How to use the Windows Task Manager

  • September 11, 2012
  • Read 98,898 times

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. How to start the Windows Task Manager and an overview of its interface
  3. Applications Tab
  4. Processes Tab
  5. Services Tab
  6. Performance Tab
  7. Networking Tab
  8. Users Tab
  9. Advanced Task Manager information



The Windows Task Manager is a program that comes with Windows and displays information about the processes running and the resources being utilized on your computer. This utility allows you get a good overview of the tasks your computer is performing and the amount of resources each task is utilizing. Using this information you can tune your computer to run optimally and efficiently by disabling programs that may be using too many resources and thus slowing down your computer.

The Windows Task Manager program is broken up into multiple tabs. Each tab is associated with a particular category such as the running applications, running processes, Windows services, the computer's performance, network utilization, and the users that are currently logged in. This tutorial will discuss how to start the Windows Task Manager and provide information about each category of the Windows Task Manager.

Please note, that tutorial only applies to Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. As the Task Manager has changed in Windows 8, a separate tutorial will be created for that version of Windows.


How to start the Windows Task Manager and an overview of its interface

The Windows Task Manager can be started by using two methods. The first, and easiest method, is to simply right click on the time shown in your Windows taskbar. When you right click the time, you will be shown a dialog box similar to the one below:


Start Task Manager


Simply left click on the Task Manager option and the Windows Task Manager will open.

The second method to start the Windows Task Manager is to click on the Start button and type in taskmgr.exe and press the Enter on your keyboard. If you are using Windows XP, then you will need to click on the Run option before typing taskmgr.exe. Once you press Enter on your keyboard, the program will start.

When the Windows Task Manager opens, it will open to the last tab that you viewed before you closed it in the past. If this is the first time you have run the program, then the Task Manager will start in the Applications tab as shown below.


Applications tab of the Windows Task Manager


The information displayed by the Windows Task Manager is broken up into different categories. These categories can be accessed by clicking on the particular tab that is associated with them. More information about each category is provided in the sections below.

Finally, Task Manager displays basic information at the bottom of the windows labeled Processes, CPU Usage, and Physical Memory. The Processes number is the amount of processes currently running on the computer, the CPU Usage is the percent of the total CPU processing power that is currently being used, and the Physical Memory percentage is the percentage of total memory currently being used by your running programs and Windows.


Applications Tab

The Applications tab will show you all running programs that can be interacted with by the currently logged in user. That means that you will only see applications that have been started by the user you are currently logged in as. If there are other applications running that were launched by another user, you will not see these applications listed.


Applications tab of the Windows Task Manager
The Applications Tab


There is not much information provided on this tab other than the name of the application that is running and its state. Some application states that you may see are Running and Not Responding. Running means that the application is running normally, while Not Responding means that the program is frozen or having an issue.

To close a Not Responding program, you click left click once on the application name so that it is highlighted and then click on the End Task button. This will cause Windows to attempt to terminate the program. If the program is not terminated after you click on the End Task button, you should wait a minute and click on the End Task button again. If that does not work you can try terminating the program through the Processes tab that is discussed in the next section.

Processes Tab

The Processes tab displays a list of all the running processes that are on the computer. Unlike the Applications tab, this tab has the ability to display all programs that are running even if they were started by another user or the operating system itself. When you start Windows Task Manager and go to the Processes tab, by default it will only show the processes for the currently logged in user and some basic operating system processes. An example of this limited view can be seen in the image below.


Processes Tab only showing the current users processes
The Processes for the current user


If you click on the Show processes from all users button, Windows Task Manager will be restarted with Administrative privileges that will allow you to see all processes currently started on the computer. An example of what this looks like can be seen in the image below. Notice how there are much more processes now listed.


Processes tab showing all processes
Processes tab showing all processes


The standard information that is shown in this tab includes the image name, or file name, the name of the user that launched the process, the amount of CPU power that the process is currently using, how much memory it is using, and a description that is found within the process. It should be noted that not all processes will contain a description, which will cause the description field to be blank. It is also possible to add other columns of information by clicking on the View tab and then selecting Select columns. This will open a screen where you can enable other columns of information for each process.

It is also possible to get more detailed information about the particular process by right-clicking on the process and selecting properties. This will allow you to see the digital signatures of a process, where it is located, and other information.

