How to Identify Processes Running on Your PC

Submitted by ptelesco on Fri, 2010-07-16 09:10

Why is my computer running so slow? Do I need to upgrade? It didn't run this slow when I first bought it.

I hear this question quite a bit and the answer is simply that over time and use your computer gets dirty and needs to be cleaned. Imagine if you never changed the oil in your car. Over time deposits collect and can inhibit your car's performance. The same is true of your computer, although the deposits aren't something tangible that you might hold in your hand, you can still identify them on your computer. Whenever you visit a new web site you collect "cookies" which are stored on your computer and help remember the web site you visited. Temp files are also gathered when visiting or downloading from web sites. Whenever you install a new piece of software, a plug-in such as macromedia flash or adobe acrobat, you pick up and add to the collection of objects on your computer.

While most of these objects are helpful at the time of their use, over time the build up can inhibit and slow down performance. In the case of cookies and temp files; these are designed to speed up your surfing. When you visit a web site, the site's data is loaded on your computer once and stored in a temp file or cookie. Each time you visit that same site, only the things that have changed are downloaded and presented on your screen. So if nothing at the site has changed since you last visited it, it will load very fast because it's loading from your computer's history. This is designed to speed things up when surfing the web, but over time a collection of cookies and temp files of unwanted or unvisited web sites can actually slow down performance. It's good to clear temp files and cookies every so often. See article "How Do I Clear Temporary and Temporary Internet Files" for details on how to do this.

The most apparent and easy to see reason for computer slowness can be found by viewing the task manager. Keep in mind, this can only be done on Windows XP and 2000 machines. While Windows 98 and ME do offer the task manager, it doesn't give details on what is running like it does in XP and 2000.

By pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del, you will bring up a menu window that will allow you to click on Task Manager.

From there, click on the button called, "task manager" - You should see something similar to the following:


The task manager tells you what is currently running on your computer, real time, right now. What I'd like to point out is the "processes" in the lower left hand corner of the window. The smaller the number, the better your machine will run. This number will never be zero, or even 10, because many process are needed to run Windows. But it should be in the upper 20's to low 40's. Think of each process as a task, because that's what it is. Each process running means your computer is having to perform one more job duties or task. The more task running, the more work your computer has to do and therefore the slower it may perform.

Now click on the processes tab so the individual processes can be identified.


Again most of these are needed by the computer to run Windows. Note the screenshot above - one of the processes is called spoolsv.exe. This is the print spooler process. Without it your computer would not be able to print. Another one is Rtvscan.exe. This is a process dedicated to Norton Anti-Virus installed on the computer I took the screen shot from. This process actively monitors the computer for viruses.

But while many processes are needed, some aren't and where the real skill and work lies is in determining which processes are needed and which aren't, then removing those that aren't. For example, refer to the same screen shot above and note the process called qttask.exe. This process is for QuickTime which is a movie viewer application that may get downloaded and installed automatically when trying to view a movie created in QuickTime. While the process is needed to view a movie, there's no need to run the process if you're not currently viewing a movie. The process doesn't need to run all the time tying up valuable CPU resources. When you run a QuickTime movie, the qttask.exe will start automatically anyway so it doesn't need to be running in the background waiting for you to run a movie. It can be disabled.

In all actuality, the qttask.exe uses very little CPU resources while sitting idle waiting for a movie to run so don't panic if you see it in your processes, but it's just an example of processes running in the background that aren't currently being used.

The trick then is identifying the processes to keep and to help you do this, we've introduced a process search bar. You can see the bar under our Tools Section. Simply type in the process just as you see it in your task manager and click on search. You will be redirected to the process library web site where you will find valuable information on the process.

Once you've determined which processes are valuable and which aren't, the next trick is to determine how to stop those processes you don't want. This is sometimes easier said than done. Some processes may run as a "service". Stopping or "disabling" services can be done through administrative tools>services, however, knowing which services to stop is what you need to figure out and if the wrong services are disabled, bad things can happen to your PC. Stopping, disabling, removing and otherwise getting rid of unnecessary processes are best left to the professionals.