You are currently viewing Solving your computer performance issues with Windows Task Manager – Part 2

Solving your computer performance issues with Windows Task Manager – Part 2

In my previous post, I showed how easy it is to check the memory that is used by all the programs and processes you are running on your computer. Additionally, I showed how you can quickly shut down programs that suddenly freeze up and can’t be closed and restarted again. This is all done by using Task Manager. One of the basic features that a Tech supporter checks in order to do a root cause analysis for performance issues of programs and applications on your computer.

It is more effective to know the basics of Task Manager yourself. You get a better understanding of the performance issues of your programs by doing a first-line (basic) root cause analysis. You might even be able to solve the problem yourself during this analysis! In addition to that, you will have a much better understanding of what is going on, instead of being left in the dark when your problem is fixed by an expert that presses a few keys and then takes off. It also helps you in your problem description to the Tech department because you will have more detailed information available to describe the performance issues of your programs.

In this post, I will give you more detail about the columns of the “Processes” tab: what does all the info on these columns mean? Some info might be of great help when asking the Tech department for support. 

The performance columns of the “Processes” tab

As learned in the previous post, open the task manager with Ctrl+Alt+Esc (or with the other option I showed). I always like to put the process overview in columns. To do this you can click on “View” en select “Group by type”.

If you click with the right mouse button on one of the columns you get a selection menu of all the columns that are available to check in relation to the programs you are running. In the below example, I pressed the right mouse button on the first column (Name) after which a selection menu popped up:

