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Windows 8 : Monitoring, optimizing, and troubleshooting system health and performance (part 1) - Processes, Performance

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1. Managing and monitoring the system by using Task Manager

Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 include a completely revamped Task Manager, which has been an effective troubleshooting tool for decades. Windows 8 Task Manager provides significantly more complete status information and information regarding the performance characteristics of Windows 8 native applications.

To access Task Manager, use one of the following methods:

  • From the desktop, press and hold or right-click the taskbar and, from the shortcut menu, choose Task Manager.

  • From the Power Users menu, choose Task Manager.

  • From the Start screen, start typing Task Manager and then tap or click the Task Manager icon.

  • Press Ctrl+Alt+Delete and choose Task Manager.

Regardless of the method you use, the outcome is the same; the Task Manager utility, shown in Figure 1, opens. To open a window like the one shown in Figure 1, tap or click More Details in Task Manager.

The Windows 8 Task Manager Processes tab

Figure 1. The Windows 8 Task Manager Processes tab

The main window of Task Manager includes elements that can aid you in your monitoring and troubleshooting efforts. Included on the screen are multiple tabs, each displaying critical system performance and resource usage information. Each of these tabs is described in this section.

Processes

The Processes tab provides you with a single location from which to view all the software running on the system, down to the application and even document or instance level. In Figure 1, you can see this level of detail. The Processes tab lists all the actual Windows applications that are running on the target system. If an application is running more than one instance of itself—for example, if you have more than one Word document open—an arrow appears next to the application. Select the arrow to expand the application list and display the individual instances that are running for the selected app. Figure 1 shows Windows Explorer expanded and three Windows Explorer instances running, each with a different purpose.

The information on this tab is important. You can view exactly how much of the system resources a particular application is using, although this information is available only at the actual app level, not at the instance level. The displayed information is a real-time snapshot and changes as circumstances change.

In general, Windows 8 system resources are divided into the following categories, each of which is shown in a column on the Processes tab:

  • CPU The CPU metric displays the percentage of system processor resources currently dedicated to servicing this application. If an application is sitting idle due to a small workload, this might be zero even when the application is running.

  • Memory The memory column displays the amount of system RAM dedicated to the application. System RAM is often one of the most limiting factors in system performance, so watch this one if you or one of your users is experiencing system troubles.

  • Disk In the context of Task Manager, the Disk metric does not display how much storage space is being consumed by an application. Instead, this metric provides insight into a second critical, storage-related metric: transfer speed. This column of information outlines how much information is being transferred to and from the disk.

  • Network Although today’s networks are generally extremely fast, network resources remain a source of contention at times. In years past, a computer might be able to get through an entire day without accessing the network, but today’s modern systems and applications are quite network-centric. In Task Manager, Windows details how much network capacity is dedicated to each app.

At the top of each resource column, you can see the total commitment level for each individual resource. As commitment levels reach sustained high levels, system performance can begin to suffer.

Ending a Process

The Processes tab is useful when you’re attempting to correct system performance or some other issue. For example, if a user reports that her computer is running very slowly, you can open Task Manager and quickly see whether any process is using a large percentage of the CPU. If so, discontinuing that process might be necessary. This is known as ending the process or ending the task.

To end a process in Windows, complete the following steps:

  1. Use Task Manager to identify the process you want to end.

  2. Press and hold or right-click the task in question.

  3. From the resulting shortcut menu, choose End Task.

Windows does not warn you that you’re about to end a process; it just carries out your request and ends the task.

Important

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU END

Although generally you can safely end most application processes without affecting the stability of the system, be cautious when you end system background processes. Ending these processes can destabilize the system, and you might need to restart.

Further, even though system stability might not be affected by ending an application process, you might lose data by doing so. When you end an application process, you aren’t provided an opportunity to save your work. Save early and save often but also be careful as you end processes.

Performance

On the Performance tab, you can get more high-level information quickly about the operation of the system. In Figure 2, note that you can switch between the four major resource areas and see how those resources are currently being used. In the figure, the CPU information is displayed. Out of 2.59 GHz of available processing power, this Windows 8 PC is currently using about 36 percent of the total available CPU.

In addition to current performance statistics, you see deep information about the overall capabilities of the processor. In this example, the computer has a single processor with dual cores, and hardware virtualization extensions are enabled.

The Performance tab also gives you information about memory, disk performance, and the network, just as you saw on the Processes tab. However, as is the case with the CPU information, you can glean a lot more information here than you can on the Processes tab.

The Memory option displays the current usage of the system’s total memory. This system has 3.1 GB assigned, 1.6 GB of which is in use. This tab also provides you with information about paged and non-paged memory. Given the importance of RAM on a Windows 8 system, being able to obtain detailed statistics for how it’s used can be invaluable in troubleshooting efforts. If you’re seeing RAM usage consistently exceeding 90 percent, you might need to consider adding more RAM to the computer.

The Windows 8 Task Manager Performance tab

Figure 2. The Windows 8 Task Manager Performance tab

The Disk option displays the current statistics for the various disk drives that are installed in the Windows 8–based computer, including:

  • Active Time This metric shows the percentage of time the disk is actually active. The higher the number, the harder the disk is working. If this statistic is constantly high, consider adding additional disks to the computer to alleviate the burden.

  • Average Response Time From a performance standpoint, average response time is the most critical metric for you to track. This key metric tells you immediately whether you’re having disk-based performance issues that could be affecting the user experience. In general, if you see constant values exceeding 20 to 25 ms in this field, that’s cause for concern. Other factors can affect this metric, but response time is key in determining how the system is operating.

  • Read Speed This metric displays the speed at which the system is reading data from storage.

  • Write Speed This metric displays the speed at which the system is sending data to storage to be written.

  • Capacity/Formatted The capacity and formatted fields display the total size of the disk and the size of the disk after it’s been formatted. Some disks use different mathematical computations to determine post-formatting capacity.

  • System Disk Is the disk a system disk? If so, it requires careful monitoring.

  • Page File Does the disk host the system’s paging file? The disk that holds the paging file might require a little more performance if memory conditions become low and the system starts paging to disk.

  • Transfer Rate The graph in the middle of the window displays the total speed at which data is being transferred between the computer and the disk.

Finally, the Ethernet option displays basic information about how the network is operating. A graph displays current network usage, and counters at the bottom of the window display the amount of data that has been sent or received using this adapter.

Your Windows 8–based computer might have slightly different items on the Performance tab. For example, if you have multiple disks or multiple network adapters, you will also see information for those additional devices.

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