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How to use Windows Task Manager

Get to know Task Manager

If you use Windows, you should know about Task Manager. This essential system utility allows you to keep track of which programs are running, kill a program or process that has stopped responding, monitor your systemís performance, and keep track of how your system is using memory. The Task Manager utility has been a part of various Windows versions for years, but the version included in Windows XP does more tricks than any of its predecessors.

There are many ways to start Task Manager:

1. Right-click on an empty area of the SystemTask Bar and choose Task Manager.
2. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del and choose Task Manager from the dialog.
3. Press Shift + Ctrl + Escape.
4. From the Start - Run dialog , type Ďtaskmaní and run it.

The Task Manager interface consists of four tabs (a fifth tab, Users, is visible if Fast User Switching is enabled). The Applications tab, shown here, lists every running program that appears as a Taskbar button. It also includes items that run as programs but hide their taskbar buttons and appear only as tray icons when minimized.

I donít know anyone who uses Task Manager to actually manage programs, even though the various buttons and menu items available here offer a full range of options for doing just that: The Switch To button makes the selected program active, for instance, minimizing the Task Manager window. Click Windows, Bring To Front if you want to surface a program or Explorer window thatís currently hiding behind other windows while still leaving Task Manager in the foreground.

The most important use for the Applications tab is to kill a program that isnít responding. The Status column normally displays ďRunningĒ for every program in the list. If you see ďNot Responding,Ē thatís a clue that the program might have hung. (Some programs fail to respond to requests about their status when theyíre busy with a CPU-intensive task, so be sure to wait before concluding that the program is hung. Is the hard disk light flashing activity?) With very rare exceptions, you should be able to kill any program by selecting its entry in the list on the Applications tab and clicking End Task.

Apart from End Task, what else can this section be used for? Here is the first oneóending multiple tasks! You can select multiple applications in task manager and kill all of them by choosing "End Task"i.e. Ctrl+A  Common sense. But most people have never tried it!

Now, try selecting an application. Right-click and choose ĎGo To Processí. The task manager will now open the Processes tab and select the actual process (EXE) that runs the application. This is useful when you want to analyse the performance of the executable but you know only the application name (not the executable name)

Ever tried dragging some files from one Explorer window to another Explorer window? You have to struggle manually to ensure that both windows are tiled (arranged) properly so that you can drag and drop easily? In fact, this can happen with any two applications that you want to perform a drag-drop operation with. Select (whilst holding Ctrl) the required applications in Task Manager , Right-click and choose Tile Horizontally or Vertically. Thatís it!
Believe me, there is no better way of doing this. So much for the Applications tab.

Monitor CPU performance with Task Manager Processes

Is your system slowing down mysteriously? Slowdowns have a variety of causes, and you shouldnít jump to conclusions. When you notice performance becoming sluggish, the first thing you should do is open Task Manager and see if a process is using up more than its fair share of your CPUís muscle.

The Processes tab displays a list of processes running under the current user account.

Iíve highlighted three places to focus your attention.

Start at the bottom of the dialog box, where you can see what percentage of your available CPU resources are in use. Itís normal for this value to change as processes start up and shut down, so keep an eye on it for long enough to see whether it changes.
Just above the status line, make sure the Show process from all users checkbox is selected. This is especially important if you use Fast User Switching and another user is logged on at the same time. That user may have a running task (a music download, for example) that is taking up CPU cycles.
Finally, click the CPU heading twice to sort the list by that column, in descending order. Now keep an eye on the values at the top of the dialog box and see which ones are using the CPU.
Donít be alarmed if the System Idle Process appears to have taken over your computer. Thatís a placeholder value that shows how much of your CPU is available to other programs. If you don't know what a process does (Image Name) then just key the name into Google.

Itís normal for some activities to place heavy demands on the CPU. Ripping or burning a CD or sorting a large database, for instance, can pretty much take over the CPU. Be concerned when you see a high percentage of CPU usage for a program that appears to be doing nothing. Thatís an indication that the program is hung and wonít release the CPU resources unless you click the End Process button.

