Introduction: Performance Monitor Display for Windows
Just as the gauges on the dashboard of your car keep you attuned to your car's vital workings, likewise does the Hexagora Process Monitor app provide a watchful glance into the major workings of one's computer. It does this in the form of colorful little active charts that one pastes to the desktop.
The Hexagora shows four major areas of the PC operation:
- Processor core usage
- RAM usage
- Disk drive operation, read and write
- Network traffic, up and down
This has been a useful accessory to my PC, allowing me to keep an eye on how my system is operating. Delays are ubiquitous to PC's. Almost everything one does involves some level of delay while the PC conjures up the necessary action to serve you, its master. When I lose my patience with delays, I can check the charts and usually see what the deal is.
An annoyance with using the Hexagora is that when windows are opened up on the desktop, they hide the charts. Or if I configure the Hexagora to "always be on top", then the charts get in my way. To overcome this problem I designed a mini-display for my PC dedicated to the Hexagora app. That way the Hexagora is always visible, shuttled over to the mini-display, while my main monitor if free for my daily computer shenanigans.
For those of you who are thinking you can't live without this accessory, I have detailed the construction and setup for Hexagora on a mini-monitor.
Step 1: STEP 1: PARTS
This barebones 5-inch display from BuyDisplay.com is reasonably priced and has very sufficient video quality for the Hexagora.
Plus, these accessories on the same page:
- Remote Control
Extension Cable for Power
Extension Cable for Video
- Extension Cable for VGA
- I also got the touch-screen accessory, but I hardly use it. Consider it optional.
The display comes with the following circuit boards:
- Driver Board
- Touch-Panel Driver Board (only with touch-screen option)
These boards and the interconnecting cables are pictured on the display web site.
When handling the electronic parts of the display and the video card, it would be prudent to wear a grounded wrist strip to avoid damage from static discharge.
A necessary accessory that BuyDisplay does not offer is a wall wart to power your display. You need a 12-volt switching power supply.
Don't use a wart from your junk pile unless you know fer-sher that it's a switching type. An old transformer type may smoke your display.
This is a nice choice, as it comes with the proper jack to connect to this display.
BuyDisplay does not supply cases for their units, so get something that suits you. I got the translucent ABS blue case shown in the bottom picture above at Digi-Key.
If you prefer something in basic black, this is also available at Digi-Key:
The clear case shown in the top picture was a storage box from Daiso that I used for my prototype unit.
Maybe you will need this. Depending...
PCs usually come with more than one video port. The BuyDisplay unit can accept either VGA or HDMI inputs. So if you have either one of those spare on your PC then you probably don't need a video card.
Also, your system's video must be able to support a second monitor. I have never experienced a system that did not, but if that is the case for your system, then you will need to install a video card.
To find out, just plug another display into a spare video port in your system. If the display works and you can move your mouse cursor from the main display, past the right edge, over to the alternate display, then you're in luck.
Besides supplying the specific type of video port you need, the video card you acquire also must be compatible with a generation of PCI slot that is available in your PC. If this is all geek-Greek to you, call your PC go-to relative for an assist. Offer brownies as an inducement. Or a snifter or two of Patrón.
Or, you can refer to I'bles that instruct in installing video cards. One of these might guide you through the selection and installation.
An inexpensive card like this one will work fine to provide the port you need. This one has both HDMI and VGA ports and plugs into a PCIe 2.1 bus:
ASUS RADEON EAH5450
To match the type of video port you're using, long enough to reach from the back of your PC to where you want to set the display.
Eight 5/8" x 4-40 metal screws
Eight 4-40 nylon nuts
Eight 1/4" nylon spacers with #4 through-hole
Four Self-stick rubber bumpers for feet
Step 2: STEP 2: DOWNLOADS
A cautionary detour:
Downloading freeware it is becoming increasingly risky these days, as internet companies with no scruples offer freeware stuffed with spyware, trojans, viruses, etc. Learning from past mistakes, I now only download from authors of apps. Any more, I NEVER use any of the sites that specialize in making lots of freeware available.
