Here is a vmstat snapshot from a system (lightly used) which clearly illustrates the various sections of information; memory, CPU and I/O.
procs -----------memory---------- ---swap-- -----io---- --system-- -----cpu------ r b swpd free buff cache si so bi bo in cs us sy id wa st 0 0 0 6564232 130912 1270228 0 0 0 0 1204 1827 1 1 99 0 0 0 0 0 6564232 130912 1270228 0 0 0 0 1167 1602 0 1 99 0 0 0 0 0 6564232 130912 1270228 0 0 0 900 1167 2136 1 1 98 0 0
Top is another important utility that you should have in your repertoire. It's a character based GUI which provides a quick and dirty snapshot of your system.
If you want something a little different – look at OProfile. This utility uses performance monitoring hardware on the processor to retrieve kernel type system information about the executables on a system.
If you prefer a graphical interface, the GNOME System Monitor is a tool you should be looking it. The software is X based and has a pretty looking front-end.
Regardless of which tool you use make sure you follow proper tuning procedures, test all your changes outside of production first and also make only one change at a time.
Dig deeper on Linux monitoring and troubleshooting
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