CTRL + ALT + DEL is the keyboard shortcut you routinely use when you suspect something’s wrong with your Windows computer. Sorting through the Task Manager, you notice something like svchost.exe using 99% of your CPU or several instances of a cryptic process running. So now what?
Bill Gates admitted the CTRL + ALT + DEL keyboard shortcut was a mistake. It used to open the Task Manager, but was later replaced by a more comprehensive menu. The problem is, looking at raw processes listed in the Task Manager leaves most people confused and just as clueless as before. So they turn to Google and maybe that’s how you found this article.
If you’re wondering about a particular process or how to fix an issue it causes, we’ll equip you with the resources to find the solution yourself.
What’s In The Windows Task Manager?
It looks intimidating, but you need not get a headache when you look at the Windows Task Manager. You came here for a reason: to find out what’s distressing your computer. Maybe you’re looking for the process that causes high CPU usage, which in turn makes your annoyingly noisy fan run at full speed.
Be sure to click Show processes from all users to also see System processes or processes from other logged in users.
To get a better overview of the issue at hand, for example to identify the process that hogs up all your memory, sort the entries in the Processes tab by clicking the respective category header. If you’re running Windows 8, the Processes tab will look slightly different. It is meant to provide a quick overview; switch to the Details tab for more information.
How To Get Information Via The Windows Task Manager
So one of the processes caught your attention and you’d like to find out more. Your options within the default Task Manager are somewhat limited, although in Windows 8 Microsoft took some cues from Process Explorer, Microsoft’s advanced Task Manager for Windows.
You can right-click a process and select Properties to identify when it was Created (installed) and other details. This might give you a clue whether or not a cryptic process is legit or potential malware. Additionally, you can open the file location or end the process or its entire tree via the right-click menu. In the Windows 8 Task Manager, you can also search online to find out more about a process.
Is This Process Safe?
Often, malware will try to mask itself in the Task Manager by imitating legitimate Windows system processes. Processes running under a user name or with a description that deviates from the norm are particularly suspicious. In the end, only a thorough investigation and malware scans can reveal whether or not your system is clean.
Meanwhile, the best source for finding out more about a cryptic process is the Process Library (our overview). It’s a continuously updated database with information about Windows processes, that presently contains almost 200,000 entries. Simply enter the process name in the search field and get an instant opinion regarding its security level.
When you find yourself using this service on a regular basis, you can install their ProcessQuickLink tool to take you directly from the Task Manager to the website.
I Think I Identified Malware!
Should you discover a process that appears to be malware, take immediate action. First, see whether you can get rid of the process by removing startup items; maybe it’s a harmless tool that you don’t really need.
If the process is persistent and not a system process, scan your system for malware. You can also ask for advice on MakeUseOf Answers. If it turns out you caught an infection after all, follow our Malware Removal Guide to eliminate unwanted guests. Aaron’s 10 Steps To Take When You Discover Malware are also highly recommended.
Chrome Is A Special Case
If Chrome concerns you, know that the browser itself offers a way more powerful tool to examine its processes than the Windows Task Manager.
In Chrome’s own Task Manager, you can immediately identify which websites or extensions consume most of your memory and CPU power. Right-click the title bar of any Chrome window and select Task manager or simply click SHIFT + ESC. Google also offers Stats for nerds; click the respective link in the bottom left of its Task Manager.
How Often Do You Check The Task Manager?
Windows Task Manager processes are often cryptic. Worse, malwares try to fly under the radar by mimicking the names of legit Windows system processes. A suspicious candidate can be tackled from different angles: checking when and where it was installed, under what user it’s running, what the description says, what a library says about the item, and whether or not it raises a red flag in a malware scan. If everything appears to be harmless and the process doesn’t consume a ton of resources, you should let it go.
What interesting things have you found via your Task Manager? Do you use any tools not mentioned here to identify processes? Please share your resources with us.