Windows Task Manager: The Complete Guide

The Windows Task Manager is an important tool packed with useful information, from your system’s overall resource usage to detailed statistics about each process. It is vital for users in managing app processes too. This guide explains every feature and technical term in the Task Manager.

How to Launch the Task Manager

Windows offer various ways to launch the Task Manager. Press the shortcut keys (Ctrl + Alt + Delete) and a screen should appear. Look for Task Manager in the options on the screen and click on it to launch the tool. You can also use the shortcut keys (Ctrl + Shift + ESC) to launch the task manager directly.

Or click on the Start Menu and search “task manager”. Click on it to launch the tool.

The Task Manager At First View

The first time you launch the Task Manager, you’ll see a small and simple window. This window lists the visible applications running on your desktop, except background applications. You can select an application here and click “End Task” to close it.

You can also right-click an application in this window to access more options, such as:

  • Switch To: Switch to the application’s window, bringing it to the front of your desktop and putting it in focus. This is useful if you’re not sure which window is associated with which application.
  • End Task: End the process. This works the same as the “End Task” button.
  • Run New Task: Open the Create New Task window, where you can specify a program, folder, document, or website address and Windows will open it.
  • Always On Top: Make the Task Manager window itself “always on top” of other windows on your desktop, letting you see it at all times.
  • Open File Location: Open a File Explorer window showing the location of the program’s .exe file.
  • Search Online: Perform a Bing search for the program’s application name and file name. This will help you see exactly what the program is and what it does.
  • Properties: Open the Properties window for the program’s .exe file. Here you can tweak compatibility options and see the program’s version etc.

While the Task Manager is open, you’ll see a Task Manager icon in your notification area. This shows how much CPU (central processing unit) resources are currently in use on your system. It’s also an easy way to keep tabs on your computer’s CPU usage.

The Task Manager Detailed Menu Overview

To see the Task Manager’s advanced tools, click “More Details” at the bottom of the simple view window. You’ll see the full, detailed interface appears. If you want to get back to the simple view, click “Fewer Details.”

Functions of the Task Manager

In the “More Details” section, you will see the following tabs in Task Manager:

  • Processes: A list of running applications and background processes on your system along with CPU, memory, disk, network, GPU, and other resource usage information.
  • Performance: Real-time graphs showing total CPU, memory, disk, network, and GPU resource usage of your system. You’ll find many other details here too, from your computer’s IP address to the model names of your computer’s CPU and GPU.
  • App History: Information about how much CPU and network resources apps have used for your current user account. This only applies to new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps—in other words, Store apps—and not traditional Windows desktop apps (Win32 applications.)
  • Startup: A list of your startup programs, which are the applications Windows automatically starts when you sign in to your user account. You can disable startup programs from here, although you can also do that from Settings > Apps > Startup.
  • Users: The user accounts currently signed into your PC, how many resources they’re using, and what applications they’re running.
  • Details: More detailed information about the processes running on your system. This is basically the traditional “Processes” tab from the Task Manager in Windows 7.
  • Services: Management of system services. If you know services.msc (the services management console), then this tab is the same thing.

Processes’ Tab

The Processes tab shows you a comprehensive list of processes running on your system. If you sort it by name, the list is broken into three categories. The Apps group shows the same list of running applications you’d see in the “Fewer details” simplified view. The other two categories are background processes and Windows processes, and they show processes that don’t appear in the standard simplified Task Manager view.

Functions of the “Processes’ Tab”

You can right-click a process to see the actions you can perform. The options you’ll see in the context menu are:

  • Expand: Some applications, like Google Chrome, have multiple processes that are grouped here. Other applications have multiple windows that are part of a single process. You can select expand, double-click the process, or click the arrow to its left to see the entire group of processes individually. This option only appears when you right-click a group.
  • End task: End the process. You can also click the “End Task” button below the list.
  • Restart: This option only appears when you right-click Windows Explorer. It lets you restart explorer.exe instead of simply ending the task. In older versions of Windows, you had to end the Explorer.exe task and then launch it manually to fix problems with the Windows desktop, taskbar, or Start menu. Now, you can just use this Restart option.
  • Resource values: This lets you choose whether you want to see the percentage or precise values for memory, disk, and network. In other words, you can choose whether you want to see the precise amount of memory in MB or the percentage of your system’s memory applications is using.
  • Create dump file: This is a debugging tool for programmers. It captures a snapshot of the program’s memory and saves it to disk.
  • Go to details: Go to the process on the Details tab so you can see more detailed technical information.
  • Open file location: Open File Explorer with the process’s .exe file selected.
  • Search online: Search for the name of the process on Bing.
  • Properties: View the Properties window of the .exe file associated with the process.

