Evaluating System Performance Using the Task Manager

by Barry Dysert
(last updated May 4, 2015)

The Task Manager is a useful tool for monitoring system activity, terminating misbehaving processes, and performing some rudimentary performance analysis. It runs at a higher priority than normal applications, and it has sufficient privilege to view and control the system's running processes. There are a few ways to invoke the Task Manager:

  • Right-click the Taskbar and select Start Task Manager from the Context menu
  • Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and select Start Task Manager from the resulting screen
  • Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc

Regardless of how you start the program, the Windows Task Manager dialog box appears. (See Figure 1.)

Figure 1. The Task Manager's Processes tab.

Note that of the six tabs present in the dialog box, the Processes tab is current. As can be seen, this system has 48 processes currently running, and they are sorted alphabetically by Image Name. If you want them sorted in reverse order, click on the heading of the "Image Name" column. If instead you want to sort the window by CPU usage, click on the heading of the "CPU" column, etc.

While on the Processes tab, sort the window by CPU usage to see if there are any processes that may be consuming a lot of the CPU. If so, you can right-click the process and reduce its priority or assign it to a particular CPU.

You can also sort the above window by one of the "memory" columns to see if a process's Working Set or Private Working Set is continually growing. This could indicate a memory leak, which will eventually adversely impact system performance. If this is the case, you may want to select the process and click the End Process button to terminate it.

You can also use the information presented in the Performance tab to help evaluate system performance. (See Figure 2.)

Figure 2. The Task Manager's Performance tab.

The key numbers to look at here are in the Physical Memory group. Watch the Available memory (1123 above). If this number gets too small relative to the Total memory (2013), then your system will start using the disk as virtual memory and your performance will suffer. Adding more memory can alleviate this problem.

To perform an even more detailed analysis, click the Resource Monitor button. This brings up the Resource Monitor dialog box. (See Figure 3.)

Figure 3. The Resource Monitor window.

By using the Resource Monitor, you can get a good look at the four major components involved in system performance: CPU, Disk, Network, and Memory.

You close both the Resource Monitor as well as the Task Manger by clicking their Close buttons.

 This tip (12225) applies to Windows 7.

Author Bio

Barry Dysert

Barry has been a computer professional for over 30 years, working in different positions such as technical team leader, project manager, and software developer.  He is currently a senior software engineer with an emphasis on developing custom applications under Microsoft Windows. ...

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