I don’t mean this to sound snippish or snide, but the only reasonable answer
is really …
All of them.
Or perhaps put another way …
All the ones you don’t recognize, and perhaps some of those that you do.
And I know, that’s not really a reasonable answer at all. Let’s look at what
you can tell from the task list, and what you might consider looking at if you
suspect a problem.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
“Be wary of” is kind of a vague notion, because in reality, almost all
programs can cause problems at one time or another – including those that are a
part of Windows. If your system is working well and you have no problems,
there’s typically nothing I would have you look at in task manager
specifically. As long as you’re running up to date anti-spyware and anti-virus
software, and just generally following all the recommendations on how to
it’s probably not worth your time to worry about it.
However, if you have reason to suspect a problem, there are a few things you
might look at.
Examine Process Names: The Processes tab
on Task Manager, and my preferred replacement for it, Process Explorer, both list the programs running on your
machine. (Be sure to check Show Processes from all users in
Task Manager.) Those will be program names like svchost.exe or taskmgr.exe –
names that probably mean nothing to most users.
Google each one that you don’t recognize. Typically on the first page of
results will include links to various sites that describe what that program
does, or why it exists. Most, if not all, will have reasonable explanations
that will make sense for your machine. For example I have a process
“atiptaxx.exe” which turns out to be related to the ATI graphics card in my
machine. Each machine will probably have a different set of programs running
depending on its configuration or what additional software you have
Examine CPU Usage: In both Task Manager and Process
Explorer you can click on the “CPU” column header and the programs will list
the processes running on your machine in order of who’s using the computer’s
processor (or CPU) the most. Most of the, if your system is operating normally
and not doing anything, the “System Idle Process” should be taking most of your
computer’s time. If it’s something else, you can then see what that is (perhaps
by Googling it, as above), or simply realizing that a specific program on your
computer is actually doing something.
Examine Memory Usage: Once again in both Task Manager and
Process Explorer you can click on the “Mem Usage” (or “Working Set” in Process
Explorer) column header and see who’s using the most of your computer’s RAM.
This will vary widely depending on what software you are running, and what it’s
been doing. In Process Explorer you can also click on the “Virtual Size” column
header to see who’s using the most total virtual memory (both in RAM, and
swapped out to disk). Programs that are using excessive amounts of memory can often degrade your
In general, though, the best way to keep your system safe is to make sure
you’re following those stay safe
recommendations. There’s rarely a need to watch programs in Task Manager, or
more specifically, there’s rarely a reason to “be wary” of programs in Task
manager, unless you’re suspecting a problem that hasn’t been identified through