This tab also shows detailed information about each process and their combined resource usage. You can right-click the headings at the top of the list and choose the columns you want to see. The values in each column are color-coded, and a darker orange (or red) color indicates greater resource usage. You can click a column to sort by it—for example, click the CPU column to see running processes sorted by CPU usage with the biggest CPU hogs at the top. The top of the column also shows the total resource usage of all the processes on your system. Drag and drop columns to reorder them.

The available columns are:

  • Type: The category of the process, which is App, Background process, or Windows process.
  • Status: If a program appears to be frozen, “Not Responding” will appear here. Programs sometimes begin responding after a bit of time and sometimes stay frozen. If Windows has suspended a program to save power, a green leaf will appear in this column. Modern UWP apps can suspend to save power, and Windows can also suspend traditional desktop apps.
  • Publisher: The name of the program’s publisher. For example, Chrome displays “Google Inc.” and Microsoft Word displays “Microsoft Corporation.”
  • PID: The process identifier number Windows has associated with the process. The process ID may be used by certain functions or system utilities. Windows assigns a unique process ID each time it starts a program, and the process ID is a way of distinguishing between several running processes if multiple instances of the same program are running.
  • Process Name: The filename of the process. For example, File Explorer is explorer.exe, Microsoft Word is WINWORD.EXE, and the Task Manager itself is Taskmgr.exe.
  • Command Line: The full command line used to launch the process. This shows you the full path to the process’s .exe file (for example, “C:\WINDOWS\Explorer.EXE”) as well as any command-line options used to launch the program.
  • CPU: The CPU usage of the process, displayed as a percentage of your total available CPU resources.
  • Memory: The amount of your system’s physical working memory the process is currently using, displayed in MB or GB.
  • Disk: The disk activity a process is generating, displayed as MB/s. If a process isn’t reading from or writing to disk at the moment, it will display 0 MB/s.
  • Network: The network usage of a process of the current primary network, displayed in Mbps.
  • GPU: The GPU (graphics processing unit) resources used by a process, displayed as a percentage of the GPU’s available resources.
  • GPU Engine: The GPU device and engine used by a process. If you have multiple GPUs in your system, this will show you which GPU a process is using. See the Performance tab to see which number (“GPU 0” or “GPU 1” is associated with which physical GPU.
  • Power Usage: The estimated power usage of a process, taking into account its current CPU, disk, and GPU activity. For example, it might say “Very low” if a process isn’t using many resources or “Very high” if a process is using a lot of resources. If it’s high, that means it’s using more electricity and shortening your battery life if you have a laptop.
  • Power Usage Trend: The estimated impact on power usage over time. The Power Usage column just shows the current power usage, but this column tracks power usage over time. For example, if a program occasionally uses a lot of power, but isn’t using much right now, it may say “Very low” in the power usage column and “High” or “Moderate” in the Power Usage Trend column.

Performance Tab 

The Performance tab shows real-time graphs displaying the usage of system resources like CPU, memory, disk, network, and GPU. If you have multiple disks, network devices, or GPUs, you can see them all separately. You’ll see small graphs in the left pane, and you can click an option to see a larger graph in the right pane. The graph shows resource usage over the last 60 seconds. In addition to resource information, the Performance page shows information about your system’s hardware.

Other Features of “Performance Tab”

Here are just some things the different panes show in addition to resource usage:

  • CPU: The name and model number of your CPU, its speed, the number of cores it has, and whether hardware virtualization features are enabled and available. It also shows your system’s “uptime” which is how long your system has been running since it last booted up.
  • Memory: How much RAM you have, its speed, and how many of the RAM slots on your motherboard are used. You can also see how much of your memory is currently filled with cached data. Windows call this “standby.” This data will be ready and waiting if your system needs it, but Windows will automatically dump the cached data and free up space if it needs more memory for another task.
  • Disk: The name and model number of your disk drive, its size, and its current read and write speeds.
  • Wi-Fi or Ethernet: Windows shows a network adapter’s name and its IP addresses (both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses) here. For Wi-Fi connections, you can also see the Wi-Fi standard in use on the current connection—for example, 802.11ac.
  • GPU: The GPU pane shows separate graphs for different types of activity, for example, 3D vs. Video encoding or decoding. The GPU has its own built-in memory, so it also shows GPU memory usage. The name and model number of your GPU and the graphics driver version it’s using, could be seen here. You can monitor GPU usage right from the Task Manager without any third-party software.

