Process Explorer – The Most Powerful Task Manager Replacement [Windows]

Chris Hoffman 24-12-2012

process explorerLet’s be honest, the Windows Task Manager isn’t that great for understanding and managing the processes running on your computer. Even on Windows 8 How to Make Windows 8 Go Faster: 8 Tips For Improving Performance Whatever you think of Windows 8 (at MakeUseOf, our opinions are mixed), it’s certainly speedy. Windows 8 boots faster than previous versions of Windows, has lower memory usage, and has a desktop that feels nice... Read More , where it’s much-improved, the task manager can’t come close to the power of Process Explorer. It’s part of the Sysinternals set of tools that Microsoft purchased – and for good reason. They’re among the most powerful system utilities for Windows.


In addition to its power, Process Explorer is also flexible. It’s available from Microsoft as a single .exe file. That makes it a portable app you can throw on a USB drive 7 Uses for a USB Stick You Didn't Know About You've used USB sticks to transport files between computers and back up files, but there is much more you can do with a USB stick. Read More and run on any computer.

Understanding The Processes Running On Your Computer

Perhaps the greatest thing about Process Explorer – from a power-user perspective – is the way it helps visualize the processes running on your computer and their relation to each other.

The task manager included with Windows is a bit of a mess, displaying all running processes in a flat list. It works if you’re hunting for a specific process by name, but it doesn’t give you an overview that really helps you understand what’s going on.

It’s particularly messy if you use multi-process applications like Google Chrome – what if Google Chrome was misbehaving and you needed to kill all its processes? The Windows Task Manager doesn’t make it easy.

process explorer


Process Explorer helps make much more sense of this. The most obvious improvement is the hierarchical tree of processes – we can see the main chrome.exe process that launched all other Chrome processes and understand what Google Chrome The Best Chrome Extensions A list of only the best extensions for Google Chrome, including suggestions from our readers. Read More is doing. If we wanted to force-quit Google Chrome entirely, we could right-click the top chrome.exe process and select Kill Process Tree. If we wanted to hide all these chrome.exe processes so they didn’t clutter the list, we could click the minus icon to collapse that part of the tree.

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Other improvements also help make this list easier to understand. Each process has an associated icon, a description, and a company name. These descriptions and names may be blank – it’s up to each program to provide this information.

Color-coding helps, too. Processes colored blue are your own processes, while processes colored pink are system services. Your desktop processes will appear under explorer.exe near the bottom of the list, while services will appear under services.exe near the top. This helps sort the process list so you aren’t sifting through system services while viewing the processes running on your desktop.


To view which colors correspond to which types of processes and customize the colors, click the Options menu and select Configure Colors.

process explorer download

More Features

Process Explorer is packed with features, including all the ones you’d expect from the Windows Task Manager. You can right-click a process to kill it, change its priority level, or set its CPU affinity and force it to run on only a specific CPU. We won’t focus on all these features – we’ll focus on cool things you can do with Process Explorer that you can’t do with the Windows Task Manager.

  • Search Online: This feature is present in Windows 8’s new task manager, but it showed up in Process Explorer first. You can right-click any running process in the list and select Search Online to quickly search for it online. This can help you understand exactly what the process is and where it came from.
  • Detailed Process Properties: To view information about a process, right-click it and select Properties. If a process is automatically starting with your computer, Process Explorer will tell you where it’s configured to do so. If a process is hiding in the background, you can click Bring to Front to view its window (assuming it has a visible window).

process explorer download

  • Detailed Resource Usage Information: Process Explorer exposes many more ways of visualizing resource usage Taking A Closer Look At Windows Resource Monitor Read More . In addition to system-wide resource usage graphs, you’ll find per-process CPU, memory, and disk usage graphs in a process’s properties window. You can also see a graph of GPU (graphics card) usage – either per-process or system-wide. To view system-wide resource usage data, click the View menu and select System Information.