  • Type (1). The type describes the category of the process: App, Background process, or Windows process.
  • Status (2). If you think a program is frozen, you will see a description “Not Responding” in this column. After a bit of time, programs might respond and sometimes they just remain frozen. In some cases, Windows automatically suspends a program to save power. When this happens, a green leaf will appear in this column. Modern Universal Windows Platform apps (UWP) can suspend to save power, and Windows can also suspend traditional desktop apps. Quite a lot of people don’t know about this and keep rebooting their computer because they think their program just froze while it is just in “hibernation” to save power.
  • Publisher (3). This is the name of the program’s publisher. For instance, Spotify has “ Spotify Ltd” behind its name.
  • PID (4). PID is short for Process Identifier. It is the number that Windows has associated with the process. The process ID is used for certain functions or system utilities. Windows assigns a unique process ID each time it starts a program and the process ID helps to distinguish running processes from each other. This is very handy because a lot of processes are running at the same time sometimes. This might also be handy information for your Tech department during your root-cause analysis: you can’t be thorough enough and you never know if it can help you in solving the problem.
  • Process name (5). This is the file name of the process. Now that I was making Spotify as an example let’s stay with Spotify. The process name of Spotify is spotify.exe. Exe stands for “execute”  and launches the program. 
  • Command line (6). When a program is launched, the full command line is used to launch this process. In the “Dark Ages” of MS DOS you had to manually type in all the commands to start up a program. Nowadays this is done automatically by an automatic launch of the command line by clicking on an app. For instance, Task Manager is launched from location C:\WINDOWS\System32\Taskmgr.exe, and Windows Explorer is launched from location C:\WINDOWS\Explore.exe:
  • CPU (7). CPU stands for Central Processing Unit and is one of the most important pieces of hardware in your computer. A CPU is a big calculator and the more calculation power a program or application requires, the higher the % or MB in the column will be. A total CPU usage of 100% all the time is not good and will certainly lead to performance issues. By shutting down programs and/or applications or upgrading your hardware you can improve performance. Shutting down applications is not a structural solution in my opinion though so for the long term an upgrade/replacement is the best solution in my opinion. That also counts for all the other hardware related performances that are described below (RAM, Disk and GPU).
  • Memory (8). This is the amount of RAM used by a specific program or application. RAM stands for Random-access Memory and is the short-term memory of your computer. It temporarily stores (remembers) everything you are running in Task Manager (all the apps and programs). After shutting down your computer or closing a program or app, it is wiped from the memory. Shutting down an app creates more available memory. When your total RAM usage is 100% all the time the chance is pretty high that you will run into performance issues. When you shut down programs and/or applications or upgrade hardware (adding more RAM) or replace it (in case some hardware broke down) you can improve performance.
  • Disk (9). This column shows the activity of your Hard Disk/SSD. Hard Disks are used to store and retrieve data. All programs and applications are stored there. Programs and applications communicate with the Hard Disk to retrieve data they require in order to be able to run. When a Hard Drive peaks at 100% all the time and makes a lot of noise (in case it is a generic Hard Drive and not an SSD), you can close down programs that use a lot of Hard Disk performance. As with RAM, adding a new Hard Disk or replacing the existing one (in case of break-down or because the Hard Disk is too old), can solve your performance problems. It is pretty uncommon with state of the art machines that run on modern Hard Drives or SSD’s that Disk performance is the problem. If there is an underperformance there is a big chance that one of the disks (or your only disk) is starting to break down. 
  • Network (10). Network usage is the primary network you are on with the device your are using. If you see a lot of peaks in this, the network might have capacity constraints(Local Area Network or WiFi connection) or you might have problems with your network card. In case it’s the first instead of the latter I’m pretty sure that you won’t be the only person in your organization complaining.
  • GPU (11). If you have a GPU in your computer, it will appear in your Task Manager. GPU shows how much capacity is used from your GPU card. A GPU card is mainly utilized when playing games or running designing programs (like CAD/Solidworks). If the performance peaks close to 100%, there can be two things happening: (1) the application you run is too “heavy” for your GPU, (2) your GPU is breaking down. In case your GPU is breaking down there might be a way to fix it but if you are not able to do this, only one option remains (for both cases): a replacement. You don’t have to replace it if you decide not to run the application anymore that is causing the problem but I guess in most cases this is undesirable.
  • GPU engine (12). This shows the GPU device and engine that are used by a process or application. Not all processes and applications use the GPU so in those cases the column is blank. In the “Performance” tab you can see which number (“GPU 0” or “GPU 1” is associated with which physical GPU. Most office computers (except the ones that are needed by designers), only have the GPU of their own computer (GPU 0). This is an integrated GPU that is included by the manufacturer (Intel delivers the integrated Intel graphics GPU for instance). For heavy graphical work this is absolutely not sufficient so in those specific cases a standalone Graphical Card is added. The second card is called GPU 1. In my case this is the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070:
  • Power usage (13). This shows the estimated power usage of a process, taking its current CPU, disk and GPU activity into account. When a program or application says “ Very low”, it is not using a lot of energy. When it shows “Very high” though, it means that it is using more electricity and this shortens your battery life if you have a laptop. This is important to know because when you are only using heavy energy consuming programs and applications while not on an electricity cable, your power will be zero in no-time. You can manage this a bit with the information that Task Manager provides to you in which you can learn what programs and applications are using a lot of power and what programs and applications aren’t. In combination with the Power Usage Trend (below) this is a very welcome power management tool for laptop users.
  • Power usage trend (14). This shows the estimated impact on power usage over time. The Power Usage column only shows you the current power usage, but this column tracks your power usage over time. If you only use a program that is on heavy power occasionally but is not using a lot of power right now, it might show “Very low”  in the power usage column but “High” in the Power usage Trend column. In my opinion Power usage and Power Usage Trend are complimentary tools in your power management.
  • Resource values (15). Resource values show you how the values are presented in the columns. You can decide for yourself what is most suitable for you. I like percentages myself instead of hard values because you can immediately see how much resources a program or application is taking and how far you are removed from the cap (and the risk of performance issues because of your hardware).

Final thoughts

As you can see there is a lot of useful information you can get from the “Processes” tab. It gives you a good impression about the overall performance of your computer and it can support you as well with effective energy management that can contribute to a longer period of time working on your laptop without having to use a battery in case you, for instance, forgot your battery.

There is still more to discover in Task Manager and I’ll move to the “Performance” tab in my next post.  If you have any additional tips/advice on this subject please do so by contacting me. If you want to keep in the loop when I upload a new post, don’t forget to subscribe to receive a notification by e-mail.

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