The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Windows Task Manager

How to Fully Use Task Manager: A Complete Guide to Everything Ctrl+Alt+Delete & Beyond in Windows 10 – Full Breakdown for Newbies

Sometimes, you have a program that you really, really need to close. But therein presents a problem: you can’t close it. There is either no red X at the top right, or you just can’t get it to work because the program won’t respond. This is where an external program called Task Manager comes in handy. It overrides all other programs so that it can force-close anything you need permanently stopped. Not to fret, your computer doesn’t hate you: Programmers just hate their life.

For the sake of context, I am currently using a Windows 10 operating system. Yes, I’m lazy. No, I don’t care about Windows 11 right now. Regardless, press the buttons Ctrl, Alt, and Delete in that order, all at once. Simplified, it’s Ctrl+Alt+Delete. If you’re using Windows 10 like I am, you should get a list of descending options that say “Lock,” “Switch user,” “Sign out,” and “Task Manager.” By the name of this article, I think you know which we’re going to be using right now. Go ahead and select “Task Manager.”

It should bring up a window that looks like this, but with different programs and/or applications listed:

For me, I have Discord, Malwarebytes, MSI Afterburner, Snipping Tool, Wacom Desktop Center, and WPS Writer. I’m too poor to afford MS Word. Why do you think I’m writing these articles? Now regardless, you’re probably trying to ask me, “Why are they saying (32 bit), Roxie?! I’m scared!”

Note: Tangent time, feel free to skip the next paragraph if you’re not interested.

It’s okay. I’m here. That just means that you’re running a program that is organized in pieces of data that are constructed of a maximum of 32 ones and zeroes in one number. Computer processors (CPU’s) – aka the brain of the computer(s) – are organized into two distinctive categories: 32-bit and 64-bit. It’s a bit convoluted, but 32-bit processors basically have a lower maximum Binary data value (aka number) they can handle (count to). It’s like having a brain that can only count to 4,294,967,295 instead of 18,446,755,073,709,551,615. Basically, having 32 ones and zeroes to work with in Binary instead of 64 ones and zeroes. It’s complicated and annoying, and probably nothing you need to worry about right now, unless you have a computer from 2010 or earlier – or one that still runs Windows XP.

Alright, tangent over. In lesser words, you can’t run a 64-bit program on a 32-bit system, but I’m sure that doesn’t matter to most people. What does matter though, is closing programs. Let’s say I wanted to force-close Discord. Select (click on) whatever program you don’t care about and want to effortlessly banish to the ever-living void that is your computer’s program history.

Because people consistently hate Discord. Now click “End task” at the bottom right.

SHAZAM! Begone with you. Not to fret any more, I exorcised the demon. It will no longer corrupt the minds of our youth. No, but really though, Discord ain’t too bad. But that isn’t all you can do from this menu. No, young child, let me teach you the ways of managing your tasks. I’m going to right-click on Google Chrome and you can’t stop me.

That’s right, Chrome. Get right-clicked. Ha, get it? No? Oh well. “Switch to,” essentially means switch to the program so that it’s active and usually in front of your face. “End Task,” is murder. “Provide feedback,” no one uses unless you enjoy leaving bad Yelp reviews on computer programs so that Microsoft can read your biased opinions on how a program works.

I mean it’s pretty, I guess. Not that I care. Next is “Debug,” which usually would run some sort of check and either create a certain file for debugging, or show you the said debugging information for the related program. I imagine it varies based on the program and the circumstance. This is mostly used for programmers so that they can fix issues with their programs, and/or tech support can actually be useful for once.

“Create dump file,” is not related to the bathroom. It’s just another tool for programmers, similar to a debug file but different. Keep it PG, or my boss won’t pay me.

“Run new task” just opens the “Run” application, that’s literally it.

“Always on top” is a feature you can turn on and off which makes a program just appear at the top of the list at all times. “Go to details” just opens the feedback window again, on the details section so you can add to your bad review. “Open file location” opens File Explorer to the location of the executable (.exe) file in your computer which launches or opens the program you’re using. I just opened the Malwarebytes tray file location here:

“Search Online” opens your default web browser with the program name searched with your default search engine. For me, it defaults to Firefox and uses Bing.

“Properties” just opens the Properties window for the .exe file tied directly to the program you have selected.

