Although it doesn’t get the attention it deserves, the Task Manager is one of Windows’ best utilities for power users.
The evergreen tool has been revamped in Windows 8 and offers more insight and control over the behind-the-scenes activity on your computer.
The Task Manager can iron out the most common performance-related issues that bog down your system.
In addition to desktop applications and resources like CPU and memory, it can also keep an eye on your network connection and processes that are running in the background.
To launch the tool, press Windows key+X on your keyboard and select ‘Task Manager’ from the menu that appears.
The Task Manager in Windows 8 starts with a simplified interface. It displays a list of currently running applications (including new Windows 8 apps and traditional desktop software) along with the ‘End task’ button.
This works well if all you want to do is end an unresponsive application.
However, you can’t stop the Explorer task from this view and it lacks the details about running applications that were available in earlier editions of Windows.
To get to those, you need to click on the ‘More details’ link. This will expand the Task Manager and give you a more detailed view of all running programs and background processes.
This view displays seven tabs, the first of which is ‘Processes’. The ‘Status’ column here identifies unresponsive applications and processes by labelling them as ‘Not responding’.
To shut down a program, click on its name and then click the ‘End task’ button. Before you do so, remember that resource-intensive applications might be falsely identified as unresponsive.
One of Task Manager’s new features is that it splits running applications into three sections: apps, background processes and Windows processes. This is more useful for locating troublesome applications or processes.
Another interesting new feature is the ‘heat-mapped’ data in the columns. Task Manager now uses darker colours to flag the programs that are using the most resources.
This lets you spot greedy apps more quickly. Similarly, when a resource is near its maximum utilisation, Task Manager darkens its column title to get your attention.
Switch to the ‘Performance’ tab to get an overview of the amount of CPU time, memory, hard disk space and network resources being used.
This tab gives you a good idea about anything that might be limiting your computer’s performance and it can help you identify hardware that needs to be upgraded.
If you see that a resource is nearly used up, switch to the ‘Processes’ tab and click on its column heading.
This will tell you which applications or processes are using the most of that resource. You can close any of these that you no longer need.
To get more details about a resource, click on the small graph icons on the left side of the Task Manager. The ‘Open Resource Monitor’ link at the bottom of the window will give you even more detail.
Another addition to the Task Manager is the ‘App History’ tab. It shows you pretty much the same information as the ‘Processes’ tab, even if the application has been closed.
This information is useful for troubleshooting problems that can’t be reproduced, such as an application that’s notoriously slow, but isn’t running at the moment.
The ‘App History’ tab presents heat-mapped information similar to the ‘Processes’ tab.
The one major difference between them is that ‘App History’ only tracks the performance of Windows 8 apps.
The ‘App History’ tab also includes a few extra details, such as metered network activity, which keeps track of apps that are using your data connection. This information can help you avoid extra charges if you’re on a capped data connection.
The ‘Tile Updates’ column is also useful for cutting down resource consumption. It points you to applications that are wasting resources by constantly refreshing their live tiles on the ‘Start’ screen.
Once you’ve identified such tiles, you can configure them to stop fetching live updates.
Although ‘App History’ collects and stores this information to help you, if you value your privacy more than a few wasted resources, click the ‘Delete usage history’ option.
The other tabs in the Task Manager are chock-full of information, although some are more useful for cutting down wayward resource consumption than others.
Many applications start as soon as you boot into Windows 8. This is useful for programs such as virus scanners, although having a lot of applications starting at boot time will slow down the PC.
You can use the ‘Startup’ tab in the Task Manager to control which applications start automatically.
The ‘Users’ tab is helpful if you share the Windows 8 PC with other people. It displays running and suspended applications for each logged-in user.
You can free up resources by closing other users’ applications from this tab, or even signing them off completely.
Microsoft at your service
When you terminate an application, Windows 8 will send a report to Microsoft with technical information about the crash.
Microsoft analyses this and uses it to create software patches to solve the issues. If a solution already exists, the Microsoft servers will immediately get back to you with details.
While Microsoft doesn’t collect any personal information with the error reports, if you’re concerned about your privacy, you have the option to turn off the automatic error reporting.
On the Windows 8 ‘Start’ screen, type problems in the search box and select ‘Settings’. In the results, click ‘Choose how to report problems’. This will bring up the controls for auto-reporting.
You can have Windows check for solutions online automatically or check for solutions and send a report with extra data to Microsoft.
You can also have Windows ask for permission every time before checking online or never check for solutions. You can also select programs you never want to report.
If you spot an unknown application, right-click it and select ‘Search online’.
Step by step: Manage your startup programs
Launch the Task Manager and switch to the ‘Startup’ tab to see all the apps that start automatically with Windows. Right-click any open application and select ‘Properties’. A window will appear, showing you the application’s name, size, version number and other details.
To assess an app’s impact on your system, look under the associated ‘Startup impact’ column. This indicates the effect it has on your PC’s startup routine and how severely it slows down the boot sequence. The impact is listed as high, medium or not measured.
After you’ve identified an app that you want to prevent from starting automatically, right-click it and select ‘Disable’ from the pop-up menu. The app will no longer launch automatically, although you can still launch it manually if you want.