Is Windows running too many processes?

Concerned about a slow PC, Davis13 asked the Laptops forum about all the processes that Windows runs.

Processes are programs or pieces of programs running within Windows. It's normal to have a great many of them. As I write this, I have only seven running applications, but 120 processes. And Windows is running just fine.

To examine your processes, right-click the taskbar and select Task Manager (Start Task Manager in Windows 7), then click the Processes tab.

It's easier to study the long list if you sort them. To do so by name, click the Image Name column header.

You may want to sort by other columns. Click the CPU heading to see what's hogging most of the processor's attention. You'll notice that most of the processes aren't hogging anything (or at least not enough to register). That's why you can have so many of these running and still get good performance.

If you're using XP, you may notice an outrageous hog named System Idle Process, taking up almost 100 percent of your CPU cycles. Don't worry. System Idle Process isn't actually using anything. It's just a placeholder for unused cycles. Vista and Windows 7 don't have this misleading process.

You can also sort by Memory to identify a different kind of hog.

Want to know why a particular process is up? The Image Name and Description columns should help. To make the Description column readable, expand the Task Manager window by dragging the right side of it further to the right. Then expand the Description column by dragging the edge of its header to the right, as well.

If the Description still doesn't help, visit ProcessLibrary.com and search there.

Before you kill a process, make sure that everything you're currently working on is saved to the hard drive. Then select the process and click the End Process button. After you've read the scary warning, click the other End Process button.

Be warned: This may crash a program. But it probably won't.

If you want to keep a process from loading in the future, you'll have to identify what program loads the process, and remove that program.

Read the original forum discussion.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes about technology and cinema. Email your tech questions to him at answer@pcworld.com, or post them to a community of helpful folks on the PCW Answer Line forum. Follow Lincoln on Twitter, or subscribe to the Answer Line newsletter, e-mailed weekly.

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