The Networking tab isn’t the most useful feature in Task Manager, but it does provide a simple method of viewing network activity graphically. One interesting potential use of this tab would be to check for suspicious network activity when you are sure that your system is not currently making Internet requests.
A high degree of activity might indicate that outside users are attempting to gain access to your system, or that a worm or virus of some sort has been installed on your system.
If it’s funky little graphs you’re after, then look no further than the Performance tab. This tab displays graphical information about Page File and CPU utilization, proving a quick view of how these system resources are performing. While you need not be alarmed by any small spikes that occur when running a busy application, sustained high percentages may be indicative of the need for more memory or a faster CPU. If you’re consistently up above 70% CPU utilization, for example, it’s probably time to start shopping for a faster system. If the Page File size if large (or the Physical Memory section shows little to no memory under Available), it’s a good bet that you need to add more RAM.
For more granular measurements, the View menu allows you to change the update speed of the graphs, monitor multiple CPU systems, and turn on the Show Kernel Times option. When Show Kernel Times is selected, the graphs will provide an addition red line that allows you to view resources being used by core operating system processes.
So now you’re on the Processes tab, and probably wondering what’s going on. As the name suggests, this tab displays all running processes on your system – operating system processes, background applications, foreground applications, and so forth. Not only does this tab show you the name of the process, but more importantly the user under which the process was started, as well as the CPU and memory utilization of the process. Both the CPU and memory usage numbers provided are point-in-time in nature. In other words, they provide a snapshot of the resources being used by a process in real time – expect these numbers to fluctuate, especially the CPU column.
If the number of processes running on your system surprises you, you’re not alone. Windows XP uses a number of background processes to function, most of which are required based on the XP services or features that you have installed. Even more scary can be the number of processes shown as running that were started by you – at least some of these are likely programs that you didn’t even know were running. A quick look at your system tray may identify the culprit(s). Even if a program appears there innocently enough, it’s still consuming resources, even if you’re not using it at that moment.
The best feature of the processes tab is its ability to end processes when you need to free up memory of CPU resources. While many system processes cannot be ended, you can usually end processes associated with your username without issue. To do so, right-click on a process and choose End Process. You’ll quickly be amazed how much smoother that game or DVD movie plays when it has access to the additional memory and CPU capacity that ending unnecessary processes provides it with.
One additional setting that you’ll notice when you right-click a process is the ability to configure a priority for the process. This can be useful for granting certain applications a higher level of access to the CPU. However, be very careful using this feature. If you set a process to the Realtime priority for example, that program can render other system functions almost unusable.
When you first open Task Manager, the Applications tab is visible by default. In some ways this tab is similar to the Close Program window that appears when you press Ctrl+Alt+Delete on a Windows 98 or ME system. This tab is used to view the foreground programs current open on your PC, along with status information. Normally a program should show a status of “Running”, although a misbehaving application may be listed as “Not Responding”. By clicking on an item in this list, you have the ability to either end the task or switch to the task using the End Task and Switch To buttons at the bottom of the screen respectively. More often than not, you’ll be using this tab strictly for the purpose of closing an unresponsive application.
If you look a little deeper, however, the tab does provide a few other interesting functions. If you right-click on a particular program, a shortcut menu appears, allowing you to perform a variety of functions. Most of the options on the menu are self-explanatory, but one in particular is very useful – Go To Process. When selected, this option switches to the Processes tab, and highlights the particular process associated with the application. For example, if you were to select this option for Internet Explorer, you would be brought to the associated process on the Processes tab, in this case IEXPLORE.EXE.
Sure, you could install a whole myriad of different tools and utilities to monitor and control the performance of your Windows XP system. And if you wanted to, you could even spend a whole lot of money in the process. However, the truth is that one of the most simple and effective utilities for this purpose is already sitting on your system, right under your nose. We’re talking about Windows Task Manager, otherwise known as the little utility that could…
Although Task Manager has been around in different iterations since Windows 3.1, the Windows XP version provides one of the simplest ways to monitor and control the performance of your PC. Not only does it provide details about the processes running on your system and the resources they are consuming, but it also provides some pretty slick little graphs to give you a quick visual snapshot of system performance. In this mini-series we’ll deeper into Task Manager, showing you how it can be used to better manager you XP system.
Accessing Task Manager
The method in which you access Task Manager may depend on the version of Windows XP that you’re running. XP Home users can easily open the utility by press Ctrl+Alt+Del, or by right clicking on the Windows Taskbar and selecting the Task Manager shortcut. If you’re running XP Professional, pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete opens the Windows Security dialog box, from which you can press the Task Manager button to launch it. The taskbar shortcut method works for Professional as well.
Task Manager consists of five main tabs, each of which provides different information and useful functions. We’ll take a look at all five in this series, along with some of the additional features of Task Manager that you’ll want to be familiar with.
Assuming that you do plan to use your home network to share an Internet connection, one addition piece of information that you’ll need to supply as part of the TCP/IP configuration of computers is the IP address of one or more DNS servers. DNS is the domain name system, which is responsible for translating fully qualified domain names (FQDNs) into IP addresses on the public Internet. For example, when you attempt to access the PC Answers website, you would typically submit the FQDN www.pcanswers.co.uk in the address bar of your web browser. While this name is easier to remember than the IP address of the PC Answers website, TCP/IP ultimately requires the IP address of the site in order to make communication possible. The “resolution” of FQDNs to IP addresses on the public Internet is the primary responsibility of DNS servers.