That about covers the basics of Task Manager. Now, let’s go further into unexplored territory. You’ve probably been wondering what the “More details” button thingy does at the bottom left of the Task Manager. Go ahead and click it.

HO BOY! That’s a lot. Let’s just start with what you see here in the default tab. “Apps” are essentially just programs or applications that you are currently using and have a window to display. But that’s not all that is running on your computer. In the background are bits of code that do things for open programs, but don’t have a separate window to display for themselves. These are called Processes, under the “Background processes” header. Essentially, more things are happening than what a window for a program displays. Spooky, am I right? This is one of the ways malware (computer viruses) sneak around your computer and do things in the background.

If you scroll down far enough, you’ll reach a section called “Windows processes.” These are just processes related to running your Windows PC, and displaying everything you see on the screen. It’s tech jabber, don’t worry about it too much unless you know what you’re doing.

With all that out of the way, focus your attention at the top drop-down menus:

– “File–>Run new task” is the same thing as before. It opens the Run program.

– “File–>Exit” closes Task Manager. “Options–>Always on top” is an option that you can enable and disable which makes it so that Task Manager always appears open and active, even when other programs are present, so if you’re doing something complicated or you don’t have access to the task bar at the time, you can consistently keep it accessible and within visual reach.

– “File–>Minimize on use” is another thing you can turn on and off. When you use the previously mentioned “Switch to” option, task manager will be minimized in place of the selected program if this option is on. If not, it will remain un-minimized/visually seen over and usually on top of the switched-to program.

– “Options–>Set default tab” is where you can select which tab of the Task Manager is shown automatically when you open Task Manager itself.

– “Options–>Show full account name” shows the full name for user accounts on the “Users” tab.

– “Options–>Show history for all processes” unhides/hides the history for the system processes in the “App history” tab.

– “View–>Refresh now” refreshes the information displayed on Task Manager in case it’s lagging behind for some reason, or doesn’t display something, has an error that might be fixed by refreshing, etc. This is useful when you have the Update Speed set to Pause, which will be covered next.

– “View–>Update speed” sets the update speed of the information in Task Manager to get more data in a certain time interval.

– “View–>Group by type” essentially makes the little headers such as “Apps” and “System Processes” etc, appear or disappear.

– “View–>Expand all” makes all the headers expand to show their contents.

– “View–>Collapse all” makes all the headers collapse to hide their contents.

Whew, that was a lot. Hope you captured it all and don’t have a headache like me. But we’re not done. Let’s move on to the “Performance” tab.

This is essentially where you can monitor how different devices on your PC that do some sort of calculation or computation are functioning (in the scrollable menu to the left). To the right of “CPU” is your processor. I have an AMD Ryzen 7 2700x, which is an Eight-Core Processor. This means there are 8 mini-brains in the big brain which is the CPU. Big brain power activate.

In the case that you don’t know how to read a time-based histogram graph like the one pictured, it shows the history of how hard the device is working. The higher the line is, the harder the PC is working at any given time. Since it says 30 seconds on the bottom left of the graph, that means that it is showing how hard the device (in this case, the CPU) has worked in the last 30 seconds. It goes in a percentage of use, so make sure that the line is not all the way at the top, or your CPU might overload or overheat, or something might go wrong – especially if you don’t have proper cooling in the PC itself. Water coolers, liquid coolers, and PC fans are useful for this, but that’s for another time.

Some data in the form of numbers and words is listed below the graph:

– Utilization: This shows how much of the CPU is being used at the moment, in terms of processing power or otherwise.

– Speed: The speed at which the processor is running at, displayed in Gigahertz, usually.

– Processes: How many processes are running at the current moment, be it System Processes or otherwise.

– Threads: This is a programmer’s term for how many individual pieces of code are running at once.

– Handles: Mostly for programmers. It’s essentially the number of system resources that a program uses.

– Up time: How long ago you restarted your computer. Note, this does not include turning it off and turning it back on. The format is “Days:Hours:Minutes:Seconds”

– Base speed: The minimum speed your processor operates at, at any given time.

– Sockets: How many CPU sockets your motherboard has. Basically how many brain-slots your computer has.

– Cores: How many mini-brains your CPU has.

– Logical processors: A term having to do with a long process of something called hyper-threading, where your computer uses one mini-brain as multiple mini-brains.

