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What processes in windows task manager should I be wary of?

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.

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“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
stay safe,
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
installed.

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
systems performance.

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
other means.

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14 comments on “What processes in windows task manager should I be wary of?”

  1. You can also see which programs are using the most virtual memory in task manager. Select “select columns” from the view drop-down menu, and select Virtual memory size. Then click ok. Now there is a column showing the vitural memory usage.

    Reply
  2. Installed Kodak EzShare and copied pix onto a cd from my kodak. This a.m. the screen is fuzzy and distorted. all apps images from start are grainy and much larger than previous. I don’t believe it is the Kodak Program. This PC has multiple users. I’m attempting to remove unwanted programs, crapware from the task mgr but haven’t been able to locate anything via google. Thanks Leo
    Dean, CA

    Reply
  3. When viewing Cpu usage history graph there is a red trace following the green trace very closely.
    Could this be a sign of some kind of key tracking software running on my computer or is something getting ready to break down?

    Reply
  4. i am not getting the task manager window header on windows xp machine that may be malicious had happened please help
    Thanks & Regards
    Rajendra N Sulakhe I am a .dot net developer

    Reply
  5. I am also not getting the task manager window header on Windows xp. I saw the same question posted on your web page, however could not find the solution. Please help.

    Reply
  6. I keep having something running in my processes called hxatoa.exe *32. I have no idea what this is too an haven’t been able to find any info on the web. It just shows up an runs. It takes up a ton of memory. Like 65% of my 4g comptuer. There are sometimes 30 of this running on my processes. I have to end processall of them an it takes a long time. Any help on what this is would be appreciate:)

    Thanks!!!

    Sounds like malware to me. Make sure you’re running good, up to date tools and recent scans.

    Leo
    29-Mar-2010

    Reply
  7. M not able 2 see my header or the column names such as ” Processes ” or ” Application” in my Windows XP.
    The strange thing is m able 2 see all of them when i log in as administrator . wit de guest profile i have de problems mentioned above , please help .
    Thanks
    Adi

    Reply
  8. Familiarity with the Windows Task Manager is one of the things I stress repeatedly to my clients. I tell them to a) Remove the Windows Task Manager, b) Replace it with Process Explorer, and c) look at it from time to time. Know how many processes should be running on your machine. What kind of system resources are being consumed in normal usage? Task Manager or Process Explorer can be the best indicators that something isn’t right with your machine.

    Anyway…

    Peace
    Karl A. Krogmann
    http://www.computertlc.net

    Reply
  9. In Windows Task Manager, can ending a process ever result in significant and/or “permanent” damage to your PC? Can you always reverse/repair any such damage by simply rebooting the PC to restore the previously ended process? Thanks…

    I’ll never say never, but in general the worst ending a task will do is crash your computer, which a reboot would resolve. I suppose there’s an unlikely scenario that killing the wrong task at exactly the wrong time could corrupt important data – perhaps even data required to run the system – but that seems extremely unlikely.

    Leo
    10-Apr-2011

    Reply
  10. A novice chasing a slow / sluggish computer problem and looking for clues in Task Manager. Can you help me?

    XP Home edition; Intel Duo T5250 processor; 2048MB RAM; using FireFox

    First, in Task Manager Performance display there are two side by side displays for CPU Usage History indicating different levels of activity. The CPU Usage thermometer seems to have two closely spaced identical columns. I’m not sure what that is telling me?

    Second, Number of Processes: usually varies between 46 and 50. Does that sound about right or perhaps an excessive number?

    Finally, Mr. Krogmann suggests removing Task Manager and installing Process Explorer. How would one go about removing Task Manager?

    Thank you.

    SD

    You have a dual core processor, so you get two CPU meters.
    Number of processes seems normal. (What matters more are which are using the most CPU)
    You don’t need to remove it – just download and run process explorer (http://go.ask-leo.com/procexp) – it has a “replace task manager” option you can use, or not.

    Leo
    27-Apr-2011
    Reply

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