Explainers

The Windows Task Manager: Understanding and Using All its Elements

Our experts cover all you must know about the utility

Task Manager
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The Windows Task Manager is an essential tool that has been part of the Microsoft Windows operating system since Windows NT 4.0 in 1996. 

It provides real-time information about the processes, applications, and services running on a computer and allows users to monitor and manage the system’s performance, resources, and processes.

In this guide, we will take an in-depth look at all the elements of the Windows Task Manager and how to use them effectively. 

Additionally, we’ll cover everything from the basics, such as opening the Task Manager and navigating its interface, to more advanced features, such as monitoring system performance, managing processes and services, and troubleshooting issues.

Opening the Task Manager

To open the Task Manager, you can use one of several methods:

  • Press Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard.
  • Press Ctrl + Alt + Del then choose Task Manager from the options.
  • Right-click your Taskbar and choose Task Manager from the context menu.
  • Use the Windows key + X shortcut and select Task Manager from the menu.

Once the Task Manager is open, you will see the following tabs: Processes, Performance, App history, Startup, Users, Details, and Services. 

Let’s look at each of these tabs and what they contain.

1. The Task Manager Processes tab

The Processes tab is the default tab that opens when you launch the Task Manager. 

It lists all the processes currently running on your system, including the name, PID (process identifier), CPU usage, memory usage, and more.

1.1 Understanding process information

  • Name: This column shows the name of the process or application. If you’re not sure what a process does, you can right-click on it and select Search online to look it up.
  • PID: This column displays the unique process identification number assigned to each process by the operating system.
  • CPU: This column displays the percentage of CPU usage for each process. It shows how much of the processor’s time each process is currently using.
  • Memory: This column displays the amount of memory, in kilobytes (KB), being used by each process.
  • Disk: This column displays the amount of data being read from or written to the disk by each process.
  • Network: This column displays each process’s amount of network activity (sent or received).

1.2 Managing Task Manager processes

The Processes tab allows you to manage running processes in several ways:

  • End Task: You can right-click on a process and select End task to close the process. This is useful if an application is unresponsive or causing issues.
  • End Process Tree: This option ends the process and any child processes it has spawned. This can be useful if an application has multiple processes running that you want to close simultaneously.
  • Set Priority: You can right-click on a process and select Set priority to change the priority level of the process. This can help if you want to allocate more or fewer system resources to a specific process.
  • Set Affinity: You can right-click on a process and select Set affinity to control which CPU cores the process can use. This is useful to restrict a process to only one or some specific CPU cores.

1.3 Analyzing Task Manager process performance

The Processes tab also provides several features for analyzing the performance of running processes:

  • CPU Usage: You can sort the process list by CPU usage to see which processes use the most CPU resources at any given time.
  • Memory Usage: You can sort the process list by memory usage to see which processes use the most memory resources at any given time.
  • Resource Monitor: You can click the “Resource Monitor” button at the bottom of the Processes tab to open the Resource Monitor. This tool provides a more detailed view of system resources used by running processes, including CPU, memory, disk, and network usage.

2. The Task Manager Performance tab

The Performance tab provides a real-time view of the system’s performance metrics, including CPU usage, memory usage, disk activity, and network activity. This tab can monitor the system’s performance and identify potential issues.

2.1 CPU

The CPU section of the Performance tab shows a graph of the current CPU usage and a breakdown of usage by individual cores. You can also see which processes use the most CPU resources at any time.

2.2 Memory

The Memory section of the Performance tab shows a graph of the current memory usage and a breakdown of usage by different types of memory, such as physical memory (RAM), virtual memory (paging file), and non-paged memory.

2.3 Disk

The Disk section of the Performance tab shows a graph of the current disk activity, including read and write speeds, as well as a breakdown of activity by individual disks and processes.

2.4 Network

The Network section of the Performance tab shows a graph of the current network activity, including sent and received data rates, as well as a breakdown of activity by individual network adapters and processes.

3. The Task Manager App history tab

The App History tab shows historical usage data for Windows Store apps, including resource usage and network activity. This tab is only available in Windows 10.

3.1 Resource Usage

The Resource Usage section of the App history tab provides a detailed view of the system resources used by Windows Store apps over time. This includes CPU usage, network usage, and metered network usage.

