If you've used the Windows operating system, chances are you've had to use the built-in Task Manager. If applications refuse to close or you need to troubleshoot why your machine has slowed to a crawl, you need the Task Manager. For some, the default does just fine. For others, the default client isn't powerful enough or doesn't offer the necessary options to really take control of a machine. Fortunately, for the power users, there are options available that not only duplicate the features of the Windows default Task Manager, but improve upon them.
I have located five such tools that any administrator (or power user) would be remiss to not try. Each of these tools can serve as a drop-in replacement for the default Windows Task Manager. Let's find out if any of these will fit your needs.
1. Process Explorer
Process Explorer was created by the Microsoft Sysinternals team, so you know it's a solid piece of software. This app improves on the default by offering a powerful search tool, a two-pane view mode (for faster access to more information), DLL-Mode (what DLLs and memory-mapped files the process has loaded), Handle-mode (what handles the process has selected), set affinity and priority, and even can be used as a portable solution. By hovering the mouse over certain areas (such as the CPU monitors) you can get instant popup information about your system. Process Explorer is free and can run on Windows XP/Server 2003 and higher.
2. Process Hacker
Process Hacker offers a better detailed overview of your processes than does the default Windows apps. You will also find nice graphs and plenty of statistics to give you more information than you probably need to know about the processes on your system. The main process list is a customizable tree view and even offers a services, network, and disk tabs where you can get even more information about the system state. From the Disk tab you can quickly see what is writing to the disk and where it's writing to. Advanced features of Process Hacker include viewing of heaps, symbolic access masks, and GDI handles, injecting and unloading DLLs, and detaching from debuggers. Process Hacker is free and runs on Windows XP and up.
3. System Explorer
System Explorer one-ups the default by including modules, startups, IE addons, uninstallers, drivers, connections, and opened files into the mix of the detailed view. With System Explorer you can also check for suspicious files through a file and virus database search. Another feature which System Explorer adds into the mix is the ability to disable processes from starting at bootup as well as the ability to find out what process is locking a file and track system changes. System Explorer is free and runs on Windows XP through Windows 8.
4. AnVir Task Manager
AnVir Task Manager one ups the default Task Manager by allowing you to set up delayed start times for applications and services, monitor your memory battery, and offers a system "tweaker" which allows you to fine-tune Windows 7 system settings. These features are all included with the Free version. There is also a paid version which adds numerous other features, such as: hard drive temperature, remaining life for SSD drives, video card load, download/upload speed, and the ability to permanently block unwanted processes. The paid (Pro) version is $49.95 and runs on Windows XP and up. There is also a portable version available.
5. What's Running
What's Running offers numerous improvements over the default Windows Task Manager. Included in these improvements are: Detailed information on drivers, manage all startup programs/services, get information on all modules that have loaded a specific DLL, get quick real-time data on IP connections, recent RAM, CUP, and I/O activity, and a "Check on-line" option which will give you detailed information about the process (simply right-click a process to get to this feature). Another nice feature is the ability to take a monthly snapshot so you compare with other snapshots. What's Running is free and works with Windows 2000/XP/2003/Vista/Windows 7.
If you're looking for a replacement for the Windows Task Manager that offers more features and flexibility, than look no further than these five options. With any of these, you'll be happily managing your system processes with more power and reliability.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.