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Task Manager's Performance tab more useful in Windows Vista

The Performance tab is most changed tab in Windows Vista's Task Manager. Here are some of the changes and how to interpret them.

In Windows Vista's Task Manager: The harder-to-detect changes, I provided you with an overview of the changes and new features in Windows Vista's Task Manager. As I did so, I described the Performance tab, which contains two sets of graphs and three tables, shown in Figure A, as the most changed tab in Windows Vista's Task Manager and then told you that it is actually more useful than its predecessor.

Figure A

The Performance tab is the most changed tab in Windows Vista's Task Manager.

In this edition of the Windows Vista Report, I'll describe the information on the Performance tab in more detail. As I do, I'll explain how to use it to track performance.

The CPU graphs

The top graphs, CPU Usage and CPU Usage History, shown in Figure B, are pretty much the same as they were in Windows XP. As you know, the CPU Usage is a bar graph that shows the percentage of how much the CPU is being used at the moment. The CPU Usage History is a line graph that shows how much the CPU has been used in the past few minutes.

Figure B

The CPU Usage and CPU Usage History graphs show how much the CPU is being used.

As you can see, the CPU Usage History graph in Figure A actually shows two graphs. This is because my example system has a dual-core CPU and so you can see individual histories for each core of the CPU.

Under normal operating conditions, the CPU graphs will show sporadic fluctuation between high and low as applications and tasks require CPU resources. If an application or task is performing a particularly vigorous operation, you'll see the CPU Usage bar graph at a high percentage for a sustained period of time. You'll also notice big spikes in the CPU Usage History line graph. However, if the CPU Usage bar graph seems stuck at 100% and the CPU Usage bar graph is flat-lined at the top of the graph, then chances are good that the application or task is not responding. You can go to the Applications tab, and end the unresponsive task.

The Memory graphs

The second set of graphs, titled Memory and Physical Memory Usage History, shown in Figure C, show actual memory usage rather than page file usage, which was the case in Windows XP. The Memory bar graph shows how much memory in megabytes (MB) is being used at the moment while the Physical Memory Usage History line graph shows the fluctuation of how much the RAM has been used in the past few minutes.

Figure C

The Memory and Physical Memory Usage History graphs show how much physical memory is being used.  

Under normal operating conditions, the Memory and Physical Memory Usage History graphs will show a pretty steady usage pattern that will occasionally fluctuate as running applications or tasks require more or less memory. These graphs will also fluctuate as you open and close applications.

If the Memory bar graph remains at a high mark close to the total amount of RAM in the system and the Physical Memory Usage History bar graph is flat-lined at the top of the graph, then chances are good that the system needs more RAM to operate more efficiently.

Physical Memory

The Physical Memory table, shown in Figure D, contains three entries measured in megabytes (MB). Of course, the Total entry shows the amount of RAM installed in the system. The Cached entry indicates the amount of physical memory used recently for system resources. This memory will remain in the cache in case the system resources are needed again, but it's available should other operations need it. The Free entry indicates the amount of memory that is currently not being used or does not contain useful information.

Figure D

The Physical Memory table in this example indicates that all but 1 MB of the total memory is currently being used.

As you can see, adding up the numbers here isn't exactly a straightforward proposition. The system actually has 1 GB of RAM which comes out to 1024 MB and the onboard video has access to 128 MB of that memory, yet the Total entry indicates that 958 MB is available and the bar chart shows that 702 MB is being used. You get the idea that Windows Vista is constantly juggling memory.

Kernel Memory

The Kernel Memory table shown in Figure E also contains three entries measured in megabytes (MB) that show the amount of memory being used by the core part of Windows, which is called the kernel. Here, the Total entry shows the total amount of memory being used by the kernel. The Paged and Nonpaged entries break down the total amount of memory being used by the kernel and show you how much it is coming from virtual memory and how much is coming from physical memory, respectively.

Figure E

The Kernel Memory table indicates how much memory is being used by Windows Vista's kernel.

System

The System table shown in Figure F is actually a collection of entries that provide valuable information about the overall state of the system. As you can see this table contains five entries.

Figure F

The System table contains a collection of entries that provide valuable information about the overall state of the system

The first three entries here are more closely related than the other two as the essentially all relate to running processes. The Handles and Threads entries are rather obscure and are actually sub-objects of processes. The Handles entry shows the number of object identifiers, or handles, that are currently in use by all the running processes. The Threads entry actually refers to the number of sub processes running inside of larger processes. The Processes entry, of course, represents the number of currently running processes. As you know, you can see each of the currently running processes by selecting the Processes tab.

The Up Time entry is nice piece of information that shows the amount of time that has passed since the computer has been restarted. The appearance of an Up Time entry somewhere easily accessible is something that is long overdue. In Windows XP you had to dig down into the to find the Up Time.

The last item in the System table is the Page File entry. Here, the first number indicates the total amount of physical and virtual memory currently in use, while the second number indicates the total amount of physical and virtual memory available on your computer.

The Status bar

In addition to all of the information in the graphs and tables, the Status bar on Windows Vista's Task Manager provides you with a nice little summation of the information on the Performance tab—plus a little something extra. As you can see in Figure G, the Status bar shows the number of Process as the CPU Usage percentage both of which are available on the Performance tab. However, it also shows the amount of Physical Memory being used at the moment as a percentage. Using this information you can see that 702 MB is roughly 73% of the total amount of physical memory (958 MB) in the system.

Figure G

The Status bar, which stays the same no matter which tab is selected, shows a summary of information from the Performance tab.

Conclusion

Of all the new features in Windows Vista's Task Manager, the Performance tab is the most changed tab and is actually more useful than its predecessor. If you have any information or comments to share about Windows Vista's Task Manager and the Performance tab, please stop by the Discussion area and let us hear from you.

About Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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