You can also turn this into a smaller window if you’d like to see it on screen at all times. Just double-click anywhere in the empty white space in the right pane, and you’ll get a floating, always-on-top window with that graph. You can also right-click the graph and select “Graph Summary View” to enable this mode.

You can also see Resource Monitor if you want more detailed information. Just click on the Start Menu and search Resource Monitor, click to open.

App History Tab

The App History tab only applies to Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps. It doesn’t show information about traditional Windows desktop apps, so most people won’t find it too useful. At the top of the window, you’ll see the date Windows started collecting resource usage data. The list shows UWP applications and the amount of CPU time and network activity the application has generated since that date.

Windows Guide

Functions of the “App History Tab”

You can right-click the headings here to enable a few more options for more insight about network activity:

  • CPU Time: The amount of CPU time the program has used within this time frame.
  • Network: The total amount of data transferred over the network by the program within this time frame.
  • Metered Network: The amount of data transferred over metered networks. You can set a network as metered to save data on it. This option is intended for networks you have limited data on, like a mobile network to which you’re tethering.
  • Tile Updates: The amount of data the program has downloaded to display updated live tiles on Windows 10’s Start menu.
  • Non-metered Network: The amount of data transferred over non-metered networks.
  • Downloads: The amount of data downloaded by the program on all networks.
  • Uploads: The amount of data uploaded by the program on all networks.

Startup Tab

Manager

The Startup tab in Windows 10’s built-in startup programs manager. It lists all the applications that Windows automatically starts for your current user account. For example, programs in your Startup folder and programs set to start in the Windows registry both appear here. To disable a startup program, right-click it and select “Disable” or select it and click the “Disable” button. To re-enable it, click the “Enable” option that appears here instead. You can also use the Settings > Apps > Startup interface to manage startup programs.

At the top right corner of the window, you will see a “Last BIOS time” on some systems. This shows how long your BIOS (or UEFI firmware) took to initialize your hardware when you last booted your PC. This will not appear on all systems. You won’t see it if your PC’s BIOS doesn’t report this time to Windows.

Task

Functions of the Startup Tab

As usual, you can right-click the headings and enable additional columns. The columns are:

  • Publisher: The name of the program’s publisher.
  • Status: “Enabled” appears here if the program automatically starts when you sign in. “Disabled” appears here if you’ve disabled the startup task.
  • Startup Impact: An estimate of how much CPU and disk resources the program uses when it starts. Windows measures and tracks this in the background. A lightweight program will show “Low,” and a heavy program will show “High.” Disabled programs show “None.” You can speed up your boot process more by disabling programs with a “High” startup impact than by disabling ones with a “Low” impact.
  • Startup Type: This shows whether the program is starting because of a registry entry (“Registry”) or because it’s in your startup folder (“Folder.”)
  • Disk I/O at Startup: The disk activity the program performs at startup, in MB. Windows measures and records each boot.
  • CPU at Startup: The amount of CPU time a program uses at startup, in ms. Windows measures and records this at boot.
  • Running Now: The word “Running” appears here if a startup program is currently running. If this column appears as an entry for a program, the program has shut itself down, or you’ve closed it yourself.
  • Disabled Time: For startup programs you’ve disabled, the date and time you disabled a program appear here.
  • Command Line: This shows the full command line the startup program launches with, including any command line options.

Users Tab

Windows

The Users tab displays a list of signed-in users and their running processes. If you’re the only person signed into your Windows PC, you’ll see only your user account here. If other people have signed in and then locked their sessions without signing out, you’ll also see those locked sessions appear as “Disconnected.” This also shows you the CPU, memory, disk, network, and other system resources used by processes running under each Windows user account.

