Managing Programs and Processes with Task Manager

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.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.