You've likely been using Windows Task Manger to monitor your PC's performance or to kill errant processes since it was first introduced in Windows 95. Sadly, this drab, grey feature has seen no love from Microsoft in the ensuing decades. That's all changed with Windows 8.
The Task Manager has been given a refreshing visual update, the data is better organised and lots of features have been added. This is a guide to making the most of the new Windows 8 Task Manager.
Finding the Task Manager
There are various ways to launch the Task Manager. Windows veterans probably know the Ctrl+Shift+Esc key combination, while the Ctrl+Alt+Del combination in Windows 8 presents a list of options including the Task Manager. You can also access it from the Start screen by typing 'Task' or 'Task Manager'.
Accessing the different areas of Task Manager, as ever, is through the tabs: Processes, Performance, App History, Startup, Users, Details and Services. The following sections describe how to use each.
The visual style of the processes list has changed a lot. It now makes excellent use of colour coding, dynamically highlighting changing values. This lets you see in real time which processes are busy, without trying to take in the numerical quantities before they change again.
Speaking of quantities, they've changed too. By default you see CPU, Memory, Disk activity and Network activity. Right-clicking on the headings lets you select even more columns. Disk activity and Network activity are important quantities that haven't been displayed in previous versions of Task Manager, though both have a real effect on PC performance.
You can sort the list by name or by any of the quantities I've just mentioned. Additionally, you can group the process list by types: Apps (Metro and Desktop), Background Processes and Windows Services.
In the old Task Manager, visual displays of CPU and memory usage were in the Performance tab, but the network activity was in a separate tab. However, now all charts are listed directly under the performance tab. CPU usage, Memory usage, Disc activity, Wi-Fi and Ethernet usage are all shown, and each have numerical summaries listed down the side. Clicking on them reveals the corresponding chart.
The CPU chart has an option to display a single chart showing overall activity. Right-clicking breaks it into charts for each logical core on your CPU. You can also see more data below the chart -- such as how many threads are running, the CPU model number, how many logical cores and the current clock speed.
The Memory (RAM) usage section has a chart for memory usage versus time and a bar chart to show how your RAM usage is composed. You can also view details of your page file usage. The disc activity section gives charts for each hard drive on your system. There is information about the size of the drive, whether it has a page file, what the current read and write speeds are, and more.
The Wi-Fi and Ethernet sections give you a chart of activity versus time and the vertical axis automatically scales as the peak values change. It also displays which access point you're connected to, which type of connection you're on, your IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, along with signal strength.
The App history tab applies to Metro apps only, and gives historical measurements of total CPU time, network usage, metered network usage and data used by live tiles. This feature is primarily aimed at tablet and ultrabook owners using cellular data with bandwidth caps. The tab lets you infer how much battery power each app is (relatively) using by looking at the total CPU time and how much of your data cap each accounts for.
Startup is another new feature in the Windows 8 Task Manager. It gives you a breakdown of how much your 'launch on start' programs increase the time Windows takes to get started. Items are listed by, and can be sorted by, name, publisher, status -- enabled or disabled, and startup impact -- high, medium, or low.
For instance, you can sort to find which item has the worst impact on startup, or by status to check which programs you've disabled. If you find that a non-essential program is taking an inordinate amount of startup time, you can right-click the item to disable its 'launch on start' status.
The Users tab has been significantly updated and expanded. It displays the current usage of CPU, Memory, Disc and Network that each logged-in user accounts for. Each row can be expanded to show all the processes that the corresponding user is running, allowing you to close in on a particularly resource-hungry application.
The Details tab is essentially a much more in-depth version of the Processes tab. By default, it lists everything that's running on your PC -- user and system processes -- by Name, Process ID, Status, User name, CPU usage, Memory usage and Description.
When you right-click on the column headings, there are far more options to choose from. This section allows users to change the priority of processes via the right-click menu. For example, if you're running a CPU-intensive process in the background that's slowing down your other applications, you can reduce its priority so that your foreground apps run more smoothly.
The final tab lists all Windows services running on your PC. It's a copy of what can be found in the corresponding Control Panel section. This is something ordinary users shouldn't need to use, though the ability to restart and stop services through this interface may be convenient to more advanced users.