– L1, L2 & L3 cache: Different stores of memory that your PC uses to think, like an erasable chalk board with a bunch of formulas written down. L1 is the fastest and smallest chalkboard, L3 is biggest and slowest chalkboard.

Next, we have the RAM, or Random Access Memory. This is basically the short-term memory for a PC that it needs to access regularly to do certain things. If the PC doesn’t have much RAM, it can’t remember much and is bad at multitasking, to put it in laymen’s terms.

The first graph you see is the “Memory usage.” Up on the top left is the amount of RAM you have in your PC. I have 16 gigabytes in mine (16.0 GB). “Memory composition” is split into four categories, from left to right on the graph:

– In use: This RAM memory is being accessed and used for stuff the computer is currently doing.

– Modified: Information that is currently being stored and worked on by open programs. I think this article is part of it.

– Standby: Information taking up RAM that isn’t currently in use, but has the potential to be, so it’s not outright deleted.

– Free: How much memory is open for the computer to use freely.

There are also some data points below:

– In use (Compressed): Same as “In use” as stated above.

– Available: How much RAM is able to be repurposed and/or used. This includes the “Standby” and “Free” as stated above.

– Committed: This is complicated. It’s basically the amount of RAM in use, combined with the amount of space the PC is using in your internal storage for RAM, along with certain files having to do with RAM usage, and the amount of RAM that could be in use. It’s a weird mess that only makes sense to high-tech hardware people, quite frankly.

– Paged pool & Non-paged pool: Memory totals having to do with a file stored on the main disk drive that interacts with RAM to make things work.

– Speed: Pretty self explanatory. The speed of the RAM. Mine is 1400 Megahertz.

– Slots used: How many physical slots are used up by insertable sticks of RAM.

– Form factor: The certain size that is required of RAM sticks to fit into the slots.

– Hardware reserved: The amount of RAM reserved for the physical and/or electrical operations of the actual parts in your computer.

The next part is fairly easy to understand. We’ll be looking at disk drives now.

On the left, we have a bunch of disk drives, be them flash drives (Removable), solid state drives (SSD), and/or hard disk drives (HDD). You can tell what they are by the small designation underneath the numbering assignment (Disk #) and above the percentage. The main disk drive constantly reads files and writes files, constantly editing, organizing, and re-organizing to keep your computer active and alive. There is a maximum write and read speed, which is displayed as a percentage of usage on the first graph. At the top right is the exact model of the drive, which is “WDC WDS500GB2B0A-00SM50” for me.

Underneath the first graph is the “Disk transfer rate,” which is a magnified and more detailed view of the read and write speeds of the disk. “Read speed” is pretty self explanatory, and so is “Write speed,” but there are other bits you might not know about:

– Active time: The total amount of usage of the disk drive.

– Average response time: The time between receiving a command and carrying it out, akin to Ping if you’re a gamer or network specialist.

– Capacity: The total amount of storage space available on the drive.

– Formatted: The total amount of usable storage space on the drive.

– System disk: If it’s the main drive or not.

– Page file: If it has a certain file used by RAM on it.

– Type: What kind of drive it is. SSD, HDD, External, etc.

Second to last, we have Wi-Fi. I hate networking.

On the Wi-Fi tab, we have the name of the device used to receive Wi-Fi signals at the top left. This is basically a glorified antenna used to access the internet. The graph, called “Throughput” is essentially how much internet you’re using and how fast it’s going. For me, the top of the graph is a dismal 100 kilobytes per second. As for the little stats below:

– Send: Upload speed. How much data you’re sending to servers and other devices through the internet.

– Receive: Download speed. How much data you’re receiving from servers and other devices through the internet.

– Adapter name: The designation of the antenna. Mine is “Wi-Fi 2” because this is the second antenna I’ve plugged into my PC. It’s much faster, too, thank goodness.

– SSID: The name of the Wi-Fi (or ethernet/wired/cable) network you’re connected to.

– Connection type: Hard to explain, but basically how the type of internet operates. I recommend looking more into this on your own if you’re interested.

– IPv4 & IPv6 address: How the network and other devices tell your device apart from the others on the network. Basically like a name in a networking sense.

– Signal strength: This one’s pretty obvious. It’s the strength of the signal, or how well you’re connected and receiving information, vice versa.

Lastly is the graphics card, which is both the most simple device on this list, and the most complex.