Similarly, you can find out which applications are taking up maximum RAM. Just sort the ĎMem Usageí column in descending order. It is interesting to note how some simple applications can take up substantial amounts of RAM. For example, complex pages of Internet Explorer (especially those containing lots of downloaded XML/scripts) can take up several MBs of RAM. Similarly, when you open large documents, even Word can take up lots of memory.

The real utility of this tool lies in the other columns of information it can display. One of the most important information would be Virtual Memory usage. The total memory used by a process is the sum of actual and virtual memory. To add more columns to the monitor, select the View - Select Columns menu item.

Tip from PC-KING

While working with the Task Manager I observed the following. You can also try it out.

  • Start any application, say Word. Open some large documents.

  • Now start the Task Manager processor tab and sort the list in descending order on Mem Usage. You will notice that Winword.exe will be somewhere at the top, using multiple MBs of memory. Note down the number.

  • Now switch to Word and simply minimise it. (Do not use the Minimize All option of the task bar).

  • Now go back to the Task Manager and see where Winword.exe is listed. Most probably you will not find it at the top. You will typically have to scroll to the bottom of the list to find Word. Now check out the amount of RAM it is using. Compare it with the original. Surprised? The memory utilisation has reduced by a huge amount.

  • So remember  ó minimise each application that you are currently not working on by clicking on the Minimize button, and you can increase the amount of available RAM by a substantial margin. Depending upon the number and type of applications you use together, the difference can be as much as 50 percent of extra RAMóand all this is free of cost!

It is nothing unexpected actually. In any multitasking system, minimising an application means that it wonít be utilised by the user right now. Therefore, the Operating System automatically makes the application use virtual memory and keeps bare minimum amounts of the code in physical RAM

Use Task Manager Performance to track memory usage

First, a word of caution: Some people assume that the goal of memory management is to leave as much memory free as possible. (That attitude is especially prevalent among those who spent a long time working with the notoriously resource-challenged Windows 95/98/Me family.) In fact, for best performance your goal should be to make maximum use of RAM. Empty RAM does you no good. Windows can swap data in and out of RAM very quickly, so if memory is free, the cache manager tries to fill it up with as much data as possible. Likewise, a well-written program can and should load as much data into memory as possible so that it can respond quickly when you make a request. A really well written program will know how to discard data it doesnít need when the system asks for extra RAM for another task.

Disk access, on the other hand, is far slower than a call to memory. So the situation you want to avoid is running so many programs at once that you run out of RAM and have to start swapping data from fast memory to the slow disk-based page file (Virtual RAM).

To see how much memory is in use, open Task Manager and click the Performance tab.
The data shown here can be confusing, and in fact much of it is completely irrelevant. For the most part, you should look at only two values here. Under the Physical Memory heading, look at the value that appears to the right of Total. In this example, Iíve got 261,616K (roughly 256 MB) of physical RAM installed. Your value may be different, and if your system uses an inexpensive ďshared RAMĒ video adapter you may discover that you have less physical RAM than you thought.

Now look at the first value under the Commit Charge heading. The number to the right of Total here indicates how much RAM is actually in use by programs and processes. If the number here is bigger than the amount of physical RAM, your system has been forced to swap data to disk, and thatís the cause of the current performance problem.

To see how much RAM is in use by each program or process, click the Processes tab and then click the Mem Usage heading twice to sort the list in descending order. You can use this information to decide which programs to close so that you can return to normal performance. (Remember, though, itís perfectly OK for a process to use a large amount of RAM if youíve got the physical RAM to spare. Donít just start closing programs that use large amounts of RAM!)

If you find yourself regularly using more memory than you have physical RAM (in other words, if the Commit Charge Total is consistently more than Total Physical RAM), itís time to order a memory upgrade.


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Site Updated 17 Jan 2013 15:41


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