MemoryStick 1.3.4, by Matt Neuburg
Posted: 2-Dec-2004

3 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Matt Neuburg Type: FREEWARE

Reviewer: Scott Bender Class: PRODUCTIVITY
     
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Overview
MemoryStick is a free download by
Matt Neuburg that provides a graphical display of RAM usage. Versions are available on Matt's website for Panther (v1.3.4) and Jaguar (v1.2.1).

Requirements
MenuMeters requires Mac OS 10.2 (Jaguar) or Mac OS 10.3 (Panther).

Setup
The software downloads as a disk image (380K), and is then copied onto the Mac with a drag and drop.

In Use
MemoryStick has an extremely simple interface: a "stick" in a single pane that shows, with colors, the memory status of your Mac.


Memory Stick color graphic

The appearance of the stick can be modified via the preferences, but not knowing what "wired" or "active" status referred to, I had to search for documentation, which is not supplied with the application. Neuburg's site does not have any documentation for the application either. Instead, Neuburg references an article on memory usage written by John Siracusa in Ars Technica. After downloading and reading this article, I had a very thorough understanding of what MemoryStick is supposed to do.

In a nutshell (Siracusa's article is a very interesting read), OS X manages memory quite differently from that of the Classic OS. Under OS X, the Mac swaps files back and forth from RAM to virtual memory. The OS keeps track of the needs of all running applications, window buffering, and the buffer cache. MemoryStick is supposed to help you to keep an eye (and ear) on how much RAM is being used, and how many files are being swapped at any given time.

My G4 has 384 Megs of RAM installed. I put MemoryStick to the test by opening up many applications, and watching the display. The display is very simple. It's a four-color palette displaying Wired, Active, Inactive and Free memory. Each type of memory can be displayed in any color the user chooses (changes can be made via preferences). There is no choice for labeling the color codes, so until I could remember which color meant what, I had to keep re-opening the preference panel.

With two applications running in Classic, and iTunes, Word 2004, Appleworks, Filemaker Pro, Grab, Preview, Toast 6, Mail, Amadeus and Safari running in Panther, MemoryStick displayed the following when I floated my mouse over the palette:

Wired - 57.3MB 15%
Active - 214.3MB 56%
Inactive - 106.6MB 28%
Free - 7.4MB 2%

I closed all the applications except for Word 2004, and shut down Classic as well. Running only Word 2004, MemoryStick displayed:

Wired - 52.9MB 14%
Active - 157.4MB 40%
Inactive - 95.7MB 25%
Free - 83MB 22%


As expected, I experienced some slowdowns on my system when I had all of the applications open. MemoryStick confirmed that I had very little free RAM, and also confirmed that I had a lot of RAM tied up in active usage. Though I had a graphical representation of the full amount of active, inactive, free and text memory being used, I really didn't get a feel for which applications were using how much of my RAM. I opened up the Activity Monitor (OS X Utility), and had an exact accounting for my RAM usage. Also, the Activity Monitor has a System Memory display panel, which displays the same information as MemoryStick.

MemoryStick is indeed a nice compliment to Activity Monitor, as it can be left on your desktop providing you a visual of memory usage at all times. For my personal needs, however, I did not find it practical. The only times I notice slowdowns is if I'm burning a CD, downloading, and working on editing audio at the same time. It's not a RAM problem, but rather more of a CPU problem (533Mhz).

MemoryStick could do with some polishing. The interface is limited in that it is not intuitively obvious what I am looking at. To me, this is a basic necessity of a mac-savvy informational display. From the user's standpoint, it's meant to be a passive utility. A quick glance should be all that is needed. But the user has to physically move the cursor over the stick to gather details. If I were to need this information on a regular basis, I'd have Activity Monitor either running or on my dock for quick access - it would give me far more information with the same amount of mouse movement.

Summary
MemoryStick displays your Mac's memory usage graphically. This information is displayed on the desktop, or on the dock. It provides a quick, visual reference of the system's memory usage. MemoryStick, however, comes without documentation, and does not provide nomenclature on the memory usage "stick". I had to rely on trial and error to determine the significance of the information being displayed. I can see it being useful when a user has very little RAM installed in their system, or if a user has a lot of memory-hungry tasks running. While MemoryStick works as advertised, it does not inspire me to believe that I need anything more than Activity Monitor for monitoring my memory.


Pros

  • MemoryStick displays the four key parts of RAM in a graphical bar-chart
  • Nice compliment to Activity Monitor
  • It's free!


Cons

  • No Documentation
  • No text labels on the colors
  • Limited information


Overall Rating

3 out of 5 Mice