Thoughts, information and reflections about technology

Using Task Manager to Diagnose and Help a slow machine

The Task Manager can be a great tool to help you diagnose and fix a slow machine. In this example, we will show you the Task Manager running on a Windows Vista Home Premium 32 bit machine. What you learn here can also apply to Windows XP and 2000.


A slow machine is often caused by one or more applications using up all of the processor capability or RAM. (not exactly the technical term but close enough). The result is a sluggish machine and a processor that generates excessive heat. The heat can start to cause damage to your machine leading to eventual failure.


First of all, let’s get the Task Manager running. There are a number of ways to do this. The easiest is to press CONTROL – ALTERNATE – DELETE. In XP, you will get the task manager. In Vista, you will come to a screen with choices where you can select the Task Manager.


Once you have the task Manager running, I usually drag the corner to make it as wide as the screen. This gives you a better view of the history.


Let’s go to the Performance Tab




What you are seeing above is a machine where the processor is starting to max out. In this case, the option to show each processor was chosen. The processors are at the top. You can see that both of them are starting to approach 100% usage. Shortly after this, both processors were totally pegged at 100%. Notice that the bottom graph, which shows memory usage, is pretty much OK at about 75%. When that gets over 90%, most machines will bog down.
Now, let’s identify which processes are causing the problem.
To do that, we select the processes tab. Then we click on CPU until it is sorted from highest to lowest. The items at the top will change around a bit as processes use more or less power.

What we see above is that an instance, or window, of Iexplore is using 78% of the processor. Firefox is using another 12%. That is 88% of our process for just 2 windows. What we want to do is get rid of that – WARNING – killing the wrong process can crash your machine and have serious side effects. Do this at your own risk.

The simplest thing to do is to go to Internet Explorer and close all of your windows. The same thing with firefox. If that doesn’t work, then you can right-click on the process and chose END PROCESS TREE – See my warning above about killing processes.

I suspected a window that I had open that was running a java based crossword puzzle. I opened that Internet Explorer Window and closed it.

Take a look at the circled portion on both processors. Closing that one window had an immediate effect. The processor usage dropped from being pegged at 100% to about 25% or so.

Quite often, this is all you have to do to get your machine responding better. The problem is that many websites use extensive Active-x, java or other applications or are just very large pages.

If you can’t get the machine responding by closing the offending processes, then a reboot might work.

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