process explorer for windows

  • Unlock Locked Files: Have you ever seen a message saying a specific file or folder is in-use by a process and can’t be deleted or moved? This is often to prevent files that are legitimately in-use from being modified, but sometimes programs continue locking a file even when they don’t need it. To see which program is using a file, you can click Find and select Find a Handle or DLL. Search for the name of the file or folder and Process Explorer will tell you which process is “locking” the file. To remove the lock so you can delete or move the file, right-click the handle itself and select Close Handle.

process explorer

  • Find a Window’s Process: Not sure what process a specific window belongs to? Click and drag the target-shaped icon on the Process Explorer toolbar over another window on your desktop. Process Explorer will show you which process the window belongs to.
  • Replace the Windows Task Manager: Love Process Explorer and wish the Windows Task Manager was this awesome? Just click the Options menu and select Replace Task Manager. Whenever you open the task manager – either by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Escape, right-clicking the task bar and selecting Start Task Manager, or pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete and clicking Start Task Manager – Process Explorer will appear instead.


Process Explorer is listed on both our Best Windows Software The Best PC Software for Your Windows Computer Want the best PC software for your Windows computer? Our massive list collects the best and safest programs for all needs. Read More and Best Portable Apps The Best Portable Apps That Require No Installation Portable apps don't need installation. You can run them from even a flash drive. Here are the best portable apps around. Read More pages because it’s an amazing tool. If you’re looking for another third-party task manager replacement, you may also want to check out Process Hacker Monitor Your Computer Better With Process Hacker Read More or System Explorer Monitor What's Really Going On With Your PC With System Explorer Read More .


What do you think of Process Explorer? Do you prefer another task manager replacement? Leave a comment and share your favorite tool!

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    December 2, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    It did not work for me have done all scans by anti virus , by windows scanner checked for updates and also scanned with chrome scanner , if it happens to you to then follow these steps
    >>open task manager >> click on performances tab >> then open Resources Monitor. A new window will open in that window there are some tabs >> open CPU tab, there will be a box where all the running process are mentioned >> just right click on the process (which you want to end) >> the click on the option (SUSPEND PROCESS) thats all the process will stop runig and your PC is free :)

  2. Ron
    January 4, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    Nice improvement as compared to the windows version

  3. Paul Hays
    December 31, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I've made friends with this app and I'm beginning to love it. A very strong contender for top of the heap of "explorer" replacement products. A+

  4. Aaron
    December 30, 2012 at 4:26 pm

    SystemExplorer is a better option.

  5. Deekshith Allamaneni
    December 30, 2012 at 1:23 am

    I wish Microsoft replaces its task manager with ProcessExplorer in its next version.

  6. Ashwin Divakaran
    December 29, 2012 at 11:06 am

    Nice Research and Explanation !! But a little Complicated for newbies.

  7. Kieran Colfer
    December 29, 2012 at 7:14 am

    About the only reason to not fully replace taskmgr with this would be if you're a power user and need to worry about system services, as it doesn't seem to cover those.

  8. Scott Macmillan
    December 28, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I have been using this for quite a while.A great application.

  9. dustin c
    December 28, 2012 at 8:41 am

    i dont primarily use this for task manager replacement, however it is an absolute MUST HAVE tool for finding some really, really nasty rootkits, if you know how to use it.

  10. Ole Funch
    December 28, 2012 at 6:35 am
  11. Ole Funch
    December 28, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Dont like it.
    OK - hard Words because it realy is a very good Tool to see and manage many Things, and processes
    I'm missing the Applikation pane, this because if i.e. a specific app. hangs and I want to stop it, then it is very easyer to use the old TaskManager to stop the exact problem insted of, searching the *,exe file among all the other processes.

  12. Kieran Colfer
    December 27, 2012 at 7:06 am

    Replaced my task manager with this ages ago - is most useful for the "unlock locked files" option, as windows isn't very good at finding that sort of stuff. I keep a copy of it in my Google Drive and on a USB stick, so if I ever have to try to debug someone's computer, I always have it to hand :-)

  13. Anonymous
    December 27, 2012 at 5:29 am

    The hierarchical task listing alone is worth the price of admission. I also like the window->process identifier. Taskman is one tool which I use regularly--I think I'm going to like this a lot.