And I'm including the big-name sites here who you'd think you could trust, like the 4-letter-name one that has all kinds of tech product reviews and hundreds of freeware downloads available. Stay away from their downloads. Fortunately for me my Vipre software has been vigilant in trapping these bad files before I could open them.
Back on track now:
Download these apps from the authors:
Hexagora Process Monitor, at this link:
Overlap Wallpaper, at this link:
Step 3: STEP 3 INSTALL VIDEO CARD
If you need to install a video card, do it now. Depending on your geekage level, you can do this on the fly, or with I'ble tutorials, or by leveraging your influence with brownies and Patrón.
Once installed, you can check it with an old display you have stashed away if you haven't assembled the mini-monitor yet.
Step 4: STEP 4: CONSTRUCTION
First cut and drill the box as needed.
A slot needs to be cut directly below the display for the ribbon cable; and screw holes are needed for mounting the circuit boards. A large hole in the back lid allows cables for connection to the outside world. Access holes are needed on the front for the switches on the Switch Board.
The Adapter Board supplied with the monitor has no mounting provisions and can be stuck to the inside of the box with double-stick tape.
Also, the display panel itself has no accommodation for mounting, so I use double-stick tape for this also. If this does not hold up over time, I will use silicone adhesive.
The ideal way for making the various holes in the box and lid is with a laser cutter. I availed myself of the laser cutter at the hackerspace "Crash Space LA" in Culver City, CA. If you don't have access to a laser cutter, a drill and jigsaw will work fine, albeit requiring more grease of the elbow variety.
I have drawings attached for laser cutting and for the more manual method.
The five switches on the Switch board are, from top to bottom:
- AV (HDMI) / VGA Signal Select
I put labels for the switches on the side of the box where they do not affect the front appearance.
When the box and lid are ready, mount the circuit boards in their respective spots. Mount the panel to the front of the box with the flex circuit feeding through the slot. In the following steps I will describe the interconnecting of the boards.
I show the connections being made prior to the components being mounted in the box. You can do this too, it makes mating the connectors easier. If you do it in this order, be careful not to damage any of the cables or connectors while mounting the boards.
At the top of this page are outline drawings of the machine work for the case. A Corel Draw file for laser cutter use is pasted below. If you have Corel Draw, clicking on the link will bring up the drawings.
Step 5: STEP 5: CONNECTIONS
Note: Do not power up the unit until all the connectors are mated.·
50-pin flat cable:
This and the 40-pin flat cable and their connectors are not indexed, so to insert the plugs in the proper orientation, make sure that the little silver contacts on the ends of the cable are facing up when inserting into the receptacle.
The 50-pin cable goes from CN1 on the Adapter Board to the "TTL Out" connector on the Driver Board.
To mate the cable to this type of connector, first pull out on the black locking bar on the connector till it snaps into an outer position. Insert the cable into the connector just above the locking bar with the shiny metallic tabs facing up. With the cable inserted all the way to the stop, snap the locking bar in. The cable should be securely locked into place with all the metallic tabs fully inserted, all the way across. Easier done with 3 hands.
40-pin flat cable:
Connect the free end of the 40-pin flat cable from the display to CN2 on the Adapter Board.
White 10-pin ribbon cable:
Connect one end to the switch board, and the other end to the nameless 10-pin connector on the driver board. This connector inserts only in one orientation.
With your computer powered off and the wall wart UNplugged from the wall, route the following cables through the large hole in the back lid of the box:
USB cable (Optional touch-panel): This cable has a USB connector on one end and a 5-pin connector on the other. Connect the 5-pin to the 5-pin receptacle on the Touch-panel Board. This connector is keyed to insert in only one orientation.
Connect the video cable from the computer to the corresponding jack on the Driver Board.
Connect the plug from the Wall Wart to the power jack on the driver board. Wall wart is not plugged into the wall yet.
Step 6: STEP 6: INITIAL STARTUP
Once all the cables are connected, fasten the lid to the box.
Stick the adhesive bumpers to the bottom of the box.
Only now should you plug the wall wart into the wall socket.
Turn on your computer and the green and red LEDs at the bottom of the Switch Board will flash on and off through startup.
If the mini-display isn't responding, try these:
- Switch the display "on" at the top switch on the switch board, or with the remote.
