Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Basics: The Task Manager

One of the most useful tools for determining what's going on with your computer is the Task Manager. This program lists what currently running on your computer and lets you determine what's using up memory.  You can also use it to shut down things that you don't want running.

Task ManagerTo access the Task Manager, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete (all three keys at once). In some cases, it will pop up; in other configurations, this will bring up a list of options. "Task Manager" is one of them.

There are several tabs on the Task Manager.

  • Applications -- these are programs currently running on the computer. If you click on one and then select "End Task," the program will close. This can be useful if the program stops responding (which will show in the status). You can end the program if it's frozen.
  • Processes -- This is trickier.  These are various processes running on the computer. Sometimes, you can kill a rogue process like a virus so that you can run other programs. You can also use it to shut down things that are taking up too much memory. The processes can be sorted so you can see which one is taking up memory (ignore "System Idle Processes"; that's just free memory, so you want it to be high). Note: If you end the wrong process, the computer might crash. But don't let this faze you:  a restart will fix things.
  • Performance -- Shows how much memory is being used.  If the CPU usage is at 100%, your computer is going to run slow.  The task manager also puts an icon near the clock on the taskbar; it will indicate how much memory is being used with a bright green bar. 
  • Networking -- Shows how your local area connection is working.

How is this useful?  In several ways:

  • If a program is not responding, open the Task Manager and look at the Applications tab.  Look for tasks listed as "not responding."  Click on them and then on "End Task" to free things up (you will get a warning window before they shut down).  It may take a few moments for it to work, but it's quicker than restarting the computer.
  • If your computer is running very slowly, open the Task Manager and look at the processes.  Click on the heading "CPU" twice to sort largest to smallest.  The processes at the top (not counting "System Idle Process") are taking up the most CPU time.  If you can determine what they are, you can end them, or reconfigure. 
  • Occasionally, you may find that your taskbar has disappeared and you can't get it back.  Go into the Task Manager, click on "File" on the menu, and then "New Task (Run)."  Type "Explorer" in the space and click OK.  The taskbar should return.

The Task Manager is a handy way to maintain your computer.