  14. Márcio Guerra
    December 27, 2012 at 2:09 am

    Very nice, despite the fact that I'm currently on Linux or Mac... However, if someday I'll go back to Windows, it seems a very nice program. Task Manager really sucks...

    Thank you! Cheers!

    Márcio Guerra

  15. CleverMind
    December 27, 2012 at 1:17 am

    Let Mr. Mark Russinovich know about this at his Twitter account " @markrussinovich I'm sure it's not a bug. It probably was either removed ( you'll have to ask why ) or forgotten about from one version to the next I'll send him a tweet about this article and about your issue.


  16. Ebuka Mmaduekwe
    December 26, 2012 at 7:51 pm

    actually this is far better than process suspender

  17. Jigar Amin
    December 26, 2012 at 12:57 pm

    Been using this since while, and its perfect :):)
    Easiest way to get any version:

  18. Meena Bassem
    December 26, 2012 at 10:27 am

    i use version 15.03 of process explorer. and one reason that's keeping me from upgrading is that i always like to keep it running in tray icon. one click to show and another click on the tray icon to hide. in the new version, there's only one click to show, if i click once more, it just brings it to the top of other windows, not hide it.till that bug is fixed, i will keep using it that version :(

    • CleverMind
      December 29, 2012 at 3:17 am

      Let Mr. Mark Russinovich know about this at his Twitter account " @markrussinovich I'm sure it's not a bug. It probably was either removed ( you'll have to ask why ) or forgotten about from one version to the next I'll send him a tweet about this article and about your issue.


  19. Gerwell Taroma
    December 25, 2012 at 11:57 pm

    i think its just a matter of familiarization...task manager suffices my need for it and its pretty nice to play with it..

  20. vineed gangadharan
    December 25, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    Thanks for the software :)

  21. Nevzat Akkaya
    December 25, 2012 at 10:26 am

    and System Explorer :)

  22. Anonymous
    December 25, 2012 at 9:29 am

    Nicely done. Very informative. I'm gonna try this one out!

  23. Schvenn Meister
    December 25, 2012 at 8:28 am

    I believe you missed one of the most important features of ProcExp, the SUSPEND option.
    For malware removal, this is invaluable.
    Simply removing software using your AV software or Anti-Malware program is often not enough.
    There will frequently be "companion" programs hiding in the background.
    What these programs do is wait for you to remove the main malicious program and then reinstall it next time your computer reboots.
    That's where the "did you reboot your computer? twice?" questions seem funny but have a legitimate origin.

    If you know what is running on your system it's usually quite easy to spot these in ProcExp.
    Even if you don't, looking for gibberish names like 342rljkseadf.exe or for processes that do not have a company name, will often help you narrow down suspicious entities.

    So, what you can do is suspend the process in question and each child process, one by one.
    Once they're all suspended, then you can kill the offending processes.

    You can then also use AutoRuns, also a SysInternals tool to remove the offending entry from reappearing on startup.

    Between your malware and AV programs and the combination of ProcExp and AutoRuns, you can remove the vast majority of malicious software from even the most badly infected computers.

    • Douglas Mutay
      December 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm

      Your comment grab my interest even more. This Suspend option is really a must. Thank you. I will definitevely give it a try.

    • Ebuka Mmaduekwe
      December 26, 2012 at 7:52 pm

      tanks for that tip

  24. Nevzat Akkaya
    December 25, 2012 at 7:34 am

    This, "Anvir Task Manager" and "Process Lasso" are my favorites.

  25. Fawad Mirzad
    December 25, 2012 at 6:10 am

    What i really loved from its features is unlocking locked files, i have been using Unlocker , but not all the times it was working. just downloaded this one and hopefully help me

  26. Ashwin Ramesh
    December 25, 2012 at 2:53 am

    I've been using this for quite some time now. It is much more than a Task Manager. Sure does deserve a place in your Best Apps page :)

  27. Félix S. De Jesús
    December 25, 2012 at 2:42 am

    Very organized open programs... instead of end programs one by one.