Five process monitors that go beyond Task Manager

Tracking down the cause of a problematic system goes a lot quicker with the right apps. Here are five diagnostic tools to help you out.

When a Windows system becomes unresponsive, the Task Manager is often the go-to tool for figuring out the problem. But as helpful as the Task Manager can be for tracking down the offending process, a number of other tools are available that can provide even more insight into what's going on. This article lists five tools for monitoring your system processes.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: Microsoft Process Monitor

Microsoft Process Monitor (Figure A) is part of the Windows Sysinternals collection, which encompasses numerous tools for monitoring, configuring, or securing Windows. Plenty of tools can display the processes that are running on your system. Even Windows itself can display this information through the Task Manager. But Process Monitor doesn't just display the running processes—it also shows you what those processes are doing. For instance, it will tell you if a process attempts to read a file or query a registry value. This makes Process Monitor an excellent tool for gaining insight into what is going on with Windows. Process Monitor is free.

Figure A

Figure A

2: Microsoft Process Explorer

Microsoft Process Explorer (Figure B) is another free component of the Sysinternals collection. There is some overlap in capabilities between Process Monitor and Process Explorer, but the tools were created for different purposes.

Figure B

Figure B

Process Explorer has been described as an advanced version of Task Manager. Like Task Manager, it displays all the running processes and their current levels of resource consumption. It also allows you to terminate processes on an as-needed basis. However, Process Explorer goes beyond Task Manager in that it displays processes in a hierarchical tree and includes tools for finding handles and DLLs.

3: Process Lasso

Process Lasso (Figure C) is another tool for gaining insight into the processes that are running on your PC. It maintains lists of all processes and active processes. In addition to displaying running processes, the software plots processor use, memory load, responsiveness, and memory restraint on a graph.

Figure C

Figure C

Process Lasso offers some really cool features, such as the ability to balance processes, park CPU cores, limit process instance counts, and configure anti-sleep processes. There is even a game mode that gives preferential treatment to designated processes.

Process Lasso sells for $32.95, but a free 30-day trial is available for download.

4: Process Hacker

Process Hacker (Figure D) is a free utility for exploring the processes that are running on your system. It lists running processes in a color-coded tree view (similarly to Process Explorer). This view can be blinding at first, but it's helpful once you get used to the bright colors. In addition to displaying process information, the software displays information about system services, network activity, and disk activity.

Figure D

Figure D

Process Hacker includes all the functionality you would expect, plus some nice extras. For example, it can verify file signatures and send a message to a user who is running a particular process.

5: Process Cleaner

Process Cleaner (Figure E) is a free tool to help you clean up the processes that are running on your PC. It displays running processes and then terminates all non-system processes.

Figure E

Figure E

Admittedly, this app has a cluttered menu with options that seem to have nothing to do with cleaning processes (such as a shortcut to Google). The software also includes a browser cleaner and a hard disk optimizer.

I wouldn't normally recommend a program like this one because it has an amateurish feeling to it. However, Process Cleaner could prove to be useful for manually combatting malware infections. The tool isn't something that I would use every day, but if I needed the ability to immediately shut down large numbers of potentially infected processes, I would definitely give Process Cleaner a try.

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