One fact of life with Windows is that, every once in a while, your computer will slow down or freeze, or a program won’t work the way you expect it to. Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a way of finding out what had gone wrong, and why — whether it’s CPU use, memory use, a program behaving badly, or something else? Yes, it would definitely be nice to know all these things, and more. And that’s why the Resource Monitor exists. This tutorial will show everything you need to know about this great tool and how to use it.
IMPORTANT: I know it’s natural for many people to just start playing around with new programs without reading the directions first. In most cases that’s fine. In the case of Resource Monitor, you can cause all kinds of trouble if you experiment without knowing what you’re doing. That’s why you’ll see some pretty emphatic warnings here. Please heed those warnings.
Start the Resource Monitor
I honestly don’t think I’ve ever encountered a Windows program that offered so many different ways to launch it. Clearly, Microsoft intends the Resource Monitor to be used. There may even be more ways to do it than what I’ve found, so if you know another gateway to the Resource Monitor, I’d love to hear it!
Here are the ways I’ve found:
- Type Resource Monitor into the Start Menu search box, and click on the appropriate search result.
- Type resmon.exe into the Start Menu search box and press enter.
- Go to "All Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Resource Monitor".
- Press Ctrl-Shift-Esc or Ctrl-Alt-Del on your keyboard, to open the Task Manager. Then go to the Performance tab and click on the Resource Monitor button.
Whichever method you choose, you’ll see the Resource Monitor’s Overview screen, with a series of constantly changing lists and graphs, giving you a window into what your computer is doing behind the scenes.
OK, it’s Open. Now What?
The Overview window shows your CPU activity by default. You can see that there are tabs for Memory, Disk and Network. In the lower section of the left-hand window, there are collapsed windows for Disk, Network and Memory (no idea why the order is different, and it doesn’t really matter). Clicking on the arrow at the right end of the title bar will expand those lists.
You may want to expand the whole Resource Monitor window to full screen size so you can see more of what’s going on. You can also drag the bottom border of the individual windows on the left to show more or less data at a time.
Each window shows a list of programs that are currently using resources, and the graphs on the right give you a visual representation of the totals. You can change the size of the graphs, by clicking on the Views button. The default view is "Large."
Watch the changing lists and graphs and see which programs are using your resources. I found it interesting that chrome.exe shows up multiple times on my list (each tab with its own executable), and I noticed that even after I shut down TweetDeck, it continued to use resources for nearly a minute afterwards. I wish there were a way to pin this window open so I could see exactly what happened while I was actively using a program. It’s not easy to correlate a jump in the graph with an exact time and set of active resources.
CPU, I See You!
Let’s start by exploring the CPU window, which is the default view. It will be easier to see all the information if you expand the Resource Monitor window to full screen size (click on the Tile box in the upper right corner). Click on the CPU tab, and you’ll find the Processes window expanded. Beneath that are collapsed windows for Services, Associated Handles, and Associated Modules.
I won’t be discussing Associated Handles and Associated Modules, in detail though. They get populated with data only after you select a running process or service.
NOTE: For those who want to know what modules and handles are: modules are helper files or programs, such as dynamic-link library (DLL) files used by the process you select, while handles are pointers that refer to system elements such as files, registry keys, events, or directories used by the selected process.
On the right, you’ll see graphs of CPU usage that scroll to show you your data in real time. If you have a multi-core CPU, the first two graphs show average data for all cores, while the others are independent for each core. These are mostly self-explanatory, so I’m not going to go into any detail about them.
Let’s look at the Processes window. On the left, you’ll see a list of processes, the PID (process identifier), the name of the process (which is very helpful for identifying what it is), its status (running, or otherwise), its threads (a core element of Windows 7 processes that most people don’t have to concern themselves with), CPU (CPU usage right at any one moment) and average CPU (usage averaged over time). If you can’t read the column headings or content, grab each column’s divider in the title bar and slide them to the right one by one till everything is visible. If you hover the cursor over each column heading, a description of that column will pop up.
If you have any processes that are not responding, their names will show up in red.
What can you do with this list? Like many Windows programs, Resource Monitor lets you sort the contents of the columns in ascending or descending order. Click on the Average CPU list, to sort it with the processes using the most resources at the top. Chances are good you won’t see any big resource hogs, since most Windows 7 programs are well behaved. But if you should find your computer slowing down unexpectedly, take a look at this column. If something is taking up a lot of CPU resources, you may want to consider shutting it down and restarting it. If you’re not sure what something is, right-click on the name and choose Search online from the list. That will pull up a search for you with your default browser and search engine, and you can find out more about what each of those sometimes-cryptic names represents.
If a process shows up in red and its status is "Not Responding" or something similar, you can shut down that process by right-clicking on the process name and choosing "End Process."
