The majority of administrators—and even some end users—are familiar with the Windows Task Manager’s useful End Task option for killing an application that has hung. However, savvy administrators know to look further than the Applications tab once trouble is detected. They check the CPU usage of various processes under the Processes tab and, if necessary, end processes that have been left behind or that are hogging CPU time.

The Windows 2000 Task Manager makes the End Process option even more efficient with its new End Process Tree selection, which becomes available when you right-click on a process in the Processes tab. When you use this option, you can be sure that you are also killing off any spawned processes.

True, the Win2K Task Manager isn’t as sophisticated as the Performance Monitor utility, which can use detailed counters, save historical information, and set alerts. Nevertheless, it is useful as a first-aid troubleshooting utility that can provide dynamic system information and enable you to take back control of a system. To help you use the Windows 2000 Task Manager to its full potential, I have put together the following list of 16 tips and tricks.

Task Manager tips

  • Most people call up Task Manager by using [Ctrl][Alt][Del] and then clicking the Task Manager button. When a computer has seemingly stopped responding altogether, this is the safest way. However, you can also call up the Task Manager directly with the [Ctrl][Shift][Esc] shortcut or by clicking Start | Run, typing Taskmgr, and clicking OK. To quickly call up the Task Manager using the mouse, right-click on the Taskbar and select Task Manager from the popup list.
  • If you’re in a Windows 2000 Terminal Services session and need to call up Task Manager to kill an application that’s not responding in your Terminal Services session, don’t use [Ctrl][Alt][Del]. This will call up Task Manager for your local PC and not the terminal server session. Use [Ctrl][Alt][End] and choose Task Manager from there. Alternatively, use the Windows Security option under Start | Settings (available only within a Terminal Services session).
  • If your mouse has stopped responding and you need to move across the Task Manager tabs using the keyboard, use [Ctrl][Tab].
  • You can determine how much physical RAM is in the PC by looking at the Total value under Physical Memory in the Performance tab and dividing it by 1,024. You’ll also see this figure if you use Task Manager’s Help | About (which also shows the Windows version).
  • You may have noticed that when you have the Task Manager open, a small green box shows up in your System Tray in the lower right-hand corner of your screen. This little icon acts as a gauge that shows the rising and falling of CPU Usage, thus enabling you to monitor the stress level of the system. If you want to keep this monitor running inconspicuously, you can select Options | Hide When Minimized and then minimize the Task Manager. When you do this, the Task Manager won’t show up as an open application on the Taskbar, but you will still see the little green gauge in the System Tray. To get a precise CPU percentage without restoring the window, hover your mouse over the gauge icon and watch the CPU Usage percent number pop up.
  • To quickly run an additional program or command, use New Task (Run) from the Task Manager’s File menu or the New Task button in the Applications tab. This is just like using the Start | Run command, so you can either type the command, use the Open drop-down list box for previous Run commands, or use the Browse button.
  • Have you lost the Status column in the Applications tab that tells you whether an application is Running or Not Responding? Use View | Details so that it pops back up.
  • To obtain more information on what memory is actually being used and by what, use View | Select Columns in the Processes tab to include information such as Peak Memory Usage, Virtual Memory Size, Paged Pool, and Non-paged Pool. For example, a process that shows the Virtual Memory Size slowly increasing over time probably identifies an application that leaks memory.
  • Want to see which users are connected to your Windows 2000 terminal server and what processes they are running? Add the Username column in the Processes tab using View | Select Columns. Make sure the Show All Processes From All Users check box is also selected in the bottom left-hand corner of the Processes tab.
  • To check or change the priority of a process, right-click on it under the Processes tab and use the Set Priority option to see which priority is currently set and to change it (if you have permission).
  • You can easily identify any 16-bit applications from the Processes tab if you enable Show 16-bit Tasks on the Options menu. The apps will then be displayed indented under the NTVDM process.
  • Task Manager updates once a second by default. You can change this with Update Speed on the View menu. High is twice every second, and Low is once every four seconds. As with most displays, [F5] will force an immediate manual update.
  • Curious about processes such as Csrss.exe and Svchost.exe, which can’t be ended with Task Manager? Task Manager will prevent you from using End Now on some of the processes listed, displaying a message that they’re critical system processes. Use the Knowledge Base article “Default Processes in Windows 2000” (Q263201) to find out more about these specific processes.
  • Have you lost Task Manager’s tabs, status bar, and menu bar? You’re in Tiny Footprint mode, designed to minimize real estate. To return to the standard view, double-click on the border at the top of the window. To switch to Tiny Footprint, double-click in the empty space around any of the borders.
  • If you’re running multiple processors and want to assign a specific process to one or more of them, right-click on the process, choose the Set Affinity command, and then select the processor(s) you want to assign. If this option is not available for a specific process, it must be running as a service. You can’t use the Set Affinity command on services.
  • When you’re running high CPU usage but no process is identified as responsible in Task Manager, suspect drivers or hardware problems and look in the System Event Log for the culprit.

Summing up
These tips should help you maximize the potential of Windows 2000’s handy little Task Manager. If you know of some other great Task Manager tips I’ve missed, please share them.

What kind of tips do you have for troubleshooting Windows?

We look forward to getting your input and hearing about your experiences regarding this topic. Post a comment or a question about this article.