You can disconnect a user account by right-clicking it and selecting “Disconnect” or force it to sign off by right-clicking it and selecting “Sign Off.” The Disconnect option terminates the desktop connection, but the programs continue to run, and the user can sign back, like locking a desktop session. The Sign Off option terminates all processes—like signing out of Windows.

You can also manage another user account’s processes from here if you’d like to end a task that belongs to another running user account.

Windows Task Manager

Functions of the “Users” Tab

If you right-click the headings, the available columns are:

  • ID: Each signed-in user account has its own session ID number. Session “0” is reserved for system services, while other applications may create their own user accounts. You usually won’t need to know this number, so it’s hidden by default.
  • Session: The type of session this is. For example, it will say “Console” if it’s being accessed on your local system. This is primarily useful for server systems running remote desktops.
  • Client Name: The name of the remote client system accessing the session, if it’s being accessed remotely.
  • Status: The status of the session—for example, if a user’s session is locked, the Status will say “Disconnected.”
  • CPU: Total CPU used by the user’s processes.
  • Memory: Total memory used by the user’s processes.
  • Disk: Total disk activity associated with the user’s processes.
  • Network: Total network activity from the user’s processes.

Details Tab

Task Manager

This is the most detailed Task Manager pane. It’s like the Processes tab, but it provides more information and shows processes from all user accounts on your system.

Task Manager

Functions of the “Details” Tab

You can right-click processes here to access additional options:

  • End task: End the process. This is the same option found on the normal Processes tab.
  • End process tree: End the process, and all the processes created by the process.
  • Set priority: Set a priority for the process: Low, Below Normal, Normal, Above Normal, High, and Realtime. Processes start at normal priority. A lower priority is ideal for background processes, and a higher priority is ideal for desktop processes. However, Microsoft recommends against messing with real-time priority.
  • Set affinity: Set the processor affinity of a process—in other words, on which processor a process runs. By default, processes run on all processors in your system. You can use this to limit a process to a particular processor. For example, this is sometimes helpful for old games and other programs that assume you only have a single CPU. Even if you have a single CPU in your computer, each core appears as a separate processor.
  • Analyze wait chain: View what threads in the processes are waiting for. This shows you which processes and threads are waiting to use a resource used by another process, and is a useful debugging tool for programmers to diagnose hangs.
  • UAC virtualization: Enable or disable User Account Control virtualization for a process. This feature fixes applications that require administrator access by virtualizing their access to system files, redirecting their file, and registry access to other folders. It’s primarily used by older programs, for example, Windows XP-era programs—that weren’t written for modern versions of Windows. This is a debugging option for developers, and you shouldn’t need to change it.
  • Create dump file: Capture a snapshot of the program’s memory and save it to diskThis is a useful debugging tool for programmers.
  • Open file location: Open a File Explorer window showing the process’s executable file.
  • Search online: Perform a Bing search for the name of the process.
  • Properties: View the properties window of the process’s .exe file.
  • Go to service(s): Show the services associated with the process on the Services tab. This is particularly useful for svchost.exe processes. The services will be highlighted.

Services Tab

Windows Task Manager

This Services tab deals with background processes that are always running even if there’s no user signed in.  These processes startup when systems are booting or when they’re needed. They’re controlled by Windows OS. Services are either part of Windows 10 itself or installed by 3rd party apps. They’re important and should not be toyed with.

Windows Task Manager

Other Features of “Services” Tab

When you right-click on these services, you can perform the below functions.

  •  Start
  •  Stop
  •  Restart
  •  Search Online
  •  Go To Details

Conclusion

The Task Manager tool is a really important and powerful tool for folks who know how to use it.  That’s why this guide is so important to ensure that people who aren’t familiar with tech terms can easily understand the use of the task manager. If there’s a process that you don’t understand, please share your concerns in the comments section below and I will get back to you with a solution.

This blog post is powered by AIIT Solutions. AIIT Solutions provides Managed IT Services, IT Services Consultancy, Infrastructure Deployments, Network Operation Center Services, Web Development Services, IT Outsourcing Services, Digital Marketing and many more.

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About the Author: Faris

"Hi, My name is Faris and I am an Admin Officer and Technical Writer at AIIT Solutions. I've done graduation in Teacher's Training and Education from Abdul Wali Khan University Mardan in 2020.

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