Windows Task Manager: The Complete Guide

Windows Task Manager is a powerful tool packed with useful information, from your system’s overall resource usage to detailed statistics about each process. This guide explains every feature and technical term in the Task Manager.

Task Manager

This article focuses on Windows 10’s Task Manager, although much of this also applies to Windows 7. Microsoft has dramatically improved the Task Manager since the release of Windows 7.

How to Launch the Task Manager

Windows offers many ways to launch the Task Manager. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open the Task Manager with a keyboard shortcut or right-click the Windows taskbar and select “Task Manager.”

You can also press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and then click “Task Manager” on the screen that appears or find the Task Manager shortcut in your Start menu.

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The Simple View

The first time you launch the Task Manager, you’ll see a small, simple window. This window lists the visible applications running on your desktop, excluding background applications. You can select an application here and click “End Task” to close it. This is useful if an application isn’t responding—in other words, if it’s frozen—and you can’t close it the usual way.

Task Manager1

You can also right-click an application in this window to access more options:

  • Switch To: Switch to the application’s window, bringing it to the front of your desktop and putting it in focus. This is useful if you’re not sure which window is associated with which application.
  • End Task: End the process. This works the same as the “End Task” button.
  • Run New Task: Open the Create New Task window, where you can specify a program, folder, document, or website address and Windows will open it.
  • Always On Top: Make the Task Manager window itself “always on top” of other windows on your desktop, letting you see it at all times.
  • Open File Location: Open a File Explorer window showing the location of the program’s .exe file.
  • Search Online: Perform a Bing search for the program’s application name and file name. This will help you see exactly what the program is and what it does.

Properties: Open the Properties window for the program’s .exe file. Here you can tweak compatibility options and see the program’s version number, for example.

While the Task Manager is open, you’ll see a Task Manager icon in your notification area. This shows you how much CPU (central processing unit) resources are currently in use on your system, and you can mouse over it to see memory, disk, and network usage. It’s an easy way to keep tabs on your computer’s CPU usage.

To see the system tray icon without the Task Manager appearing on your taskbar, click Options > Hide When Minimized in the full Task Manager interface and minimize the Task Manager window.

The Task Manager’s Tabs Explained

To see the Task Manager’s more advanced tools, click “More Details” at the bottom of the simple view window. You’ll see the full, tabbed interface appear. The Task Manager will remember your preference and will open to the more advanced view in the future. If you want to get back to the simple view, click “Fewer Details.”

Task Manager2

With More Details selected, the Task Manager includes the following tabs:

  • Processes: A list of running applications and background processes on your system along with CPU, memory, disk, network, GPU, and other resource usage information.
  • Performance: Real-time graphs showing total CPU, memory, disk, network, and GPU resource usage for your system. You’ll find many other details here, too, from your computer’s IP address to the model names of your computer’s CPU and GPU.
  • App History: Information about how much CPU and network resources apps have used for your current user account. This only applies to new Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps—in other words, Store apps—and not traditional Windows desktop apps (Win32 applications.)
  • Startup: A list of your startup programs, which are the applications Windows automatically starts when you sign in to your user account. You can disable startup programs from here, although you can also do that from Settings > Apps > Startup.
  • Users: The user accounts currently signed into your PC, how much resources they’re using, and what applications they’re running.
  • Details: More detailed information about the processes running on your system. This is basically the traditional “Processes” tab from the Task Manager on Windows 7.
  • Services: Management of system services. This is the same information you’ll find in services.MSc, the Services management console.

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Managing Processes

The Processes tab shows you a comprehensive list of processes running on your system. If you sort it by name, the list is broken into three categories. The Apps group shows the same list of running applications you’d see in the “Fewer details” simplified view. The other two categories are background processes and Windows processes, and they show processes that don’t appear in the standard simplified Task Manager view.

For example, tools like Dropbox, your antivirus program, background update processes, and hardware utilities with notification area (system tray) icons appear in the background processes list. Windows processes include various processes that are part of the Windows operating system, although some of these appear under “Background processes” instead for some reason.