One of the most common tasks that people use this tab for is to terminate a particular process that may be causing problems on the computer. Whether it is because the program is not responding or it is suspected that the process is related to malware, you can terminate a process by left-clicking on it once so it is selected and then clicking on the End Process tab. You will then be presented with a dialog box asking if you are sure you wish to terminate the process.

WARNING: It is possible to terminate processes that are required for Windows to operate properly. Please only terminate processes that you know will not affect the operation of Windows. Some processes that you should avoid terminating if they are located in the C:\Windows\System32\ folder are smss.exe, svchost.exe, lsass.exe, winlogon.exe, and csrss.exe. You can check if they are located in the C:\Windows\System32\ folder by right-clicking on the process name and selecting properties.


Services Tab

The Services tab is only available in Windows Vista and Windows 7. This tab will show you all the Windows Services currently configured in Windows. A Windows Service is a special type of program that is started by Windows when it starts or as necessary and runs in the background performing a particular task. Windows Services are an integral part of the operating system and if they are not running or have been deleted they can cause serious problems with the proper operation of Windows.


Services tab of the Windows Task Manager
The Services Tab

This tab displays information about each service, whether they are running or not, and the service's description. You can also start and stop an individual service by right-clicking on a service and selecting Stop or Start.

WARNING: You should not stop any services unless you are 100% sure you know that doing so will not affect the proper operation of Windows.

For more details about the services on your machine, you can click on the Services... button to open the Services control panel.


Performance Tab

The Performance tab allows you to see the current and historical CPU and memory utilization on your computer. This tab is useful if you are trying to diagnose why your computer or an application is running slower than normal.


Performance tab of the Windows Task Manager
The Performance Tab


The CPU Usage and CPU Usage History boxes show how much CPU processing power your computer is currently using and has been using over time. The Memory and Physical Memory Usage History boxes display the amount of memory that is being used and how much has been used over time. As you can imagine, this information is very useful in determining why your computer may be running slow. For example, if you find your computer is slow and find that the CPU utilization is at 100%, then you know the slow down could be caused by a process using up to much CPU power. You can then go to the Processes tab to see which process may be using up all the CPU power and close it. If you find that there is no particular CPU causing a problem, then this just may be a indication that it is time to upgrade your CPU.

The same diagnostics can be used with memory. Many people do not realize that memory is a vital component of fast computer. If your applications are using up all of your memory than Windows will start writing pieces of memory to a file a on your disk drive. This process is called paging and when it occurs your computer slows down significantly. By using the Performance and Processes tab of the Task Manager, you can quickly determine if a lack of memory is causing your computer to perform more slowly.


Networking Tab

The Networking tab allows you to have a general idea of how much traffic is flowing over a particular network interface on your computer. At the bottom of this screen you will see a list of all the network interfaces on your computer. Above that you will see graphs for each interface that show the network traffic flowing over them.


Networking tab of the Windows Task Manager
The Networking Tab


This information can be useful if you are wondering why your Internet or network connection may be to slow. For example, if you see that your network interface is at 100% utilization then something in Windows is using up all of the available bandwidth. You can then determine what program is using the network connection and close it.


Users Tab

The Users tab will display all the users that are currently logged in. An example of what this screen looks like is below.


Users tab of the Windows Task Manager
The Users Tab


From this screen you can Disconnect or Logoff users. If you choose to Disconnect a user, it will terminate that users connection to the computer, but not necessarily log them off. That means that their programs will continue to run on the computer. On the other hand, if you select Logoff, then all of the user's running programs will be closed and the user will logged off of the computer.


Advanced Task Manager Information

It is not uncommon for a system administrator, or even malware, to disable the Windows Task Manager by changing a setting in the Windows Registry. When the program is disabled, the Task Manager option will be greyed out when you right-click on the taskbar and if you attempt to run the program manually by opening taskmgr.exe, you will receive a message stating "Task Manager has been disabled by your administrator.".

The Task Manager is disabled by creating the following Registry value:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\System "DisableTaskMgr" = 1

When the DisableTaskMgr value is set to 1, Windows will not allow you to launch the Task Manager. To enable the Task Manager, you can simply change that value to 0. As making changes in the Registry can be dangerous, it is suggested that you instead download the following registry file if you find that the Task Manager is disabled.

Fix Task Manager Registry File (FixTM.reg)

Simply download the above registry file and save it on your desktop. Once it is downloaded, you can double-click on the file and when it prompts you to merge the data, please allow it to do so. Once that data has been merged you will be able to launch the Windows Task Manager again.

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