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I often recommend Process Explorer because it's a really good way of identifying programs that are misbehaving.

Hi. I read your response to slow computers where you recommend running the Process Explorer. I've done that but when it shows the processes running I'm not savvy enough to know which one should or should not be running. How can I find that out once I know what is running? I scare myself with how much I don't know. Thanks for any help.

In this excerpt from Answercast #66, I look at how Process Explorer can be used to identify which programs (if any) are using too many resources.

Analyzing Process Explorer results

You know, I scare myself with that same knowledge. It seems like every day I learn something new, and one of the things I learn is how much I don't know!

In this particular case, the Process Explorer?

My recommendation to use Process Explorer isn't really to take an inventory of what's running on your machine. If your machine is slow, and you take a look at the "CPU Usage" column, Process Explorer gives you a quick way to identify which process on your computer is using more of the CPU then the rest of the processes. If something is using 95% of your CPU all the time, then your computer may very well be slow and it may very well be a problem.

Use to identify

The point of using Process Explorer is to at least identify what that one executable, what that one program is. Then you can use everything from Google to Ask Leo! to find out whether that program is a problem - and if so, what to do about it.

So, the problem of course is... you asked, "I'm not savvy to enough to know which one should or should not be running." Guess what? Neither am I!

What should or should not be running depends on so many different things:

  • It depends on your machine.

  • It depends on your hardware.

  • It depends on the software you're running.

  • It depends on how you use your machine.

The processes you will find on your machine are going to be dramatically different than the processes you will find on mine, for example.

Sort by CPU use

So like I said, it's not so much about taking an inventory of everything that's running on your machine. There's really not a lot of good use for that.

What it is useful for, though, is identifying which of the processes that are running on your machine may be misbehaving.

Sorting by the "CPU" column is one way to do that; you can just click on the CPU heading. You may have to click on it twice to get the sort direction the way you expect it to be. Then at the top of the list you'll see the processes that are using the most CPU at any one point in time.

You can add columns for things like memory usage and IO usage and so forth. That's why I keep referring to Process Explorer, because it's a really good way of identifying programs that are misbehaving. They give you that data point that says, "it's this program." From there you can then start doing some research to find out whether or not that program is misbehaving or is behaving as expected.

End of Answercast 66 Back to - Audio Segment

Article C5986 - November 1, 2012 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

November 2, 2012 9:18 AM

I may add that the Resource Monitor > CPU tab is another source of information regarding the processes that are running. There you can right click on the process and "Search Online" which may give you more information.

This is more difficult for the svchost.exes because you never know what's running under them. In that case, Process Explorer can give you more info. Here you hover over the process and it will show the services. Or. right click on the svchost.exe, go to Properties and then Click the 'Services' tab. That shows the list of services.

In any case I do not recommend to stop any of those processes. Most are 'dormant' anyhow and do not consume any CPU. They will only be activated when really needed.

James S
November 2, 2012 9:45 AM

The problem is all too familiar. However, I find AnVir (previously mentioned in other comments) is very convenient for reporting what's using, and possibly hogging, the cpu. If installed and allowed to run in the background:

A left click on its icon in the information area will pop up a little window that tells you continuously what's using any significant amount of cpu and the total number of active processes. I can see as I type that my browser occasionally pops up with 2% cpu and I have 42 processes running.

Moreover, AnVir will also monitor additional startups and invite you to accept, quarantine or delete altogether.

Process Explorer is good, but I find AnVir easier to use.

Julian Adams
November 2, 2012 6:26 PM

Recently I was unable to uninstall a program because, supposedly, a file was being used by that program (although I wasn't using it). By right-clicking on the program (or process) in the list of processes running, one can select "Kill Process" which (at least in my case) allows one to uninstall the program. I found this useful in a very frustrating situation.

November 2, 2012 7:23 PM

Microsoft Security Essentials was using 90+% of my CPU cycles ever time I booted. I went into Settings and configured it to NOT scan itself which fixed that. If something is eating all your cycles find out what and why. Maybe you just need to change one or two settings, but finding out what to change can be a hassle and might not be possible, depending.

Julian Adams
November 3, 2012 5:49 AM

I might add to my previous comment that Task Manager did not show the "uninstallable" program to be running.

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