  • CPU time: This shows the amount of CPU time an app uses over time, measured in seconds.
  • Network: This shows the amount of data sent and received by an app over time, measured in bytes.
  • Metered Network: This shows the amount of data sent and received over metered networks, which is charge based on data usage.

You can sort the resource usage data by clicking on the column header by any of these metrics.

3.2 Usage History

The Usage History section of the App history tab provides a graph of the usage history for each Windows Store app installed on your system. This includes CPU usage, network usage, and metered network usage.

You can select which metrics to display on the graph by clicking on the drop-down menu at the top of the section.

3.3 Network Usage details

The Network Usage Details section of the App history tab provides a breakdown of the network activity for each Windows Store app installed on your system. This includes the amount of data sent and received by the app and the duration of the network activity.

You can sort the network usage data by clicking on the column header by any of these metrics.

3.4 Metered Network Usage details

The Metered Network Usage Details section of the App history tab provides a breakdown of the network activity for each Windows Store app installed on your system over metered networks. This includes the amount of data sent and received by the app and the duration of the network activity.

You can sort the metered network usage data by clicking on the column header by any of these metrics.

4. The Task Manager Startup tab

The Startup tab shows a list of applications set to start automatically when Windows starts up. This tab can disable unnecessary startup programs and improve system performance.

4.1 Startup Impact

The Startup Impact column shows each application’s impact on your system’s startup time. The impact is classified into three categories:

  • High: These applications significantly slow down your system’s startup time.
  • Medium: These are applications that impact your system’s startup time.
  • Low: These applications have minimal impact on your system’s startup time.

You can sort the list of applications by Startup Impact by clicking on the column header.

4.2 Status

The Status column shows the current status of each application’s startup configuration. This can be either Enabled or Disabled.

  • Enabled: These are currently configured applications to start automatically when your computer starts up.
  • Disabled: These are applications not currently configured to start automatically when your computer starts up.

You can enable or disable an application’s startup configuration by right-clicking on the application and selecting Enable or Disable from the context menu.

4.3 Startup Item Details

The Startup Item Details section provides additional information about each startup application, including the application’s name, the publisher, the file path, and the startup type.

  • Name: This is the application’s name configured to start automatically.
  • Publisher: This is the name of the company that published the application.
  • File Path: This is the file path of the application executable.
  • Startup Type: This is the type of startup configuration for the application. There are several types, including Registry (Run), Task Scheduler, and Startup folder.

You can sort the list of applications by any of these details by clicking on the corresponding column header.

4.4 Add or Remove Startup Applications

You can add or remove startup applications from the Startup tab using the Task Manager’s context menu. 

To add an app to your startup list, right-click on the application and select Add to startup from the context menu. To remove an application from the startup list, right-click on the application and select Disable from the context menu.

5. The Task Manager Users tab

The Users tab lists all the users currently logged into the system and the processes running under each user’s account.

Task Manager

5.1 User Name

The User Name column displays the user account’s name currently logged in to the system. If multiple user accounts are logged in, each account will be listed separately.

5.2 Session ID

The Session ID column displays the unique session ID associated with each user account. This ID identifies and manages the user’s session on the system.

5.3 Status

The Status column shows the current status of each user account. This can be either Active or Disconnected.

  • Active: This indicates that the user is currently logged in to the system and actively using it.
  • Disconnected: This indicates that the user has logged in to the system but is inactive.

5.4 CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network Usage

The CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network Usage sections display the resource usage for each user account on the system. These sections show the total resource usage for all processes and services associated with each user account.

You can sort the list of user accounts by any of these metrics by clicking on the corresponding column header.

5.5 Processes

The Processes section displays the list of processes associated with each user account. This includes both user-initiated processes and system processes.

You can sort the list of processes by any metrics displayed in the CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network Usage sections by clicking on the corresponding column header.

5.6 Services

The Services section displays the list of services associated with each user account. This includes both user-initiated services and system services.

You can sort the list of services by any metrics displayed in the CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network Usage sections by clicking on the corresponding column header.

5.7 Disconnecting Users

You can disconnect a user from the system by selecting the user and clicking on the Disconnect button. This will log the user out of the system and end their session.

6. The Task Manager Details tab

The Details tab in the Windows Task Manager provides an in-depth view of all the processes running on your system. It displays each process’s name, PID (Process ID), status, and resource usage.

Additionally, it allows you to manage the processes by providing various options like ending a process, changing its priority, and so on.

