What Is a CPU Meter?

A CPU meter is a small computer software component that measure the amount of RAM being used by the computer itself and the strain on the computer's processor. Typically the CPU meter will use a percentile, which will tell the user how much of their memory is being consumed by the programs and processes they are running.



CPU meters commonly are downloaded by the computer user as tool to monitor the computer's performance or to make tweaks and changes to free up memory for larger programs to run or to optimize system performance. For example, if the user is running a piece of software like a game, the user may not be able to keep many other applications and processes running simultaneously. The CPU meter will give the user a visualization at to what their system is doing and how it is responding under certain situations.


Windows Task Manager displaying CPU information.

There are numerous different ways that a user can obtain a CPU meter, including some that are most likely built into the operating system. Small freeware versions can be downloaded online and can be loaded at any time, including on system start-up, to display the CPU usage at any particular moment. The programs are usually very small and have very limited functions, as they attempt to keep the amount of RAM they need to a minimum. Also, Windows and Mac computers come with preinstalled and included versions of CPU meters, but they provide only basic information and are not as aesthetically appealing.

Inclusion in Windows Vista

The look of Windows Vista's included CPU meter.

One of the most recent versions of the Windows operating system, Vista, includes a visual CPU meter within its gadgets on the desktop sidebar. Listed as one of the widgets, it can be shut on and off at any given time and can sit within the sidebar to give constant monitoring of the system's CPU usage. Vista includes the software to detract users from downloading elsewhere and to add functionality to its new widget/sidebar feature.

Reading the Percentages

Most if not all CPU meters will display the amount of processor space being consumed through the use of a percentage. The ideal situation is to keep as low of a percentage as possible to optimize computer speed and performance. However, it is not incredibly important until CPU usage gets close to 80 or 90 percent; then a stark difference in performance is clear. Most large programs and games will require a large amount of RAM when loading.


The CPU meter is a helpful tool for computer users who have a limited amount of RAM or a less-than-optimal processor speed. With those restrictions and limitations, it is helpful to see the percentage of CPU the programs being run on your computer require. From there, you are able to decide which ones to run constantly and which ones to run only as needed. As technology improves, higher amounts of RAM and faster processor speeds are being included with low-cost computers, and many programs are being developed to be more efficient. This makes the CPU meter a useful tool only for those who multitask consistently or who like to have complete control over their system at all times.