The IP address that you would enter in the DNS server address section of your TCP/IP properties typically belongs to a DNS server of your ISP. This information is usually provided by the ISP when sign up for their service. This is not to say that it is impossible to host your own DNS server on your network, because it is indeed possible. However, most home network users really have no need for an internal DNS server, a topic that we’ll explore further in future articles in this series.
One thing that you’ll notice with the configuration of DNS settings is that Windows versions allow you to configure the IP addresses of both a “preferred” and “alternate” DNS server (the terms used differ between Windows versions). The main reason for this is redundancy. If your computer attempts to contact one DNS server to resolve a name to an IP address and the server is unavailable, the second DNS server will be sent the queries. One DNS server IP address is usually sufficient, but if this server becomes unavailable, you would no longer be able to resolve names correctly, so configuring both is a good idea. Unless, of course, you want to try to remember the IP address associated with every website you ever visit – certainly not a simple task.
When configuring TCP/IP settings on your home network, only an IP address and subnet mask are explicitly required. However, if you want your computers to be able to communicate with outside networks (like the Internet), you will also need to configure a default gateway IP address. The default gateway is the IP address to which packets destined for outside networks are sent by default. To be clearer, the default gateway is the IP address of a router connected to the local network. For home users, this would be the internal IP address of your hardware router, or of the computer configured as a NAT server (such as a Windows XP system running ICS). Just remember that if you need to communicate with an outside network like the Internet, you will need to configure a default gateway IP address as well.
In the same way that you can’t just randomly choose the numbers to use for an IP address, you also need to be careful with the addresses you ultimately use. IP addresses used on the public Internet are assigned to companies from organizations like RIPE (the European IP address registry), or from an ISP. Although using a range assigned to a company might work on your home network, it can also impact your ability to connect to certain Internet resources. It’s for that reason that “private” IP addresses exist.
Private IP addresses were designated as a solution to the public Internet quickly running out of available addresses. As the Internet has grown, the number of available unique IP addresses has quickly dwindled. In order to satisfy the need for more IP addresses, certain ranges were designated as private, or available for anyone (including home or business networks) to use. These addresses are not valid on the public Internet, so they do not impact TCP/IP communication outside of a network. For example, you could be using the same private IP addresses on your network as your neighbor is, and the whole Internet would still function in peace and harmony.
This begs the question – if private IP addresses aren’t valid on the Internet, how can the computers on your home network access Internet resources? The answer is found in something called Network Address Translation (NAT). When a computer using a private IP address wants to access the Internet, that private address must be “translated” to a public address that is valid on the Internet. On your home network, one system (such as a dedicated router or one of your PCs) will still need at least one public address that will be shared amongst your internal computers. On systems like Windows 98 or XP, this functionality is provided by a service known as Internet Connection Sharing, or ICS. More on ICS and other NAT techniques will follow later in the series.
For now, the most important thing for you to remember is that you should always use private IP addresses on your internal network. These are first and foremost more secure, and will help you to avoid problems later. The private IP address ranges available to anyone who wants to use them are:
10.0.0.1 to 10.255.255.254
172.16.0.1 to 172.31.255.254
192.168.0.1 to 192.168.255.254
In general, most home users tend to stick with addresses that start with 192.168, and you should as well to keep things simple. For example, if you start all of your IP addresses with 192.168.1.X, you can support up to 254 IP addresses on your home network, which should be more than you would ever need.
In all operating systems since Windows 95, Microsoft has done a very good thing, and separated client and server functions. When Client for Microsoft Networks is installed, it allows your system to make requests from network servers. It does not, however, allow other systems to make requests of this same system. In other words, client for Microsoft Networks allows a system to make requests. To service requests for files or printers, another service needs to be configured – File and Print Sharing. Accessed via the Network program in Control Panel, the File and Print Sharing button allows you to configure your system to handle requests for files, print services, or both. It’s worth noting that this is potentially a very dangerous service to configure on your system, especially if your PC is not properly secured and connected to the Internet. For example, if you were connected to the Internet and has this service enabled without a firewall of some type, outsiders would potentially be able to browse through any folders you might have shared.
Of course, file and printer sharing is a big part of having a home network, and once your Internet connection is properly secured, will not be a worry. Once enabled, file sharing gives you the ability to share folders, making them available to other clients on the network. The same goes for printer sharing. Anything that you do not explicitly share will not be available over the network, but anything that you do share will be there for the whole network to see – and potentially connect to, assuming you haven’t restricted resources with permissions.
Over the course of the past two years, it may seem like everyone’s neighbour, cousin, or barkeep has just installed a network at home. While previously almost the exclusive domain or companies and the seriously tech-savvy, more and more home users are recognizing the advantages of installing networks in their homes.
Microsoft operating systems since Windows 95 have provided networking capabilities built-in. However, the explosive growth of the Internet, the availability of inexpensive high-speed connections, and a variety of do-it-yourself home networking hardware are the key factors that have driven networks into the home. Although simple in principle (and often equally easy in practice), installing and configuring a network correctly involves a solid foundation of knowledge in order to be done correctly. It’s simply too easy to overlook some important element that will leave you stuck later, such an improper cabling or some serious security holes. In this series we’re going to concentrate on doing things correctly, building your knowledge base issue-by-issue.
This series begins with a look at the concept of a network and some of the basics. As the series progresses we’ll delve into important concepts like cabling, wireless networks, configuring servers, sharing Internet connections, properly securing a network, and more. Instead of providing an overview, this series aims to provide you with practical real-world advice on installing and configuring your network correctly – the first time.