stopped maintaining MenuMeters, but someone new has taken over for El Capitan.

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I wasn't able to get this to work. After unzipping, running installer, and logging out/in, it doesn't appear on the menubar. – spong Sep 8 '10 at 11:28
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@sunpech: Did you enable them from the Menu Meters Preference Pane? By default they don't enable until you say you want them. – Chealion Sep 8 '10 at 16:06
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I love MenuMeters. I'd vote it up, but I'm out of votes for today. :-( – daviesgeek Oct 19 '11 at 19:01
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Update - I was previously on 1.7. Upgraded to 1.8.1 to go with Yosemite and numbers are much closer now. FYI, developer says he will not update for El Capitan due to Apple policies; we'll see if MenuMeters keeps working then. – khedron Aug 27 '15 at 3:13
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A new author has taken over development of MenuMeters and it works with 10.11. El Capitan MenuMeters – Dan Pritts Mar 23 at 15:21

I prefer SystemPal. iStat itself consumes too much CPU and RAM. SystemPal is quick, tiny, configurable, neat, and powerful. It's available on Mac App Store.

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Still costs dollars, but much fewer than iStat Menus does, so thank you :) – mike Apr 23 at 23:36

Or you can try some geeklets from the internet (or make one yourself) on Geektool. I find it more customizable than menu bar apps, and prettier when I get to use the fonts and sizes I like.

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I did that! I had a nice weather.com geeklet on my desktop. And then I upgraded to Mountain Lion, and the geektool is failing for mysterious reasons, and I have to debug it. :-/ – khedron Nov 8 '12 at 19:38

There is also nice commercial app called CheckMyMac can be downloaded from www.nomsoftwares.com

Disclaimer I am the developer of this app.

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I made a simple app that displays cpu and memory usage on menubar, free and open sourced. Feedback is welcome.

https://github.com/ningt/iStats

enter image description here

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