Make Windows Task Manager Display More System Information

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Out of the box, Task Manger provides some useful information in the Process tab for getting a quick snapshot of performance and system activity. But it can display much more than just basic CPU and Memory information.

By making a couple of tweaks in Task Manager, you can get a wealth of useful details, including Process Identifier (PID), CPU Time, Peak Memory usage and Disk writes and reads for each process. With Vista, more functionality has been added to Task Manager that make it much useful than it’s predecessor on XP.
As usual, to open Task Manager, either right click on the Taskbar and select Task Manager or press CTRL+SHIFT+ESC. On Vista you will be prompted by UAC for access (see Create Shortcuts Without UAC Prompts for an alternative to eliminating some UAC prompts).

Once Task Manager opens, click on the Process tab which will display some basic system information.

To add more columns to the Process tab, click View \ Select Columns from the menu.

As you can see only a few columns are selected, but you can add lot more. Columns are really performance counters which are used to provide information as to how well the operating system, an application, service, or driver is performing. The counter data can help determine system bottlenecks and be used to fine-tune system and application performance.

Which columns should you enable? Below is a list of columns that I usually select (with their definitions):

  • CPU Time – The total processor time, in seconds, used by the process since it was started.
  • CPU Usage – The percentage of time the threads of the process used the processor since the last update.
  • Peak Memory Usage – The peak amount of physical memory resident in a process since it started.
  • PID (Process Identifier) – Numerical ID assigned to the process while it runs.
  • I/O Read Bytes – The number of bytes read in input/output operations generated by a process, including file, network, and device I/Os.
  • I/O Writes Bytes – The number of bytes written in input/output operations generated by a process, including file, network, and device I/Os.
  • Image Name (selected by default) – Name of the process.

Once you have the columns selected, click OK. The default window size for Task Manager, can be expanded by grabbing the edge (click and hold) and pulling it wider.

With a wider view, you will be able to get a better picture of what’s going on under the hood of Windows.
Now, to maximize how Task Manager displays system information, make sure the Show processes from all users is checked at the lower left corner. This will display what process are running under each user account.

Next, I like to re-arrange the columns with the Image Name first, followed by User Name, PID, CPU, Memory (with the rest of the columns arranged depending on what I am monitoring). Also you can sort the columns by clicking on the column heading. This becomes very useful when you are monitoring and troubleshooting problems.

For example, sorting the CPU Usage column will allow you to see which process is using the most resources (click to change from descending to ascending). The same can be done with other columns making it much easier to spot resource hogs.

If needed, the display update frequency can be change by selecting View \ Update Speed on the menu. To stop Task Manager from always sitting on top of other windows, select Options and uncheck Always On Top.

With Vista, more performance counters have been added, including seven memory counters. but the three most useful counters are Image Path Name, Command Line and Description.

Adding these columns, lets you quickly identify what the process is from the Description column, the location of the process from the Image Path Name column, and the exact command used to execute and launch the process from the Command Line column.

Having this type of information at your finger tips, can quickly help identify resources bottlenecks or virus and spyware processes that may be infecting your Computer.

With Vista, these are just some of the improvements made with Task Manager, and in another article, I ‘ll show you other improvements that make Vista’s Task Manager, much more useful than XP’s.

As you can see, Task Manager can be a great tool when setup properly. To keep it a click away when you need it, instead of closing down Task Manager just click the minimize button (upper right corner) to have it appear in the System Tray (next to the clock) for easy access.