Windows Task Manager: The Complete Guide

The Windows Task Manager is a powerful tool that contains useful information, from the overall resource usage of your system to detailed statistics about each process. This guide explains all the features and technical terms of Task Manager.

This article focuses on the Windows 10 Task Manager, although much of that also applies to Windows 7. Microsoft has improved the Task Manager significantly since the release of Windows 7.

How to start task manager

The ability to launch Task Manager from the Windows 10 taskbar.

Windows offers many ways to launch the Task Manager. Press Ctrl+Shift+Esc to open Task Manager with a keyboard shortcut, or right-click on 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 the Start menu.

simple view

Simplified view of task manager application management

The first time you launch Task Manager, you will see a small, simple window. This window lists the visible applications running on your desktop, excluding background applications. You can select an app here and click “End task” to close it. This is useful if the application is not responding – in other words, if it is frozen – and you cannot close it in the normal way.

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

As long as the Task Manager is open, you will see the Task Manager icon in the notification area. This shows you how much CPU (Central Processing Unit) resources are currently being used on your system and you can hover over it to see memory, disk and network usage. This is an easy way to keep track of your computer’s CPU usage.

To see the icon on the taskbar without the task manager displayed on the taskbar, click Options > Hide When Minimized in the full task manager interface and minimize the task manager window.

Description of task manager tabs

View Application Resource Usage in Windows Task Manager

To see more advanced Task Manager tools, click More Details at the bottom of the Simple View window. You will see a full tabbed interface. Task Manager will remember your preferences and open a more advanced view in the future. If you want to go back to a simple view, click Less Details.

When you select More Details, Task Manager includes the following tabs:

Process management

Applications and Background Processes in Task Manager

The Processes tab displays a complete list of processes running on your system. If sorted by name, the list is divided into three categories. The Applications group displays the same list of running applications as the Less Details simplified view. The other two categories are Background Processes and Windows Processes, and they show processes that don’t appear in the standard Task Manager simplified view.

For example, the list of background processes displays tools such as Dropbox, your antivirus program, background update processes, and hardware utilities with icons in the notification area (taskbar). Windows processes include various processes that are part of the Windows operating system, although some of them show up under Background Processes for some reason.

Ability to restart Windows Explorer in Task Manager

You can right-click a process to see the actions you can take. The options you will see in the context menu are:

You shouldn’t end tasks if you don’t know what the task is doing. Many of these tasks are background processes that are important to Windows itself. They often have confusing names and you may need to search the web to find out what they do. We have a whole series explaining what different processes do, from conhost.exe to wsappx.

Available columns in the Processes tab of Task Manager

This tab also displays detailed information about each process and their resource sharing. You can right-click on the headings at the top of the list and select the columns you want to view. The values ​​in each column are color-coded, with darker orange (or red) indicating more resource usage.

You can click on a column to sort by it – for example, click on the CPU column to see running processes sorted by CPU usage, with the highest CPU consumption at the top. The top of the column also shows the total resource usage of all processes on your system. Drag the columns to change their order. Available columns:

If you right-click on the headers, you will also see the Resource Values ​​menu. This is the same option that appears when you right-click on an individual process. Whether or not you access this option by right-clicking on an individual process, it will always change the appearance of all processes in the list.

Task Manager menu options

View menu in Task Manager

The Task Manager menu bar also has some useful options:

View performance information

CPU usage statistics on the Performance tab of Task Manager

The Performance tab displays real-time graphs showing system resource usage such as CPU, Memory, Disk, Network, and GPU. If you have multiple drives, network devices, or GPUs, you can view them all individually.

You will see small graphs in the left panel, and you can click an option to see a larger graph in the right panel. The graph shows resource usage over the last 60 seconds.

In addition to resource information, the Performance page displays information about your system’s hardware. Here are just some of the things that show up in different panels in addition to resource usage:

Minimum Floating CPU Load Overlay in Task Manager

You can also turn it into a smaller window if you want to keep it on screen at all times. Just double-click anywhere on the empty white space in the right pane and you’ll get a pop-up with this graph always on top of the rest. You can also right-click the chart and select Graph Summary to enable this mode.

