Troubleshoot and speed up sluggish PCs with Process Hacker

March 1, 2010 – 18:30 by in News Print Share No Comment

If your PC feels slow, then you shouldn’t immediately rush off to disable services, remove startup programs, defrag your hard drive, or follow the other standard speedup tricks. A much better first step is to analyse your PC to try and identify and remove the real cause of your slowdown – and Process Hacker is the ideal tool to help.

The program is essentially a revamped, far more powerful version of Task Manager, that comes¬†packed with features to help you identify the resource hogs in your PC. But first you must configure it to show the information you’ll need.

Launch Process Hacker, right-click the Name column header, select Choose Columns, and check the boxes labelled “Name”, “PID”, “Pvt Memory”, “CPU”, “I/O Total”, “Username”, “Description”, “Threads”, “Handles”, “Total CPU Time”, “CPU History”, “I/O History”. (If you’ve used the program and checked other boxes already, then that’s fine – no need to clear them.) Click OK.

Then click Hacker > Options > Advanced, change “Max Sample History” to 1024 and click OK.

Now click the Processes tab, if it’s not already selected, and scroll down the list. By enabling “CPU History” and “I/O History” you’ll see you’ve turned on miniature graphs that show how much CPU time and I/O (input/output) activity each process is carrying out, a simple visual indicator that highlights resource hogs at a glance. Pay particular attention to anything with regular spikes of activity: the program may be grabbing more than its share of CPU or I/O time.

We tried this on a test PC and the results were surprising. CyberLink’s InstantBurn was running in our system tray, for instance, and we wouldn’t have thought it needed to be doing anything. Yet Process Hacker showed regular spikes of I/O activity.

This PC had VMware Workstation installed, too, and again we wouldn’t have expected this to be using any resources when the program wasn’t running. But again, Process Hacker showed otherwise. A system tray process called “vmware-tray.exe” was using 20MB of RAM and permanent I/O activity, while a service called vmware-authd.exe was almost equally busy.

If the graphs don’t reveal anything for you, then click twice on the Pvt Memory column header. This will sort your processes by the amount of RAM they’re using, another very useful way to highlight the resource hogs. In our case, for instance, it turned out the Windows Search indexing service was using more RAM than anything else, a chunky 235MB, and much more than we expected.

You shouldn’t immediately take drastic action on these results. Right-click a memory-hogging process, for instance, and you can close it at a click: but if it’s a system-critical component then your PC may crash.

A better idea is simply to look at the processes that are using up your system resources, and, if you don’t need them, looking for ways to avoid running them in future.

For example, on our PC we didn’t need CyberLink InstantBurn, so launched the InstantBurn System Configuration tool and clicked the Disable button to turn it off. It wouldn’t launch next time and we’d save a few system resources.

Optimising VMware Workstation proved equally straightforward: clicking Edit > Preferences and clearing “Show tray icon” removed the VMware-tray.exe process, freeing up additional resources for other apps.

So, once you’ve used Process Hacker to identify the resource hogs on your PC, uninstall any you don’t need, then change your settings to ensure that others are run only when necessary. It’ll only take a few minutes, but this kind of targeted customisation is key to ensuring your PC is always running at the fastest possible speed.

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