There are limits to what Windows Task Manager can do for you however. If you’re interested in the real nitty-gritty details of your computer’s inner workings you’ll need something better, stronger, faster – something like Process Hacker.
When you install and open Process Hacker you’ll be presented with a window that has three tabs. They are – from left to right – Processes, Services and Network.
Processes is the tab that will be open first by default. Like the Windows Task Manager, this tab of Process Hacker shows all of the programs and applications that are currently running on your computer. This includes programs that are running in the foreground and those that are running in the background.
There are a couple of features here that make Process Hacker more useful than Windows Task Manager. The information that appears in Process Hacker is organized into trees (you have to enable Show All Processes for this to display) that show which currently open processes rely on each other.
For example, closing explorer.exe in Windows typically causes a number of other programs to also shut down and restart. These programs are listed under explorer.exe in Process Hacker, so you know at a glance that shutting down explorer.exe would probably cause these programs to terminate.
Process Hacker also color-codes processes. The color-code chart can be found by going to Hacker –> Options –> Highlighting. This lets you quickly determine if a program is a system process, a prioritized program, etc. That information can be useful when hunting down background programs that aren’t essential.
The Service tab in Process Hacker shows you all of the different Windows services (most of them are drivers) that are on your computer. It is extremely detailed and picks up on information that Windows Task Manager will not show. Process Hacker also provides useful information about the current state of the service. The information to the right details the type of service (driver or process) current state of the service (running or stopped) and how the service is set to start (boot, demand or automatic).
There is so much service information in Process Hacker that, to be frank, it can be bewildering even for a generally tech-savvy computer user. I suggest sorting the Service tab by Running/Stopped before delving into it deeply, as the services that are running are usually the most important.
Perhaps the clearest advantage Process Hacker has over Windows Task Manager can be found in the Network tab. Windows Task Manager has a Network tab as well, of course, but it only shows overall network utilization.
Process Hacker goes far deeper. Instead of showing overall network utilization it provides in-depth information about the network connections your computer currently has opened, the IP addresses involved, and the protocol being used. The tab – like all tabs – updates in real-time, and Process Hacker highlights connections that are brand new or recently terminated.
The functionality here is advanced, but can be useful for troubleshooting network problems or searching for a program that you suspect is accessing the Internet without your permission.
Other Useful Features
One of my favorite features in Process Hacker is the ability to search for a process by its name. Let’s say, for example, that for some reason I want to find eveything on my computer related to running Dropbox. I can do this by going to Hacker –> Find Handles and DLLs and then typing in Dropbox. All the processes related to it will pop up!
Process Hacker can also find and terminate processes that are trying to hide on your computer, such as Trojans or Rootkit software. You can access this utility by clickng on Tools –> Hidden Processes. Any hidden processes active are highlighted in red, and you can then select them and attempt to terminate them. This isn’t exactly a security suite, and I don’t recommend it as your sole means of combating malware, but it can be handy.
Finally, Process Hacker includes graphs like Windows Task Manager. They can be accessed by clicking on View —> System Information. This is one area where Windows Task Manager is actually better, because the graphs are larger and clearer.
Process Hacker is a great program, and far more capable than Windows Task Manager. It can be confusing to use because of the level of detail it provides, so be prepared to deal with a learning curve if you’re not already well versed on what “processes” and “services” do. Once you get the hang of things however, you’ll find that Process Hacker is better than Windows Task Manager in almost every way.