Find and Research Software Running in the Background With Windows Task Manager

September 9, 2013

Over the weekend I was getting ready to watch a football game on my laptop and it sure seemed like there was a lot of memory (RAM) in use. Since my game was about an hour away from kickoff, I went on a search and destroy mission on unnecessary stuff running in the background.

One of the better ways to see how much memory is in use and what programs are using the memory is to bring up the Windows Task Manager. Right-clicking on the Taskbar at the bottom of your screen should give up a menu choice for Start Task Manager. Another method is to press Ctrl + Alt + Del and then choose Start Task Manager from the screen that appears.

Below is a screenshot of Task Manager and you’ll note I have selected the Processes tab as it shows details on every little thing running. For a search and destroy mission, it is probably best to list the tasks in alphabetical order as sorting by CPU or Memory use can make them jump around a bit. How do you alphabetize them? Just click on the Image Name row title if they are not already in alphabetical order.
Windows Task ManagerNow that we have the window open, we need to first look at the very bottom at the three pieces of information. First is the number of Processes, then the percentage of CPU use and last the percentage of (physical) memory in use. Ideally a lower number is best on all three numbers, though there are many processes required just to run Windows so don’t expect that number to get below 50 or so.

I have highlighted one item and let’s pretend we want to investigate it. First, we see the Image Name is YSIAgent.exe. Currently it is using no CPU and 8600K of memory. Nothing horrible, but a bunch of unnecessary items using even small amounts of memory can really add up. The right-hand column shows a longer description. Now I know just from looking that “Yousendit Agent” is nothing bad (like a virus or malware), but that doesn’t mean it needs to be running.

If you don’t know the purpose of a particular process, go to Google and enter the Image Name as your search criteria. You’ll get some sites in your results that will tell you more about what the particular program does and whether it may be dangerous. In the case of the Yousendit Agent, I can probably just go into the programs settings and tell it that it shouldn’t be run automatically.

ZoneAlarm 2013 Security SuitesFor other programs, you’ll want to go into Control Panel | Programs and uninstall them. Obviously you don’t want to uninstall something you truly need. On my laptop I found some junk that was installed without my permission when I had installed some other things. When you get in Control Panel, you may have to dig a bit to find some of the junk uninstalled that way. Why? Because they really don’t want you to uninstall it.

Some of this “junk” is really malware or a virus and it may be even more difficult to remove. The Web sites that explain who is behind an image name may have suggestions for how to remove them. If you have good anti-malware or anti-virus utilities involved (I like ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite), they can often remove some of these programs.

Take a few minutes every month or two to see exactly what is running in the background and prune the junk. You’ll soon find your computer is running faster and crashing a lot less often.

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