The graphics card is essentially the thing in your PC that calculates all the cool visuals and stuff. It’s mostly used for gaming. There are a few graphs listed:

– 3D: How hard your 3D graphics (visuals) engine is working inside your graphics card to make 3d images appear. Listed in a percentage value of the hardest it can work (being 100%, or the top of the graph).

– Copy: How hard the copy engine is working in your graphics card. This handles the process of moving electronic-based information from one place to another in the card itself. The graphics card has its own set of (“short term memory”) RAM called VRAM (Video Random Access Memory), and the Copy engine helps maintain and use it.

– Video Encode: Videos were originally massive files, so to combat this problem, people made them smaller by encoding them so they can be transferred easier – kinda like shortening someone’s name such as “Roxie Revonae” to RR, and using a guide to translate it back to “Roxie Revonae.” The “Video Encode” graph is essentially how hard the graphics card is working to make a video smaller so that it can be sent somewhere else (aka “uploaded”). This is often used for livestreaming and the like.

– Video Decode: How hard the graphics card is working to translate the smaller video files into larger video files so they can be viewed in high quality. This is often used for websites such a Youtube.

– Dedicated GPU memory usage: How much RAM on the graphics card is being used. I have 8 Gigabytes of VRAM on my graphics card.

– Shared GPU memory usage: When the graphics card runs out of RAM, it uses part of the RAM in your RAM sticks that are connected to your motherboard, even though it’s extremely slow for graphical purposes. This graph monitors the amount that’s being used. It’s essentially just a backup and failsafe so that your graphics card and system doesn’t die.

With the graphs out of the way, shift your attention to the bottom statistics:

– Utilization: How hard the graphics card is working in total, in comparison to the maximum it can do (100%).

– GPU Memory: How much VRAM and RAM the graphics card can use in total.

– Dedicated & Shared GPU memory: See above definitions.

– GPU Temperature: Electricity running through any sort of material creates heat based on how much electricity there is, combined with how much can reasonably get through the material at one time. Essentially think of the pressure and wear put on a material if you’re trying to push a ton of water out of a singular hole in the material. This pressure and such creates heat. That’s the concept of heat transferred through something called resistance, or the rate at which electricity is slowed down by how hard it is to be transferred in a material it passes through. This is why roughly 90% of your components in your computer heat up to some degree when your computer is on – including your graphics card, and it heats up more depending on how hard it works, due to more electricity traveling through it. (TL;DR: This is how hot your graphics card is).

– Driver version: What version of software is telling your graphics card how to use the circuits and wiring in the machine itself, and how electricity should flow through individual wires etc. These are called “drivers.”

– Driver date: When the driver the graphics card is using was finalized and made publicly available.

– DirectX version: What version of a certain software is installed that helps your graphics card process, make, and display 3D images. Look that one up yourself, if you’re interested. That’s a whole article in itself.

– Physical location: Where your graphics card is plugged in, inside your computer.

– Hardware reserved memory: How much memory on your disk drive is being used to help your computer’s physical parts run properly.

Wow, that was a load of text. Take a snack break or something – I know I will. And now that you have your Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, let’s continue onto the next tab: “App History.” The Resource Monitor you saw at the bottom left of the “Performance” tab is another article in itself – I ain’t doing it today.

This tab basically says how hard your PC had to work to run a specific program – but it’s mostly networking. It’s split into 4 statistical columns:

– CPU time: This is just how long your CPU has been working to process data from a certain program and/or process. This is not how long a certain program or application has been open – it’s just how long the CPU has been dedicating resources to it and/or processing network data, that’s it.

– Network: How much data has been used on the network, be it sending or receiving (if data usage isn’t controlled).

– Metered network: Just like “Network” (above), but the amount of data used with a connection that has its data usage controlled and/or limited. “Metering” standards vary from network to network, and device to device, etc. Network metering can also be toggled on the device you’re using. It’s complicated, best to research that yourself.

– Tile updates: How much information has been received to make the little boxes on the Windows 10 Start Menu show accurate information at any given time, based on the program attached to the box in the start menu. For example, I have Minecraft and Control Panel on there.

Next tab is the “Startup” tab. Every computer has programs it runs when it first turns on, and this affects how fast the computer starts. I don’t recommend fiddling with this unless you know what you’re doing, but here it is anyways:

The columns listed are as follows…

– Publisher: Who shipped out the program.

– Status: If the running of a program is going to happen or not when you turn your PC on.

