Many people focus on Windows 8's new Start screen and Modern UI, and rightly so. However, the 'old' Windows is still very much present beneath the shiny new surface. Here we take an in-depth look at the revamped Task Manager.
Task Manager has been around since Windows 95, and has barely changed in almost two decades. Chances are, you've used Task Manager for a spot of troubleshooting or forcing applications to close when they've crashed.
In all likelihood, there's an equal chance you've never used Task Manager or even heard of it. In Windows 8, the humble Task Manager has been given a makeover which makes it considerably more user friendly, while a couple of new features make it especially useful on mobile devices - in fact, any device which has a metered internet connection.
As well as providing a list of programs and processes which are currently running, it also lets you keep an eye on your computer's performance. You can monitor how hard the processor is working, how much memory is being used and how much data is flowing over wired and wireless network connections.
There are several ways to launch Task Manager. The easiest is to press Ctrl-Shift-Esc together, since it brings the window up immediately. You can also access it by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del and clicking on Task Manager from the list. From Windows 8's Start screen, simply start typing 'task' (without the quotes) and the shortcut will appear in the list of results.
One of the most noticeable updates is that running applications are split into three sections: Apps, Background processes and Windows processes. This is far better than having everything in an alphabetical list where it's difficult to find what you're after.
The other big change is that the information for each app or process is simplified and colour coded. Now, you can tell at a glance which programs or apps are using all your CPU power, or hogging memory. Darker shades represent bigger use, so you can quickly see where any problems lie.
It's still possible to click any of the items at the top to re-order the list. Click on Memory, for example, and the apps using the most memory will be shown at the top.
The Performance tab has also been changed. You get a choice of five graphs, including Wi-Fi if your computer has it. You can now see extra information below each graph, such as how fast the CPU is running.
How to use Windows 8's Task Manager
Step 1. From the Windows 8 Start screen, type Task and Click on Task Manager when it appears on the left. You can also right-click on the taskbar in the traditional desktop and choose Task Manager from there. It opens in compact mode, showing a list of running programs. You can scroll and select an app, then click End task.
Step 2. Click the More details button to expand the view to the see everything Task Manager has to offer. Apps are listed in alphabetical order, with their usage to the right. At the top of the four columns you can quickly see how much of your CPU, memory, disk or network bandwidth is being used.
Step 3. Click on the Performance tab to see usage of these resources over time. Leave Task Manager open to let the graph build up, and click on the thumbnails on the left-hand side to change the main graph, and note that you can see Wi-Fi and Ethernet graphs separately. Useful information such as processor speed and IP address is shown below each graph.
Step 4. The App history tab is new and shows activity from Modern UI apps only. The information shown is cumulative, and you can see how much data each has used - even for live tile updates. This is useful if you're using a Windows 8 laptops or tablet and have a limited allowance of mobile data each month.
Step 5. Another new tab is Start-up. This gives you an idea of how much each program (which loads when Windows starts) impacts on start-up time. It's a much better system than the old method of running msconfig and ticking or unticking boxes for apps and services that were hard to identify. You can right-click on an item and disable it to improve boot times.
Step 6. If you want to view information on processes just as you can in Windows XP, Vista and 7, click on the Details tab. Here you can right-click on one of the column headings to choose to hide them or select extra information to display. Again, clicking on a heading orders the processes by that attribute.
Next page: How to customise Task Manager
How to customise Task Manager
Task Manager's Processes tab shows CPU, Memory, Disk and Network by default. Above these headings are percentages so you can see at a glance whether any is maxed out. It isn't obvious, but you can right-click on any of these values to display a list of extra attributes that you might want shown.
Tick Command line, for example, and you'll be able to see where the app or process is located on your disk.
At the bottom of the same menu is Resource values. Hover over this and a sub-menu will appear with Memory, Disk and Network. For each, you can choose whether to show percentages or values. By default these are all set to values, but it can be easier to understand the figures as percentages.
In the Performance tab, the CPU graph can be customised by right-clicking and choosing a different view. By default you no longer see how hard each processor core is working, but you can revert to the old way of doing things and see a graph for each core by choosing Change graph to Logical processors from the right-click menu.
Double-click on a graph to switch to a compact 'graph view', and double-click again to switch back.