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Deep troubleshooting with the Windows 8 Task Manager Processes tab

Delve deeper into the many layers of performance information available in the Windows 8 Task Manager Processes tab.

In last week's blog post Better troubleshooting with the Windows 8 Task Manager Performance tab, I showed you how to use the new features on the Performance tab in Windows 8's Task Manager. As I mentioned, back in October 2011, I wrote an article titled Explore the Advanced Features of the New Windows 8 Task Manager, in which I provided you with an overview of all the Task Manager features in the Windows 8 Developers Preview.

Since at this point in time Task Manager should be feature complete, I have decided to spend some time taking a detailed look at the information and features on the various tabs. This week I'll continue my investigation by looking at the new features found on the Processes tab in Windows 8's Task Manager.

This blog post is also available as a slideshow in a free TechRepublic download.

Getting started

The quickest way to get to Task Manager in Windows 8 is to press [Windows]+D to access the Desktop, right click on the taskbar and select the Task Manager command from the context menu. When the Task Manager appears, you'll click the More details arrow. You'll then see the full tabbed interface.

Grouping processes

To make specific processes easier to find, the Processes tab in Windows 8's Task Manager organizes all the processes in groups by type. This arrangement is far superior to previous versions of Task Manager where all processes were mixed together. As you can see in Figure A, there are three groups titled Apps, Background processes, and Windows processes and within each group you'll find a list of the pertinent processes. It is important to point out that while the first group is titled Apps, it includes processes associated with standard Windows applications as well as Metro apps.

Figure A

To make specific processes easier to find, all processes are grouped by type.

As you can imagine, if and when you need to kill a process, having them in these groups will make it easier for you to quickly and safely find the process that you need to eliminate.

Additional counters

In all previous versions of Task Manager, the main focus of the Process tab was the CPU and Memory counters. While those counters provided you with a good start, they aren't the only things you may want to track when troubleshooting a problem. As you know, heavy disk access or heavy network access can be just as big a performance drain as heavy CPU or heavy memory access. To give you a more complete picture of what is happening in the system at any one point in time, Microsoft has added columns for Disk and Network counters to the Processes tab, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B

The Processes tab now includes counters for Disk and Network.

Along with the column names, the top row also displays a percentage counter indicating the overall usage for the each of the main resources. For example, in Figure B you can see that the current overall usage for the CPU is 34% and the overall usage for Memory is 45%. The Disk is at 14% and 0% for Network usage.

You'll also notice that the counters are now the main focus of the Processes tab - the only other information displayed by default are the names of the process and their status. However, if you would like to be able to see the PID (Process ID) like you could in previous versions of Task Manager you can add that column and others to the display. To do so, just right click the header and select any of the available columns from the context menu, as shown in Figure C.

Figure C

You can add other columns to the Processes tab.

Heat map

One of the most outstanding new features on the Processes tab is the new heat map technology. As you probably know from firsthand experience, when you go to Processes tab to track down a problem in previous versions of Windows, chances are that the first thing that you do is sort either the CPU or Memory column in descending order to determine which applications are consuming more resources than expected. While you can still sort the columns in Windows 8's Task Manager, you don't have to because the heat map technology built into the new Processes tab will help you to instantly identify which applications are sucking up system resources. The more resources being used, the darker the background color.

Figure D shows a heat map generated by copying a 5GB folder across the network and this heat map shows all the colors. As you can see, the CPU activity for Paint is 0% and light yellow indicates no activity. Looking at the heat map for Windows Explorer, you can see that dark yellow indicates moderate activity (CPU at 6.3% and Memory at 58.7 MB), gold indicates heavier activity (Disk at 10.0 MB/s), and orange indicates very heavy activity (Network at 83.9 Mbps). Looking at the overall value for Network at 97%, you can see that rose red indicates extremely heavy activity.

Figure D

This heat map was generated by copying a 5GB folder across the network.

As you can see in this example, with the heat map technology and the addition of Disk and Network, you can monitor activity across multiple resources (CPU, memory, disk, and network) all at the same time, without having to sort the data. It also allows you to find the hot spot instantly without having to read specific units.

Process details

Another thing that you will find makes using Windows 8's Task Manager easier is that process names and their icons are now friendlier - the names are in plain language instead of cryptic terms and the icons are more representative of the process.

For example, under Background processes you'll find the Spooler Subsystem App, which is still a bit cryptic, but way better than just spoolsv.exe, and along with the printer icon, indicates that this process is the print spooler or print queue. If you need more information on any process name, you can right click on the process and select the Search online from the context menu, as shown in Figure E. When you do, your default browser will open to a Bing search-results page with information about the process.

Figure E

While process names and their icons are now friendlier, you can use the Search online feature to easily learn more about a process.
If you miss the old Processes display, just select the Go to detail command from the context menu and you'll see the Details tab, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

The Details tab looks pretty much like the old Processes tab.
If a process has more to it than just the main process, you can expand that process to get more detail on what is running under that process listing. For example, when I showed you the heat map in Figure D generated by copying a 5GB folder across the network, you can see that Windows Explorer has a three next to it indicating that the main process has three sub processes running under it. Figure G shows that process expanded to show the whole procedure: I'm copying a folder from My Pictures from one computer across the network to the Pictures folder on the Windows 8 system and the copying operation is 91% complete.

Figure G

If a process has more to it than just the main process, you can expand that process to get more detail on what is running under that process.

While I am talking about details, there is one more thing that I want to show you. As I mentioned earlier, by default, the overall usage values for the CPU, Memory, Disk and Network listed at the top of the Processes tab are shown as percentages. Now, for each process, the CPU counter is the only counter that shows as a percentage. The other counters show an actual value.

For example, in Figure G the counter for Windows Explorer shows 10.9% for the CPU, 58.6MB for Memory, 11.1MB/s for Disk, and 88.0Mbps for Network. If you wish to view the Memory, Disk, or Network as percentages, you can change any one or all of them to percentage values. Right click on any row, select Resource values from the context menu, select any counter, and then choose Percents, as shown in Figure H.

Figure H

You can change the counter for Memory, Disk, or Network to display as percentages.

What's your take?

The Processes tab in Windows 8's Task Manager has many new and exciting features. What feature interests you the most? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

About

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.

5 comments
Gideon_Harrow
Gideon_Harrow

Quick question, My troubleshooter has a file with my name on it that has been disabled. Is that suppose to be there?

eldergabriel
eldergabriel

There have been countless times while diagnosing and troubleshooting malware problems on a windows box where the ability to have exported either a list of all, or selected processes would have been a great time saver. I understand that the process list ui form is dynamic (constantly updating itself), but even a snapshot of the list, exportable to some useful format, would be helpful in automating the tedious task of manually removing rogue executables. I want to say that there is a shell command that displays process information, although its name and proper syntax eludes me at the moment. There I go, thinking like a unix guy again... ;)

keith_ryde
keith_ryde

Does the new task manager help at all in showing what is going on within the many instances of svchost.exe that can be seen running and that sometimes seem to hog a large amount of resources?

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Windows 8 gives users more and deeper troubleshooting tools. Have you been testing these tools? What do you think? Do they get a passing grade?

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...it does in fact provide you with a full listing of all the sub-processes running under a svchost.exe. The svchost processes appear under the Windows process category and will be expandable just like I have shown in Figure G.