Windows users have been using task managers from third-party vendors for years. This is because the task managers built into the Windows operating systems have left us wanting something more, something better. We’ve had to rely on products from third-party software vendors for products like the ones I’ve listed below.
Windows Task Manager Comes Up Short
There are a number of reasons that Windows users give for wanting replacement task managers for Windows. One of the reasons that more Windows users give is that the one that ships as part of the Windows operating system doesn’t show hidden processes. (A process is something that uses the CPU and memory. It can be a program or a service.) Hidden processes can be dangerous or they can be benevolent. Some malware, viruses, spyware, etc., hide themselves as hidden processes, so if you open the Windows Task Manager, you see nothing out of the ordinary, although you notice that your system is acting funny.
Another of the issues that Windows users have with the Microsoft option is that it sometimes doesn’t close programs that are acting incorrectly — causing the system to freeze, using too much memory, etc. This doesn’t happen all the time, but when the program has frozen or has caused a memory conflict that causes the system to freeze up, we don’t want to have to reboot the computer to close the offending application; we want to do it from the Task Manager. The replacement task managers do this quite well. There are three different products that I use on a regular basis.
Windows SysInternals Process Explorer
I’m not a big fan of Microsoft, but they do sometimes come out with products that I like. SysInterals Process Explorer is one of these. This program comes pretty close to addressing all the issues we “power users” have with the original task manager.
It shows most, if not all, processes that are running on your computer and gives a wealth of information about that process, including what other files and folders the process has open, how much of your processor and memory it’s using, and what company supplied it. One of the cool things I like about this program is that it breaks down CPU usage by core if you have a mutli-core processor. I also like the fact that I don’t have to go wading through tabs to find certain pieces of information, such as network, CPU, and memory usage stats. Microsoft provides this program for free.
I normally don’t have problems with viruses or malware, but if I suspect that my system has become infected somehow, I pull out this program, System Explorer. It offers all the same features as the previous product, but it goes a bit further towards helping solve problems. If I see a file or process listed that I don’t recognize, I can check it, from within the program using a built-in file database or even the virustotal.com website. Additionally, this program is very small, so it doesn’t take much memory to run, but the amount of information that it gives me is awesome. I’ve been using this program for a few months and feel as though I’ve only scratched the surface of what it can do for me. This one is completely free.
AnVir Task Manager
This is one I discovered, as I was doing more research for this piece. It’s a little more difficult to use than the others, but it offers much more granular control over how your Windows operating system acts and performs. If you have a question about the origins and threat level of a process that is running, you can search the integrated database that contains listings for over 100,000 startup programs, services, and toolbars.
Additionally, this little baby breaks network usage up into how much is coming in and, sometimes more importantly, how much is going out. This is important for helping you determine if your computer has become infected with something. If the AnVir task manager shows quite a bit of outbound traffic from your computer, but you have anything that connects to the Internet open, you know there’s a problem. When you see something suspicious, you’re a right-click away from using the virustotal site to check it out. The program even helps you determine whether a particular file or process is acting suspicious. There are four different options when it comes to this program:
- AnVir Task Manager Free: Has less options, but is much better than the Windows alternative.
- AnVir Task Manager Free Portable: Same as above, but can be installed on a pendrive or memory card instead of directly onto your system, allowing you to use it on various computers.
- AnVir Task Manager: Has some of the more “gee whiz” features disabled and costs $30.
- AnVir Task Manager Pro: Has just about every feature any user could ever need for $50.
The two paid versions of this product come complete with technical support from AnVir, whereas the two free versions do not.
There are other task managers that are much better than the Windows Task Manager, but many are beta products (meaning they’re not fully developed), and I don’t recommend beta products for the average user. Let others work out the kinks before you get to it.