Windows 10 resource monitor showing CPU usage of processes

The Open Resource Monitor button at the bottom of the window opens the Resource Monitor tool, which provides more detailed information about the GPU, memory, disk, and network usage of individual running processes.

Application history advice

Application History tab in Windows 10 Task Manager

The App History tab only applies to Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps. It doesn’t show information about traditional Windows desktop apps, so most people won’t find it too useful.

At the top of the window, you’ll see the date Windows started collecting resource usage data. The list shows UWP apps and the amount of CPU time and network activity the app has generated since that date. You can right-click the headers here to turn on a few more options for more details on network activity:

Launch Application Management

Task Manager Startup Manager Tab

The Startup tab is Windows 10’s built-in startup program manager. It lists all the applications that Windows automatically starts for your current user account. For example, both programs from the Startup folder and programs that run in the Windows registry are displayed here.

To disable the launcher, right-click it and choose Disable, or select it and click the Disable button. To turn it back on, click on the “Enable” option that appears here. You can also use the Settings > Applications > Startup interface to manage startup programs.

In the upper right corner of the window on some systems, you will see “Latest BIOS Time”. This shows how long it took your BIOS (or UEFI firmware) to initialize your hardware when you last booted your computer. This will not show up on all systems. You won’t see it unless your PC’s BIOS tells Windows this time.

As usual, you can right-click on the headers and enable additional columns. Columns:

User Verification

Multiple users in the Users tab of Task Manager

The Users tab displays a list of registered users and the processes they run. If you are the only person logged into your Windows PC, you will only see your user account here. If other people have logged in and then locked their sessions without logging out, you will also see those locked sessions appear as “Disconnected”. It also shows you the CPU, memory, disk, network, and other system resources used by the processes running under each Windows user account.

You can disable a user account by right-clicking it and selecting Disable, or force signing out of it by right-clicking it and selecting Log Out. The Disconnect option terminates the desktop connection, but programs continue to run and the user can log back in, for example by locking the desktop session. The Quit option ends all processes, such as signing out of Windows.

From here, you can also control the processes of another user account if you want to end a task that belongs to another running user account.

When you right-click on the headers, the following columns are available:

Detailed Process Management

Context menu options for a process in the Details tab of Task Manager

This is the most detailed task manager panel. It is similar to the Processes tab but provides more information and shows processes from all user accounts on your system. If you’ve used the Windows 7 Task Manager, it will look familiar to you; this is the same information displayed on the Processes tab in Windows 7.

You can right-click processes here to access additional options:

Selecting columns for the Details tab of Windows Task Manager

If you right-click on the headers and select Show Columns, you’ll see a much longer list of information you can show here, including many options not available on the Processes tab.

Here is what each possible column means:

Working with services

Services tab in Task Manager

The Services tab displays a list of system services on your Windows system. These are background tasks that Windows runs even if no user account is logged on. They are controlled by the Windows operating system. Depending on the service, it may start automatically at boot or only when needed.

Many services are part of Windows 10 itself. For example, the Windows Update service downloads updates, and the Windows Audio service is responsible for sound. Other services are installed by third-party programs. For example, NVIDIA installs several services as part of its graphics drivers.

You should not contact these services unless you know what you are doing. But if you right-click them, you’ll see Start, Stop, or Restart Service options. You can also select “Search the Web” to search Bing for information about the service online, or “Go to Details” to display the process associated with a running service in the “Details” tab. Many services will have an “svchost.exe” process associated with them.

Tools panel columns:

Windows 10 Service Management Tool

For more information about these services, click the “Open Services” link at the bottom of the window. In any case, this task manager panel is a less powerful service administration tool.

Process Explorer: A More Powerful Task Manager

Process Explorer, a powerful and free task manager alternative from Microsoft

If the built-in Windows Task Manager isn’t enough for you, we recommend Process Explorer . This is a free program from Microsoft; it is part of the SysInternals set of useful system tools.

Process Explorer has features and information not found in Task Manager. For example, you can see which program has a particular file open and unlock the file. The default view also makes it easy to see which processes have which other processes open. Check out our detailed multi-part guide to using Process Explorer to learn more.

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