Software

Five task managers that improve on the Windows default

For the power users there are options available that not only duplicate the features of the Windows default Task Manager, but improve upon them.

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.

Five Apps

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.

a1_process_explorer_1.png

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.

b1_bprocess_hacker_1.png

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.

c1_system_explorer_1.png

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.

d1_avir_1.png.png

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.

e1_whats_running_1.png

Bottom line

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.


About

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 getjackd.net.

16 comments
tavandy1@airmail.net
tavandy1@airmail.net

Kaspersky is showing AnVir to be a Virus. Reading others' replies, I'd say be vary leery of these recommendations.

ppyo
ppyo

The installation of What's Running is a bloatware trap. Once you avoid the bloatware and start the actual installation, it won't keep you updated about the what is going on with the installation process. What a disappointment Cnet downloads site is.

mike
mike

There are some other very good task managers to be considered along with the ones mentioned here. Two that I find particularly good are Chameleon Task Manager and Process Lasso. Both have free and Pro versions, and both include optional process management capabilities, so they not only monitor and show per-process data but are also capable of restraining processes that use excessive resources to prevent any process from "taking over" your computer.

jdm
jdm

Update: declined all the numerous toolbars and add-ons during the install and in the end Zip Opener installed nothing but its own updater and some other package I didn't approve. No System Explorer. I'll pass on this one.

jdm
jdm

The Zip Opener installer for System Explorer is a bit much when it comes to adware. Install it carefully.

jcollake
jcollake

Or, when you need more than a task manager, and instead want to automate control of your processes - try Process Lasso. It's ProBalance algorithm can help to restrain out-of-control processes, while its rules allow for persistent (sticky) priorities, CPU affinities, and much more! http://bitsum.com/processlasso

LightSpeed
LightSpeed

I am surprised that Igor Iarsn's "TaskInfo" didn't even get an honorable mention. Probably the best on the planet (in my book) and at 35 dollars a real bargain.   

CyberWalker2009
CyberWalker2009

That's a very useful post right there! I've been using Sysinternals products for quite some time now and they have been proven to be an excellent replacement / addition. Thank you very much! :-)

marcdw
marcdw

[Strange, was not able to leave a comment using IE or Firefox. Had to go to Opera. New site teething problems?]

I use all of the above task managers. Depending on the machine taskmgr has been replaced by either Process Explorer (used for years) or Process Hacker.

One other alternative that starts quick and has an old school look (not so colorful) is DTaskManager. Surprisingly though it suffers from the one thing missing in taskmgr that caused me to look for alternatives, no restart. You can end, quit, kill a process but I don't see a restart. Sometimes that's all I need.

Anyhind, it's pretty much business with that one. No toolbars up top but you get a row of buttons at bottom for freezing, suspending, resuming, killing, etc.


lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

I've used Process Explorer for quite a few years.

IMO, it's excellent (far superior To Task Manager).


dogknees
dogknees

I've been using Process Explorer lately as a replacement. The only problem I find is that it's a lot slower to start than Task Manager. I'll check out the others.

Afham Sani
Afham Sani

Process explorer from sysinternals

Cory A Dot
Cory A Dot

I use Kill switch with my Comodo security suite. I can set it by default to replace the task manager. Check processes, threads, dlls. I can restart and force terminate and that makes good for me.

Ben Ford
Ben Ford

SysInternals - ProcessExplorer when investigating problems! - As per the image posted! Great tool for viewing handles and threads, associated exe's etc. coupled with Process Monitor the two make great diagnostic utilities!

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin moderator

Do you use a third-party task manager for Windows or are you satisfied with the default Task Manager?

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