How to use the Task Manager to monitor and/or speed up your PC

by Ross McKillop on July 12, 2006

Windows

If your PC starts to slow down after you’ve been using it for a while, or one or more programs completely stop responding, you can use the Task Manager, a utility built into Windows, to help regain some of your system resources ..

The Windows Task Manager allows you to monitor the programs running on your PC – and close them (known as end task) if needed. It comes particularly in handy when a program comepletely stops responding or crashes (but doesn’t close).

To launch the Task Manager, right-click in an empty space in your Task Bar and select Task Manager from the pop-up menu (Windows 95/98/ME users press ctrl-alt-delete).

The Applications tab will display a list of your currently running programs, and their respective status. If you opened the Task Manager because a program stopped responding and you want to force it to close, highlight that program and select the End Task button. Any unsaved work in that application will likely be lost by forcing a program to quit in this manner, but if that program hasn’t been responding for a while, the unsaved work is probably lost regardless.

The Processes tab is one of the most useful “utilities” that comes built into Windows. It allows you to view all the running processes on your PC – both programs that you’ve started and applications that Windows requires (system processes).

If you notice that after your PC has been in use for a while it starts to slow down, a quick view of the Processes can help you understand why – and regain some of that lost zip.

Select the Mem Usage column title and the processes will be sorted by their memory usage. Some programs suffer from a problem called “memory leaks” – which means that over time they start to use a huge amount of memory. Using the Task Manager you can determine if this has happened by sorting the processes by their memory usage.

It’s important to note that some programs simply require a lot of memory – just because something is using a lot of memory does not mean that it’s suffering from a memory leak. Image editing software (Photoshop, Illustrator etc) often use a lot of memory. Firefox, the increasingly popular (and very good) web browser also uses a lot of memory, although you can change some of its settings to help lower its memory usage.

To confirm that your changes have helped (or to just get a visual summary of how your system resources are doing) – select the Performance tab.

For more details on the Task Manager, check out the online Microsoft documentation.