- Using the bottom switch set the display to the type of video bus you are using: AV (HDMI), or VGA.
After startup only the green LED will remain on.
The mini-monitor should be displaying the same desktop as on your main monitor. You should be able to move your mouse cursor past the right edge of your main monitor, over onto the mini-monitor.
Step 7: STEP 7 SOFTWARE SETUP
SET UP HEXAGORA
After downloading and running the setup file, all the charts will be stacked in one pile on the upper left of your main monitor. Drag-and-drop the charts to a temporary spot on the main monitor. Right-click on any of the charts and select "Settings" in the pop-up. That will bring up a Hexagora settings window.
In the General tab, Check:
- "Autostart with Windows"
No check on: "Pass-Through Mode"
Update Interval: "Ultra Fast"
Style: This is about visual presentation of the charts. Use what suits your fancy. I use "Glass 2"
Check: "Always on Top"
"Always show labels": To your choosing. This option puts teensy hard-to-see labels on the upper-left of the charts. I do check this.
In the CPU tab, Check:
- Check: "Show this Panel"
- Check: "Double Line"
In drop-menus that follow, select: "Line" and "Size 4x4"
"Show in Tray Area": No need to clutter up your tray area with this. No check.
Check "Show One Graph for every CPU/Core"
Check "Manual Foreground".
- Choose background and foreground colors to your fancy.
FYI, my system has 8 cores. Yours may not have as many.
Same selections as CPU tab, except there is no core selection.
Same selections as CPU tab, except instead of core selection check "Show separate graphs...."
Same selections as CPU tab, except instead of core selection check "Show separate graphs...."
- Max Bandwidth: "Auto"
- Net Interface: "All"
Once you have Hexagora set up and the mini-display operating, drag-and-drop the charts over to the mini display by moving them past the right edge of your main monitor, onto the mini-display. They will appear very small, which is okay for now, we will be fixing that. Don't concern yourself with exact placement of charts at this time.
SET UP OVERLAP WALLPAPER
The mini-display will show the same wallpaper as your main monitor, only in miniature. I wanted a solid color background for the mini display and accomplished that with OW. This software is meant to paste photographs
on your desktop. I re-purpose it to set a solid color background to my mini-monitor.
Prior to setting this up, create a new file in Paint or your fave graphics program.
What color background do you want behind the charts on the mini display? I chose black. Whatever your color, create a page filled completely with that color and close & save the file.
To do the setup described below for OW, you must have the mini-display operating.
In OW, open the background drawing you made, then proceed with these settings:
SETTINGS FOR OVERLAP WALLPAPER:
Photo Position: This will position the drawing to the mini display. For my system, position settings were:
- X position: 1920
- Y position: 0 (zero)
Photo size: Size the drawing to fill the mini display without spilling out onto the main display. In my system the settings here were:
- Image width: 2000
- Image height: 1000
Photo Transparency: 255
SYSTEM DISPLAY SETTINGS
For the following settings the Overlap Wallpaper background and the Hexagora charts must be on the mini-monitor.
My video card included software called "AMD Vision Control Center". I did the display settings in this program. Other video card manufacturers likely have equivalent control centers.
Lacking either of these, you can use Window's display settings feature, which I describe later.
Also, the mini-monitor has its own color controls. I haven't tried these, but they could likely be used toward the same end.
AMD VISION CONTROL CENTER:
Select the "Desktop Management" drop-down menu.
- In the "Creating and Arranging Desktops" menu, Select the mini monitor, which is probably display 2.
- In "Desktop Properties" select Desktop Area of 680x480. This will enlarge the charts enough to fill the mini-display.
- In "Advanced Display Settings" select "Detect whenever...."
- In "Desktop Color", adjust Gama, Brightness and Contrast for vivid colors on your charts. Play around with these so you get what appeals to you. I ended up increasing the numbers on all 3 parameters.
WINDOWS 7 DISPLAY SETTINGS PAGE:
Locate the settings page, enter "control panel" in the windows start menu search box (This sequence does not work if you click "Control Panel" on the menu at the side of the start menu. This engages a different control panel.)
Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization (on the side panel) > Display > Adjust screen resolution
- Select the mini-monitor, probably display (2)
Set Resolution:640x480. This is important, as it will make the charts large enough to fill the mini-display.
Set Orientation: Landscape
Set "Multiple Displays": "Extend these displays"
Do ~NOT~ check "Make this my main display"
Click the "Apply" button
Adjusting the color settings in the Windows 7 is problematical, as this cannot be done manually, but can only be done with a "helpful" wizard that guides you to set your display color balance for normal operation. That is desirable for your main display, but for the Hexagora display I found that color intensities need to be upped for vivid colors in the charts.
So do this: Open the wizard:
Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization (on the side panel) > Display > Calibrate Color
Play with these three settings, cranking them up until you get the color effects you like.
Whatever method you use to adjust video settings:
Set the resolution to 640x480. Adjust Gama, Brightness and Contrast for vivid colors on your charts. These color settings are likely to be different than settings for realistic presentation in general usage.
Step 8: STEP 8: POSITIONING
Once you have the previous settings completed, adjust the positions of the charts to exactly where you want them, then bring up the Hexagora setup window and in the General tab click "Pass-Through Mode". This will keep the charts in place so you can't accidentally move them with the mouse. Pass-Through Mode can be enabled and disabled at any time.
When Pass-Through mode is in effect a Hexagora icon shows up in the system tray. In this state you cannot bring up the setup window by right-clicking on a chart; you have to right-click the icon.
Right-click the icon and on the pop-up select "Back Up Positions". Then if your charts do get moved, you can easily move them back to the same positions with "Restore Positions".
If you happen to turn on your system with the mini-display disconnected, the Hexagora charts will appear on your main monitor. This is one case where the "Restore Positions" feature will save you the tedium of manually positioning the charts again, once the mini-display is reconnected.
Step 9: STEP 9: YOUR REWARD
From here you should be ready to go with Hexagora on the mini-display. From observation you can tell how your system responds under varying conditions.
If your RAM usage commonly goes above ~80%, you need another stick. This is likely slowing things down on your system.
If you can't get internet and your network charts are flatlined at 0%, the network is likely down, or your network adapter needs resetting.
When you start an internet download, you experience a delay. Is the delay from the download, or is it stalled? Check the "Network Down" chart: It should show significant activity. If not, the download is not happening.
If your processor is kicking butt during mundane operations, you probably could use a processor upgrade.
One thing I found is that normally only 3 to 5 of my 8 processor cores are active, busily chopping away while the remainder sit idle. Apparently a fair-sharing of the workload is not enforced in this venue. Kinda like some people situations in real life!
If you would like to experience the thrill of seeing all of your processor cores crank up and flatline at 100%, get the freeware prime95. It sole purpose in life is to do just that. I'm not responsible if this fries your processor.
I have found that most of the time there is very little action apparent on the drive charts. If you use cloud storage you will see the network "up" chart at full bore frequently, as the cloud is updated to your files.
If the processor and/or network charts show some pretty good activity when there is no apparent legit business going on, you can check the Task Manager to see which application is causing all the ruckus (enter "task manager" in the Windows search field). In the Task Manager click the "Processes" tab. You can tell by the "Memory" column which process is grinding away.
However, sometimes the Task Manager will show hardly any action even though it's obvious that the computer is quite busy with something. Turns out that the deep-down core operation of Windows is a mysterious, murky world and sometimes in this kind of situation the OS is going off on its own, doing presumably legit business, but really, nobody really knows what the heck going on down in there. It's like having ghosts tinkering around in your basement. This odd situation is usually a "normal" condition, but if it happens too much consider that your system might have some kind of malware.
The mini-display as pictured here has vacant areas on the bottom left and right corners. I have placed widgets for a calendar and a clock in these spaces. I left them out of the picture for this I'ble since I wanted to concentrate on the Hexagora app.
In order to get the busy charts pictured at the beginning of the article I ran several apps at the same time: A Vipre scan, an HD Video, Janis on YouTube and an email download.
If you have not used dual displays before, realize that sometimes while you're working your mouse you will think the cursor has disappeared. Just look over on the mini-display: The cursor will be there.