Perhaps it is time to find out exactly what your computer is up to – particularly if your computer is behaving badly. There are many third-party tools that can clean, scrub, and protect your PC, but none of those will help you better understand what’s going on. A program that can help you understand what is going on ships with every Windows PC. It’s called Windows Resource Monitor. Let’s take a look at what it can tell us.
Opening Windows Resource Monitor
Of course, we need to open Windows Resource Monitor before we can do anything. Windows Resource Monitor is a feature that was added in Vista and carries over to Windows 7. As far as I can gather, the only way to open it is through the Windows Task Manager - so press CTRL-ALT-DEL and open it.
Once Task Manager is open, go to the Performance tab. In the lower right hand corner is a button labeled Resource Monitor. Click it, and you’re ready to go!
Windows Resource Monitor will, by default, open up to the Overview tab. This provides general, but useful, information about your computer. The best way to start becoming acquainted with Windows Resource Monitor is probably the graphs on the right side of the Overview tab. There are graphs here for your processor, hard disk, network and memory. These graphs will tell you how much of each is being used.
A computer at idle should display each graph as nearly flat. There may be minor spikes in usage, typically due to background processes, but these spikes should be few and they shouldn’t significantly consume system resources.
Other usage scenarios will result in distinct patterns. For example, it is normal to see high disk activity and high network usage when you are downloading a file. It is also normal to see high disk activity while your virus scanning software is operating.
Sudden (or not-so-sudden), unexplained spikes are not normal. They may be the result of bloatware (unwanted programs that come pre-installed in your system), an inefficient antivirus program, a program that did not close correctly or even malware.
A Deeper Look At CPU Usage
Open the CPU tab of Windows Resource Monitor. When you do so, the graphs on the right will change. You’ll now be shown a graph for each core Windows detects (or two graphs for each core if you have an Intel processor with Hyper-Threading enabled). The total CPU usage graph remains, as well.
But the most important information here is not the graphs. What you’ll need to take a closer look at is the text information under the labels of Processes and Services. A process is an active application, while a service is a background application that conforms to special rules (it can run automatically on boot, it can run when no user is logged on, etc).
When it comes to checking out processor usage, however, you’ll organize both using the same tactic. Simply organize the processes or services by the average CPU value. Tada! You now know what programs are taking up your processor’s power. Please note that common processes and services can sometimes appear under odd names in Windows Resource Monitor. Be sure to Google an unknown program and identify it before you close it.
Analyzing Memory Usage
The way your computer uses its short-term memory (RAM) is important to overall performance. If you’re running low on available memory you’ll find that your computer’s performance becomes sluggish.
RAM usage can be found under the Memory tab. A new, useful line graph appears at the bottom of Windows Resource Monitor. This graph shows you how much memory is in use, how much is on stand-by (containing active data, but not actively in use) and how much is completely free.
Ideally you’ll want to see some free memory on this graph. The real problem, however, comes when your in-use memory fills up most of the graph. This means you simply don’t have any RAM left to use! You can free up memory by organizing processes by their Working memory share and shutting down memory hogs. If your system has limited memory, however, you may simply need to add more memory to your PC.
Hard Disk & Network Usage
Most users underestimate the effect their hard drive can have on overall system performance. The speed with which you can download files, install programs, transfer information, and open programs can all be affected by your hard drive’s performance. Sometimes a program, such an anti-virus scanner, will bombard your hard disk with requests for information.
Opening up the Disk tab will show you the Processes with Disk Activity display. This shows you all the active processes that are consuming your hard disk’s time. You’ll usually see a few common Windows processors, like System and svchost.exe, listed here. But you may also see other programs. This may clue you in as to why programs are loading slowly.
Finally, take a look at the Network tab. You will again see a Processes with Network Activity display, which is very useful for tracking down programs that are making unwanted network connections (although nasty malware is often programmed to dodge Windows Resource Monitor or disguise itself as a more innocent process). You can also analyze your active network connections using the TCP connections display.
Familiarzing yourself with Windows Resource Monitor is a great idea. It is a very effective program that can tell you a lot about why your computer is behaving well or poorly. You can track down runaway programs and close them, and you can also see if a hardware upgrade is necessary to use the programs you prefer.