– Startup impact: How much it slows down your computer from starting fully. “High” means it slows it down a lot.

You can also select a program and click “Disable” at the bottom right, to stop it from starting when the PC starts. Again, I don’t recommend this unless you know what you’re doing, but be my guest if you want to call Microsoft tech support the next time you turn on your PC. And just for reference, “Last BIOS time” is just how long your PC spent in its weird code-looking phase when it starts up. The BIOS is something else entirely – and would take another article to explain in detail. Just know it’s part of how your PC turns on, that’s probably all you need to know right now.

Next up is the “Users” tab:

This shows the Microsoft accounts linked to the PC, and the users created from them, on the PC. Essentially when you log into your PC or use it at all, you’re using a certain preset on your PC that is tailored to you, called a “user.” You’re a user (in the technology sense). How does it feel? You should be proud. Or not? Who knows. Regardless, the columns are a rough summary of the “Performance” tab. Just see that section of this article if you want it broken down – it would take up pointless space to reiterate.

Time for the “Details” tab – the tab you probably don’t need to understand but are forced to anyways because I’m explaining it to you regardless of your opinion on the matter.

Alright, so… this officially makes me want to end my writing career, but here we go! Columns listed:

– Name: Name of the program or process listed.

– PID: The “Process Identification” number given to a process when it first starts, so that the computer can tell processes apart.

– Status: If the process is running or suspended (stopped temporarily or permanently until it is turned back on, depending on the process)

– User name: Who’s running the process. Can be an automated name for something on your computer, or a user on the PC.

– CPU: The contribution to the usage of the CPU. If it’s 50, that means that it is contributing to 50% of the total usage that the CPU is experiencing. But that doesn’t mean that it is using up 50% of the CPU itself.

– Memory: How much RAM each program is using which other programs cannot steal and use themselves. Jeez, programs are greedy. Get a life, you applications.

– UAC virtualization: A weird programming workaround for certain file-paths and a bunch of high-tech mumbo-jumbo that you’ll likely never have to worry about unless you go into a tech industry. I encourage you to look that one up yourself, I can’t explain it in one paragraph. It involves the way that programs are given permission to do certain things on your computer, which is best saved for another article.

Finally – the last piece of the puzzle before I can finish this two-day long writing project: the “Services” tab.

Services are basically just bits of code that run in the background that help apps and processes run, but don’t necessarily do you any good directly, while also having literally no window associated with it, more often than not. An application can have multiple processes, and a process can have multiple services that it uses, but not necessarily. The services provide a service to the processes and programs/applications involved. That’s basically a computer’s version of a messed up caste system. Sorry India, I had to. I hope your societal problems get fixed soon – I’d help if I could. Now before I get my rear handed to me by my boss, let’s focus on the columns listed:

– Name: The name of the service listed.

– PID: If the service is serving and directly tied to one specific process, this is the Process Identification Number of said process.

– Description: A more detailed breakdown of what in the heck the service does. Sometimes it’s somehow even more confusing than the name itself, but alright. You do you, programmers.

– Status: If a service is stopped or running. Pretty self-explanatory. The on-and-off switch.

– Group: What group and/or category a service belongs to.

Congratulations, you’ve sat through 4,480 words so far, and that’s about it for Task Manager. I’m not going into the “Open Services” button on the bottom left. That opens another program in itself. I hope this helped. I’m going to go take a nap and electronically throw this article at my boss’s face now. Buh-bye.

Roxie out.

Roxie Revonae
So… I’m Roxie. To be fair, I’m just some person… girl… thing… on the internet who likes to shout my opinion as loud as I can while also doing it respectfully and trying to come from a place of good intents. I’m an extremely spiritual individual (the legit logic-based para-psychological stuff, not the “woo-woo” nonsense) who has a lot of diverse interests, and spends her time working on herself and trying to get ahead in life. I want to provide my views on topics that would normally be a bit controversial to some in the gaming, sci-fi, tech - whatever you’d call this blog - industry. I play games because I see them as an experience, something to enjoy and get immersed in. My favorite games used to be MMORPG’s but I’m learning to enjoy more single-player experiences as of recently. I’ve felt alone for most of my life, so the ability to interact with other players in games has been something of a comfort to me. Oh and I'm also a heathenous little thing that has to filter myself incessantly just to write these articles.
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