WARNING: Do not use "End process" unless you are absolutely, positively sure you know what you’re doing. Windows 7 will ask you if you’re sure you want to end the process before it shuts it down, but that won’t protect you if you say yes to something and you only think you know what’s going on. Some processes are interlinked and shutting down only one can wreak havoc on the others. Also, you definitely do not want to end the SYSTEM process or svchost.exe and other Windows processes that are critical to its functioning. When ending processes, make sure you know what they are and what they do.
The Services window is similar to the Processes window. Try expanding it without collapsing the Processes window and take a look. You’ll see a list of names that are different from the names in the Processes window, which will also change as you watch. The difference is that these things are running Windows internal services.
If you select one or more of the running processes, the Service window will show only the services associated with those processes. This can be pretty handy information at times.
If you right-click on a service name, you’ll see that you have the option to stop the service, restart it (in case it is malfunctioning but you need to use it) or search for more information about it online.
Learn How the Memory is Used
Next, click on the Memory tab. At the top, you’ll see a list of the programs and processes that are using memory space, and at the bottom, a bar graph showing you where and how your available memory is in use. The columns are labeled Hard Faults/sec, Commit, Working Set, Shareable, and Private, each followed by (KB) - meaning memory space in kilobytes.
You probably won’t see anything but zeroes in the Hard Faults/sec column. The term "hard fault" is somewhat misleading--it’s not really a "fault" in the memory, it’s an instance where Windows 7 ran out of space in RAM and had to use the swap file (hard drive space that’s set aside by Windows to be used when physical memory runs out). If you do see a lot of hard faults, it’s a good indication that you need to buy some more memory for your computer.
The Commit column shows you how much memory space Windows 7 allots for each program by default. The program may or may not be using all of that space. (If your columns are not already sorted, click on this one to show you what’s using up the most memory.) The Working Set column shows you how much memory each program is actually using at the moment.
The Sharable column shows you how much of the memory allotted to each program can actually be shared by other programs, and the Private column shows how much of the memory allotted to each program can be used only by that program. If a program shows up as using way too much memory, you can decide to close it.
The bar graph of memory use is self-explanatory and so are the graphs shown on the right side of the Resource Monitor window.
What’s Got the Disk?
The Disk section, as you probably know, shows you what’s using hard drive resources. This can be very useful if your hard drive light stays on and you’re not sure why. There are three windows labeled Processes with Disk Activity, Disk Activity, and Storage. Expand them all and take a look. You’ll probably also want to expand the column headings so you can see the whole title. In the column headings, "B/sec" stands for "bytes per second."
There is not a lot you can (or should) do with the information in this section. You might be surprised to see how much disk activity your favorite programs require, but again, since Windows 7 programs are usually well behaved, it would be very uncommon for you to see something really going crazy and making your hard drive keep churning away, except for programs used to download files. As with the other Resource Monitor sections, you can right-click on any name you don’t know, and click Search online to get an explanation (this works in the Processes with Disk Activity section only). You can also end those processes from the same right-click menu, but again, that’s not recommended unless you know what you are doing. In the Disk Activity section, right-clicking on the names does nothing, so if you’re curious about those, you’ll have to look them up on your own.
The bottom section, Storage, shows a list of your drives with information on Logical Disk, Physical Disk, Active Time, Available Space, Total Space and Disk Queue Length.
The first few are self-explanatory. "Disk Queue Length" is an indication of how many requests for disk space are waiting to be fulfilled. Unless you’re doing something out of the ordinary or you have software that’s seriously misbehaving, this column’s data will be mostly zeroes. Which is as it should be.
What Using the Network & the Internet
The final tab is Network. When you open this one, you’ll see sections for Processes with Network Activity, Network Activity, TCP Connections, and Listening Ports. The first section is the only one you can do anything with; the others are for your information but you cannot manipulate or change anything in them. TCP Connections and Listening Ports contain information that is useful to more advanced users, with very good networking knowledge, so I won’t be talking much about them.
Take a look at the Processes with Network Activity section. Here you’ll find a list with programs you’re running that are connecting to your network and to the Internet. You probably won’t find any surprises here, since it’s likely to be a list of browsers, instant-messaging and Twitter clients, network connection processes and programs like Dropbox that rely on cloud storage. If the names are too cryptic, you can use that excellent "Search Online" command from the right-click menu to see what they are.
One very useful thing that you can do in this tab, is to select only one process or a group of processes you are interested in, and the data in the lower sections is automatically filtered, so that you can see the Network Activity, TCP Connections or Listening Ports, only for the selection you made.
The graphs on the right are pretty self-explanatory and show an overview of your network activity, TCP connections and activity over your local area connection.
The Resource Monitor is an excellent way to open a window into Windows 7, so to speak. It lets you look at what’s going on behind the scenes, and stop activity that’s causing problems. As long as you proceed with caution and don’t just play around with things for the sake of playing around, you can learn a lot about what’s happening inside your computer and (especially if you spent any time at all dealing with older versions of Windows) you can definitely appreciate how well Windows 7 is designed to work.
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