The most neglected feature of Windows since it landed in 1995, Task Manager has finally received some love in Windows 8. Here's what's new.
David Gilson has always revelled in tech and started writing about it in 2009. He covers the smartphone world and is rather partial to a spot of BASH scripting. David is a freelance writer and is not an employee of CNET.
You've likely been using Windows Task Manager to monitor your PC's performance or to kill errant processes since it was first introduced in Windows 95. Sadly, this drab, gray feature has seen no love from Microsoft in the ensuing decades. That's all changed with Windows 8.
The Task Manager has been given a refreshing visual update, the data is better organized, and lots of features have been added. This is a guide to making the most of the new Windows 8 Task Manager.
Finding the Task Manager
There are various ways to launch the Task Manager. Windows veterans probably know the Ctrl+Shift+Esc key combination, while the Ctrl+Alt+Del combination in Windows 8 presents a list of options including the Task Manager. You can also access it from the Start screen by typing "Task" or "Task Manager."
Accessing the different areas of Task Manager, as ever, takes place through the tabs: Processes, Performance, App History, Startup, Users, Details, and Services. The following sections describe how to use each.
The visual style of the processes list has changed a lot. It now makes excellent use of color coding, dynamically highlighting changing values. This lets you see in real time which processes are busy, without trying to take in the numerical quantities before they change again.
Speaking of quantities, they've changed too. By default you see CPU, Memory, Disk activity, and Network activity. Right-clicking on the headings lets you select even more columns. Disk activity and Network activity are important quantities that haven't been displayed in previous versions of Task Manager, though both have a real effect on PC performance.
You can sort the list by name or by any of the quantities I've just mentioned. Additionally, you can group the process list by types: Apps (Metro and Desktop), Background Processes, and Windows Services.
In the old Task Manager, visual displays of CPU and memory usage were shown in the Performance tab, but the network activity was in a separate tab. However, now all charts are listed directly under the performance tab. CPU usage, Memory usage, Disc activity, and Wi-Fi and Ethernet usage are all shown, and all have numerical summaries listed down the side. Clicking on them reveals the corresponding chart.
The CPU chart has an option to display a single chart showing overall activity. Right-clicking breaks it into charts for each logical core on your CPU. You can also see more data below the chart, such as how many threads are running, the CPU model number, how many logical cores, and the current clock speed.
The Memory (RAM) usage section has a chart of memory usage versus time and a bar chart showing the composition of your RAM usage. You can also view details of your page file usage. The disc activity section gives charts for each hard drive on your system. There is information such as the size of the drive, whether it has a page file, and what the current read and write speeds are.
The Wi-Fi and Ethernet sections give you a chart of activity versus time and the vertical axis automatically scales as the peak values change. It also displays which access point you're connected to, which type of connection you're on, your IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, and signal strength.
The App history tab applies to Metro apps only, and gives historical measurements of total CPU time, network usage, metered network usage, and data used by live tiles. This feature is primarily aimed at tablet and ultrabook owners using cellular data with bandwidth caps. The tab lets you infer how much battery power each app is (relatively) using by looking at the total CPU time and how much of your data cap each app accounts for.
Startup is another new feature in the Windows 8 Task Manager. It gives you a breakdown of how much your "launch on start" programs increase the time Windows takes to get started. Items are listed by, and can be sorted by, name, publisher, status of enabled or disabled, and startup impact -- high, medium, or low.
For instance, you can sort to find which item has the most impact on startup, or by status to check which programs you've disabled. If you find that an inessential program is taking an inordinate amount of startup time, you can right-click the item to disable its "launch on start" status.
The Users tab has been significantly updated and expanded. It displays the current usage of CPU, Memory, Disc, and Network that each logged-in user accounts for. Each row can be expanded to show all the processes that the corresponding user is running, allowing you to close in on a particularly resource-hungry application.
The Details tab is essentially a much more in-depth version of the Processes tab. By default, it lists everything that's running on your PC -- user and system processes -- by Name, Process ID, Status, User name, CPU usage, Memory usage and Description.
When you right-click on the column headings, there are far more options to choose from. This section allows users to change the priority of processes via the right-click menu. For example, if you're running a CPU-intensive process in the background that's slowing down your other applications, you can reduce its priority so that your foreground apps run more smoothly.
The final tab lists all Windows services running on your PC. It's a copy of what can be found in the corresponding Control Panel section. This is something ordinary users shouldn't need to use, though restarting and stopping services through this interface may be convenient for more advanced users.