Tip o’ the Week #40 – monitoring your PC’s innards

clip_image002Everyone can see their PC slow down inexplicably, but getting to the bottom of why can be tricky. It could be an occasional task that’s running (like an update being applied to Anti-Virus software), or perhaps something more sinister is going on – a badly constructed web page causing IE to use up system resources, even a virus doing its dirty work. Or maybe it’s just Outlook deciding that it needs to do some lengthy maintenance to large data files.

There are plenty of tools built into Windows 7 that will help tell you what is happening – such as the “CPU Meter” desktop Gadget (right-click on desktop, choose Gadgets, and drag it onto the desktop to see a realtime view of how your computer’s processor – CPU-  is performing, and how much memory is currently in use).

If you want to get deeper under the hood, there’s always Performance Monitor or its new friend, Resource Monitor (just go to start menu, type “Resource” and you’ll find it).

A quick and relatively simple way of checking what’s hogging your PC’s performance, is the Task clip_image003Manager tool – you can start it by pressing CTRL-ALT-DEL and choosing Start Task Manager from the list, or right-click on the taskbar and see the same option, or (the quickest and easiest way), simply press CTRL+SHIFT+ESC.

Task Manager gives you the ability to see which applications or processes are using the main resources on the machine, and if necessary, gives you the ability to close them down. It’s possible to add other columns to the list, so you could see how much disk I/O each process is generating (so if your laptop’s hard disk is thrashing the whole time, you might see which app is causing it). Resource Monitor adds another layer of detail, and can be started from within Task Manager’s “Performance” tab.

The Über-Monitor
If you’re feeling like all these namby-pamby built-in monitoring tools are too high level, you need ProcessExplorer. This tool came from a company (called Winternals) which Microsoft bought a few years ago, ostensibly to bring on board some nice free tools (and some that now sit in MDOP) and to get the brain of its chief technologist, one Mark Russinovich, who is now a “Technical Fellow” in Microsoft. A Jolly Technical Fellow, no less.

“Technical Fellow” is the highest technical level in Microsoft, equivalent to Corporate VP, and is bestowed on a few legendary folk.  The guy who invented Vax/VMS and designed Windows NT? Check. The guys who developed (with a few friends) the graphical UI, distributed computing, ethernet, the laser printer and the mouse? Take a bow, Butler, Chuck.

clip_image005If you ever get to see Mark give a talk at TechEd, you’ll realise just how deep his knowledge goes. Here are recordings of some of his talks – there’s also a TechEd introduction to some of the tools, here.

Process Explorer lets you see not only what services/processes are hogging the machine, but what is causing them to do it – as with any such tools, you could do a great deal of harm by killing off the wrong thing… but if you fire it up and simply have a look, it’s quite interesting…

For the true die-hards, it’s possible (through the Options menu) to “Replace Task Manager” so that ProcExp is fired up by the same means (CTRL-SHIFT-ESC etc) that Task Manager was.

This could be the new measure of the true geek – only Process Explorer users would qualify.

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