Task Manager

6.1 Process Name

The Process Name column displays the name of each process running on the system. This includes both system processes and user-initiated processes.

6.2 PID (Process ID)

The PID column displays the unique Process ID associated with each process. This ID is used to identify and manage each process on the system.

6.3 Description

The Description column displays the description of each process. This can help identify the purpose of each process and determining whether it is necessary for the system’s operation.

6.4 CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network Usage

The CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network Usage sections display the resource usage for each process on the system. These sections show the total resource usage for each process, including its child processes.

You can sort the list of processes by any of these metrics by clicking on the corresponding column header.

6.5 Managing Processes

The Details tab allows you to manage the processes running on your system. Right-clicking on a process displays a context menu with various options to manage the process. Some of the options include:

  • End task: This option terminates the process immediately.
  • Set priority: This option allows you to set the priority of the process, which determines the number of system resources allocated to it.
  • Open file location: This option opens the location of the executable file associated with the process.
  • Search online: This option performs a web search for information about the process.

6.6 Adding and Removing Columns

You can customize the Details tab by adding or removing columns as needed. Right-clicking on the column headers displays a context menu with various options to manage the columns. Some of the options include:

  • Select columns: This option allows you to select which columns to display in the Details tab.
  • Resize columns: This option allows you to resize the width of the columns.
  • Hide columns: This option allows you to hide specific columns from the Details tab.

7. The Task Manager Services tab

The Services tab in the Windows Task Manager displays the services running on the system. It lists all services, their current status, and the associated process ID associated with each service.

Additionally, it allows you to manage the services by providing various options like starting, stopping, and restarting a service.

Task Manager

7.1 Service Name

The Service Name column displays the name of each service running on the system. This includes both system services and third-party services installed by applications.

7.2 PID (Process ID)

The PID column displays the unique Process ID associated with the process hosting the service. This ID is used to identify and manage the service on the system.

7.3 Description

The Description column displays the description of each service. This can help identify the purpose of each service and determine whether it is necessary for the system’s operation.

7.4 Status

The Status column shows the real-time status of each service. The possible statuses are:

  • Running: The service is currently running.
  • Stopped: The service is currently stopped.
  • Paused: The service is currently paused.

7.5 Startup Type

The Startup Type column displays the startup type of each service. The possible startup types are:

  • Automatic: The service starts automatically when the system boots up.
  • Manual: The service must be started manually by a user or application.
  • Disabled: The service is disabled and cannot be started.

7.6 Managing Services

The Services tab allows you to manage the services running on your system. Right-clicking on a service displays a context menu with various service management options. Some of the options include:

  • Start: This option starts a stopped service.
  • Stop: This option stops a running service.
  • Restart: This option stops and then starts a service.
  • Open services: This option opens the Services snap-in in the Microsoft Management Console, which provides advanced service management options.

7.7 Adding and Removing columns

You can customize the Services tab by adding or removing columns as needed. Right-clicking on the column headers displays a context menu with various options to manage the columns. Some of the options include:

  • Select columns: This option allows you to select which columns to display in the Services tab.
  • Resize columns: This option allows you to resize the width of the columns.
  • Hide columns: This option allows you to hide specific columns from the Services tab.

Additional tips and tricks for using the Task Manager

Here are some additional tricks and tips for using the Windows Task Manager:

  • Pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard immediately opens the Task Manager, skipping the Ctrl + Alt + Del screen.
  • Pressing Ctrl + Shift + Esc on your keyboard while holding the Shift key down will open the Task Manager with administrative privileges.
  • If you’re unsure what a particular process or service does, search for it online using a search engine like Google or Bing.
  • You can customize the Task Manager’s columns and add additional columns to display more information about running processes.
  • You can save a snapshot of the current Task Manager view by clicking the More details button and then selecting File > Save as from the menu.

Windows Task Manager is a robust tool that can help you manage and troubleshoot issues on your Windows system. By understanding all its elements and features, you can effectively boost your usage of any Windows computer and increase your productivity. 

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Rebecca Ogbor
Rebecca is a co-owner of Fuzo Tech. She has dedicated herself to customer care, especially in tech, and she is a fine writer and tech consumer.She is bilingual (French and English) and is passionate about interactions and conflict resolution. She is passionate about her work and committed to delivering outstanding service to any organization.