Feb 24, 2011
Slow Computer Fix

Too Many Programs Running at Once – How to Control and Prevent Running Processes to Make Your Computer Faster

Every program that is running on your computer, either seen or unseen, takes up your computer’s resources. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to keep in mind that the more programs and processes that are running, the less resources will be available on your computer. Once these resources get close to being all used up, your computer will operate much slower. Often times this is caused by the User (read you or me) just opening too many programs at once. Sometimes the computer is set to open and run programs by itself. Whether it’s one or the other or a combination of the two, having too many processes makes your computer slow.

Turbo Your PC

What is the difference between a process and a program? A process is software that is actively running on your computer. A program is just a set of instructions that your computer can run. If your computer is running a program, that is a process. Confusing? Think of a program like a treasure map. It just sits there showing where to go and what to do. Now if the pirate that had the map actually started to go places and do things then you could consider the pirate a process because he’s actively doing something. A process is anything that is actively running in memory on a computer.

How can I know what is currently running on my computer and how can I tell if there are too many processes running? There is a built in tool or utility in Windows that’s called Task Manager that shows all the processes that are running in memory on your computer. There are a couple of ways to get to the Task Manager. The easiest one is to hold down the Ctrl, Alt, and Delete keys at the same time. This will pop up a menu that looks like this:

Control Alt Delete Menu

Control Alt Delete Menu

At the bottom click on where it says Start Task Manager. This will start the Task Manager and pop up a window that looks like this:

Windows Task Manager Window

Windows Task Manager Window

Notice that at the top there are different tabs. Each one has it’s own purpose and uses and it’s helpful to know what each one of these has to offer so you can get the most out of the Task Manager. We’ll go into more depth with the Task Manager at a later date, but for now we’ll just cover enough to answer your current questions. Let’s expand the window a bit.

Windows Task Manager Processes Tab Expanded

Windows Task Manager Processes Tab Expanded

You’ll notice that this first tab that opened up is called Processes. In this tab is listed all the active running programs in memory… All the Processes! You can sort any of the columns by clicking the top field. In this picture I have everything sorted by how much memory the processes are using. The column all the way to the left tells the Name of the process. Next to that is the User Account that the process is running under. The CPU Column tells how much the process is using the CPU. Memory is how much memory a process is using. And description gives more room to tell about what a process is or is used for. Do you already see how this could be useful for finding out what is making your computer slow? It’s a pretty cool tool. Now we’ll come back to the Processes tab in a bit but for now I want to move on to the Performance Tab. Go ahead and click on the Performance Tab and it’ll look something like this:

Windows Task Manager Performance Tab

Windows Task Manager Performance Tab

The most important things to look at are the boxes on the left with CPU Usage and Memory. If any of these (or both) are very close to the top then you probably have too many processes running and are probably already experiencing computer slowness. If that is the case that your computer resources are almost all used up then you’re going to want to read this next little section for sure!

 

How can I stop programs and processes that I want to stop to get back my computer resources? I’m glad you asked that question! The good news is that you can use the same tool, the Task Manager, to get rid of some of these running processes and free up system resources! Click back to the Processes Tab and let’s take a look to see what is running.

Windows Task Manager Processes Tab List

Windows Task Manager Processes Tab List

That’s a lot of processes! How can I tell what programs and processes are safe to kill? Well, there’s not really a clear cut, one size fits all answer for this question. We are going to get rid of these processes by Process of Illimination! Here are the steps I take:

1) Close any and all open programs that I possibly can, starting with the Task Bar and then in the System Tray.

Task Bar Close Programs

Go throught the Task Bar and close all open programs (Except the Task Manager)

System Tray Close Programs

The System Tray is in the bottom right hand corner next to the clock. Be sure to click the arrow to see everything.

2) Now that we’ve closed as many programs as we can, let’s go back to the Task Manager Window, to the Processes Tab. This list should look a lot shorter now! Also, everything should be closed so we can play around without worrying about losing work or anything like that. Now just go through the list and see what processes are running, what their description is, how much memory it’s taking up, and finally how much it’s using the computer’s CPU. If you aren’t sure WHAT something is, be sure to Google it before you decide to kill it just to be safe. If something sounds like it’s not important or critical, like iTunes Notifier for example, then go ahead and click End Process. Believe me, if you end a process that is important you will know pretty quickly. Your computer may freeze or get a blue screen, but NO PERMANENT DAMAGE can be done ending these processes at this point. So just experiment! And Google! And learn! Pretty soon you will get a good idea of what processes are safe to kill or not. Some processes when killed will make programs not run like they should. For example, I killed a process and my computer was working fine… until I tried to Print a Document to a PDF file. It turns out the process I killed helped make that work. So I just rebooted my computer and everything was fine.

3) Be sure and write down any processes that you kill that don’t have any negative effects on how your computer works. We will need this list later to PREVENT these processes from running automatically at startup! That’s actually the next step.

 

How can I prevent processes and programs from running by themselves at startup? So you’ve gone through and made yourself a nice list of processes that you want to try to prevent from running automatically when your computer starts up. There are two main ways to do this. The easy way we will cover in full now and the hard way we will touch on but go into more depth later.

The easy way is to click Start>All Programs and find the Startup Folder. If anything in this Startup folder matches what you don’t want to start up automatically simply right click the icon and choose delete.

Startup Folder Delete

Right Click Any Item in the Startup Folder and Choose Delete

The hard way is a little more complicated. It involves a tool built into Windows called MSconfig which let’s you manually configure programs and processes that start up when Windows starts up. To get to it just click Start and type MSconfig and then hit enter.

How to Open MSconfig

How to Open MSconfig

Warning: This could mess your computer up! So if you don’t understand what you’re doing completely or if you’re just not comfortable, be sure not to make any changes here. It is always good to explore, however. If you do want to make changes, be sure you document everything you do on your piece of paper that you listed the processes on! The MSconfig window looks like this:

MSconfig General Tab

MSconfig General Tab

If you want to prevent the processes you wrote down earlier, click Selective startup like I have chosen here. Then go to the Startup tab which will look like this:

MSconfig Startup Tab

MSconfig Startup Tab

I recommend that you expand each column to where you can read everything. Also, be absolutely sure that you log everything that you disable here. If it’s not written exactly like the processes you wrote down earlier (or really, really close to it) then I would leave it alone. To Disable any of these from running at Startup, simply untick the checkbox next to them. When you are done going through them click Apply and ok. Your computer will restart with the new Startup Options. If anything doesn’t work or if your computer won’t boot normally, you’ll need to boot into safe mode (usually tapping F8 during power on), open MSconfig, and re-enable whatever it is that is missing that is causing the trouble. That’s all for now. Stay tuned for our advanced msconfig guide. Until then, enjoy Happy Selective Process Control!

 

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